- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

When the Republican Party formally nominates its presidential and vice-presidential candidates Thursday, it will achieve something the Democrats have managed to do only twice since the two parties began contesting elections in 1856 - keep a lawyer off the ticket.

With Sen. John McCain, a naval aviator, and Gov. Sarah Palin, a former television reporter with a degree in journalism, the GOP team will be the third straight lawyer-free Republican ticket, and the fifth in eight elections for the party.

By contrast, the duo of Sen. Barack Obama (Harvard Law, 1991) and vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Syracuse University College of Law, 1968) continues a Democratic streak of having at least one lawyer on the national ticket since the 1856 pairing of lawyers James Buchanan and John Breckinridge, broken only by the elections of 1960 and 1964.

In those contests, John F. Kennedy (Navy officer and author), Lyndon Baines Johnson (schoolteacher) and Hubert H. Humphrey (pharmacist) were the party’s standard-bearers. When Mr. Humphrey topped the ticket in 1968, he ran with Sen. Edmund Muskie (Cornell University Law School, 1938).

The Democratic record might have been unblemished had Mr. Johnson, whose 100th birthday last week went virtually unnoticed at the party’s Denver convention, found time to pursue evening law classes he began at Georgetown as a young Texas congressman in the 1930s.

A 1996 issue of Georgetown Law magazine quoted Mr. Johnson telling a classmate, “I never got a chance to study,” though he would in later years refer to the school as his “alma mater.”

Asked about the imbalance of legal degrees in this year’s party tickets, a spokeswoman for the American Bar Association said the group wasn’t taking sides.

“What lawyers want is the very same thing every other citizen wants - candidates who will provide good government, from whatever field those candidates come,” said Nancy Slonim, ABA deputy director for policy communications.

The Democrats’ legal dominance comes despite opinion polls showing the public takes a dim view of the profession.

In a USA Today/Gallup Poll in December 2007, respondents ranked lawyers 16th out of 22 professions when rating their honesty and ethical standards. Just 15 percent of those polled rated lawyers’ ethics as “high/very high,” compared with 35 percent who rated them “low/very low.”

Making things even worse, the 18th, 19th and 22nd places in the poll went to “state officeholders,” “congressmen” and “lobbyists” - three professions where lawyers are numerous.

Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor, and George H.W. Bush, a Navy pilot and oil executive, in 1980 began an unusual string of non-lawyer tickets for the GOP.

In the seven elections since 1980, the two Republican candidates have been law degree-free four times: the two victorious Reagan-Bush pairings and the two elections won by President George W. Bush, who has an MBA from Harvard, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Wyoming.

Republicans have won only one election since 1972 with a lawyer as a top candidate. In 1988, the senior Mr. Bush won against Michael Dukakis (Harvard Law, 1960) with Sen. Dan Quayle (Indiana University School of Law, 1974) as his vice-presidential running mate.

But prior to Mr. Reagan, the Republicans appear just as lawyer-besotted as the Democrats in their national tickets.

Before 1980, the last GOP tandem that lacked at least one law degree was the 1872 pairing of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Henry Wilson, a Massachusetts shoemaker and journalist who became a leading Republican anti-slavery activist.

cResearcher John Sopko contributed to this article.