As new polls show President Barack Obama widening his margin in Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin and Mitt Romney's stomping ground of Massachusetts sitting safely in the Democratic column, the GOP presidential nominee might want to embrace his inner Woodrow Wilson.
What can the all-business Republican standard-bearer just off his worst week ever learn from the 28th president, a former college president and progressive from a time when the latter word was spelled with a capital P? Maybe his secret path to the White House.
That's because President Wilson, a former governor of New Jersey, and Vice President Thomas Marshall, a former governor of Indiana, both failed to hold their home states yet prevailed nationally to win reelection. The year was 1916.
Never before and never since has a major party presidential ticket been elected when both candidates lost their home states.
The Wilson-Marshall ticket did win Virginia, Wilson's native state. But if Romney is looking for a helping hand, he's unlikely to find it in Michigan, the state where he was born and his father served as governor. Thanks in large part to the auto bailout that Romney opposed, voters there are leaning blue in the latest polling. Wilson, like Obama, also had the power of incumbency behind him.
While it is only September and much can change between now and Election Day, the combination of Wisconsin's bluer tinge and the sure loss of Massachusetts doesn't bode well for the GOP ticket if history is any guide.
Since 1824, when widespread popular voting in presidential elections began, 17 losing major party tickets also failed to win their presidential and vice presidential candidates' home states, according to Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He said his calculation of "home" was based on where the politician had held elected office. So even though Richard Nixon was living in New York in 1968 and 1972, "we deem Nixon a Californian because he was elected to the House and Senate from there, became VP when from there, and even had a failed gubernatorial run in California in 1962," he said in an email to The Huffington Post.
"Mitt Romney has a similar issue," Skelley wrote. "I think he's from Massachusetts because that's where he held elected office. Some people think of him as being from Michigan because he grew up there. Not that it matters in this case because he's not going to win either MA or MI in November."
The last time running mates both lost in their backyards was in 1972, when Nixon won reelection in a landslide by sweeping every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Democrat George McGovern saw his reliably red state of South Dakota go to Nixon with 54.2 percent of the vote. Vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver offered even less help to the ticket in his native Maryland: Nixon won 61.3 percent there, clobbering the former Peace Corps director and Kennedy in-law.
While Wisconsin was never a sure thing for Romney, Gov. Scott Walker's successful effort to beat back a recall election certainly offered hope to Republicans that they could add the Badger State to their column.
"The only chance Romney-Ryan has to avoid losing both states is to carry WI," political analyst Larry Sabato said in an email. "There is a 100% chance Obama will carry MA in a landslide. The latest polls suggest WI could also be moving out of reach for the GOP. MA is no surprise. WI loss would cause a reevaluation of Ryan's future."
Presidential historian Robert Dallek agreed. "It's unusual for both candidates to lose their home states," he emailed HuffPost. "If this happens and they lose the election, it will suggest that Romney and Ryan are weak candidates and I suspect that it will undermine Ryan's prospects of winning a presidential nomination any time soon, if ever."
Losing the VP candidate's home state might not be a bad thing for elections generally, said Thomas Holbrook, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist. He noted that Republicans haven't won the state since Ronald Reagan's reelection landslide in 1984 and that "whenever a candidate holds a lead outside the margin of error in state polls conducted in September, that candidate goes on to win the state."
If the Romney-Ryan ticket loses Wisconsin this year, Holbrook said in an email, "I hope it puts a nail in the coffin of the pick-a-VP-candidate-to-carry-their-state approach of the VP selection process."