Blaine County, formed in 1895, is named after James G. Blaine, who represented Maine in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1863-1876 and Senate from 1876-1881. He also served twice as U.S. secretary of state in 1881 and from 1889-1892. Blaine unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for president in 1876 and 1880 before being nominated to run against Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884. That race had some striking similarities to the current drawn-out election.

According to the Library of Congress, the 1884 campaign was a “particularly acrimonious” one. The race turned more on allegations of immorality than on policy differences; Republicans accused Cleveland of having fathered an illegitimate child and Democrats accused Blaine of having sold his influence in Congress to various businesses. According to American Heritage, Blaine was known as “Slippery Jim” because “the most conspicuous end of his subtle manipulation of men and laws had been to protect himself and his party from investigations by the Democrats.” Following the emergence of incriminating evidence of corruption, Democrats began to chant, “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! The continental liar from the state of Maine!” 

According to Wikipedia, the greatest threat to the Republican candidate came from reformers in Blaine’s own party who were angrier at his public corruption than at Cleveland’s private affairs. “Liberal Republicans indicated to Democratic leaders that they would bolt their own party and support a Democrat, provided he was a decent and honorable man,” the online Digital History states.

Cleveland won 48.9 percent of the popular vote and 219 electoral votes; Blaine won 48.3 percent of the popular vote and 182 electoral votes. With some 10 million votes cast, Cleveland defeated Blaine by less than 63,000. 

The nation had to wait for two weeks to find out who was going to be the next president as canvassing commissions examined ballots in key states. Until then, Blaine refused to concede.

Before the election in 2016, Donald Trump was asked by journalist Chris Wallace whether, if he should lose, he would adhere to the tradition that the loser concedes to the winner to ensure the peaceful transition of power. Trump responded, “I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”

In an Oct. 21, 2016, article in Politico titled “What Happens if Trump Keeps Us in Suspense on Election Night?,” Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley examined the 1884 election. Foley noted that New York was the swing state in that race, and the preliminary returns there showed Cleveland winning by only about 1,000 votes. Republicans suspected that fraud in New York City and on Long Island might have cost Blaine the election.

“To find out, a bipartisan group of local lawyers conducted an investigation while the official canvass was occurring,” Foley wrote. “The state and the country followed the events very closely: The presidency, after all, hung in the balance. But there was no widespread panic or serious civil unrest. The investigation found that, while there were indeed some irregularities, the volume was not large enough to be decisive. The democratic process of verifying the count of ballots proceeded properly. And at the end of the process, the appropriate concession ensued. Blaine took his cue from the New York Tribune, the leading Republican media outlet of the day: The Tribune pronounced, ‘The canvass of the returns has been thorough, careful and honest, and leaves no room for doubt as to the result.’”

“Maybe this year,” Foley noted in October 2016, “if circumstances turn out to be similar, it will take an analogous pronouncement from Fox News to prompt Trump to utter the necessary concession.”

That year, of course, Trump won the election. This year, Fox News projected Joe Biden to be the winner on Nov. 7. But Trump has yet to follow James Blaine’s example and concede a close election.

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