The Smoked Filled Room: A Brief History Of Contested Conventions

The opening of the Republican National Convention in the Coliseum in Chicago on June 8, 1920.(Photo: AP)


For a few thousand dollars you can spend the night in what may be the original smoke-filled room — the “Smoke Filled Suite’’ at the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, site of the epic 1920 Republican National Convention.

The three-room, ninth-floor corner suite has a fireplace, chandelier and floor from the period. It may be the same space where cigar-chomping party bosses were meeting when they chose Sen. Warren G. Harding, who’d gotten only 7% of the first ballot votes, as the compromise nominee in a deadlocked convention.


 (Photo: Handout)

The term may have been coined by reporters at the scene, or by Ohio political leader Harry Daugherty, who was quoted as saying: “The convention will be deadlocked and after the other candidates have gone their limit, some 12 or 15 men, worn out and bleary eyed for lack of sleep, will sit down about 2 o’clock in the morning around the table in a smoke-filled room in some hotel and decide the nomination.’’

It’s not certain that the ninth floor suite is where Harding was tapped. Some accounts list the original smoke-filled room as 404, but the hotel says it was far more likely the suite.

The convention, which tapped Harding on the 10th ballot, is one of several that induce a powerful nostalgia among political junkies tired of the scripted pageantry of contemporary conventions.


A contested GOP convention - political junkie's dream, politico's nightmare

Democrats in New York City, 1924


 (Photo: AP)

The longest continuously running convention in U.S. political history (June 24–July 9) took a record 103 ballots to nominate John Davis. The influence of the Ku Klux Klan and the sweltering heat gave it a nickname: “The Klanbake.’’

Democrats in Chicago, 1932


 (Photo: AP)

In one of history’s turning points, New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated on the fourth ballot after FDR and his political operative James Farley outmaneuvered their chief rival (and former ally), Al Smith. FDR subsequently abolished the rule requiring a two-thirds majority for nomination.

Democrats in Chicago, 1952


 (Photo: AP)

In the last convention to go beyond the first ballot, Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson, who was drafted at the convention, was nominated on the third ballot.

Republicans in Kansas City, 1976


 (Photo: Pictorial Parade/Getty Images)

In the last convention where the candidates arrived with the outcome in doubt, President Gerald Ford fended off a challenge from Ronald Reagan.

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