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Just Who Is Leonard Wood, Anyway?

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Former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has been calling his opponent Mitt Romney the weakest front-runner in modern times.

On CNN, he clarified it when he said the former Massachusetts governor is probably the "weakest front-runner since Leonard Wood in 1920."

So, who was Leonard Wood?

Wood was a U.S. general, as well as a doctor, and a very close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, says presidential historian Michael Beschloss. He tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that Wood was running for president before the 1920 Republican convention and was thought to be a shoo-in for the nomination.

"A lot of people thought he was going to be nominated ... [but] he reached his peak and then flamed out," Beschloss says. "He finally lost the nomination to Warren Harding, the senator from Ohio, one of the worst presidents in American history."

So if Romney is Wood, does that make Gingrich the Harding in this analogy?

"I think [Gingrich] would consider it slander if it was said by someone else," Beschloss says.

Wood was not a great candidate, Beschloss says, but Harding owed him a lot. If not for his poor candidacy, Harding would not have become president, he says.

"The result was that Wood got what he really wanted, which was to be governor general of the Philippines," he says.

Wood died in 1927, but his legacy lives on at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

If Romney makes it to the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer, and has not locked in a majority of delegates, Beschloss says he could in fact compete with Wood for being the "weakest front-runner."

"If that happens, [there's] a good chance Romney will not be nominated and there could be a dark horse like Warren Harding or someone a lot better who ends up getting the nomination," he says.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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