hat in the ring

hat in the ring

Throwing one’s hat in the ring means announcing one’s intention to compete in a contest. In politics, it means running for political office.

The phrase originally comes from boxing, where contestants would literally throw their hats into the boxing ring as a signal that they wanted to join the fight. In boxing, the expression dates back at least to the beginning of the 19th century. 

An article in The Morning Chronicle of London, dated November 30, 1804, read in part:

The fight which we stated a few days since to be about to take place between Tom Belcher, brother to the champion of that name, and Bill Ryan, son of the late noted pugilist, who fought with Johnson some years since, was yesterday decided at Wilsdon Green, on the Edgware Road, the spot where the hard battle was fought between Blake and Holmes, a twelvemonth since, and where Pictoun beat Will Wood in June last. A council was held among the gentry of the fist on Tuesday last, when the misunderstanding respecting the purse to be fought for was adjusted, and the champions agreed that the fight should take place yesterday, instead of Monday next. The champions arrived at Wilsdon Green at eleven o’clock in two hackney coaches. Belcher first threw his hat into the ring over the heads of the spectators, as an act of defiance to his antagonist, who received him in the ring with a welcome smile.

In modern politics, candidates often wait until the last minute to throw their hats into the ring. Their announcements are awaited eagerly, and the press speculates about whether they will or won’t eventually enter the contest. For example, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg waited months to officially declare that he was running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The long wait led to seemingly endless press coverage, like this Forex piece which said, wryly,

“For what it is worth, Democrat Michael Bloomberg is still mulling whether to throw his hat in the ring as a Democratic alternative to Elizabeth Warren/Joseph Biden vs. Pres. Trump. This is nothing really new.”

Former vice president Joe Biden also spent months deliberating before finally throwing his hat in the ring and announcing his White House run in April 2019.

Biden first considered running for the presidency in 2016, but decided against it after his son’s death. As Wilmington News Journal has reported, Biden began reconsidering as soon as President Trump was elected. Essentially, the former vice president spent a few years testing the waters and weighing his chances before deciding to throw his hat in the ring:

By May 2017, he started a political action committee to support Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. He solicited donors — something he’s never enjoyed — and began mapping out a plan to be a prominent player in the Democratic bid to regain the House and defend difficult seats in the Senate.

As the midterms neared, Biden started getting the feedback he hoped for. In August 2018, he boarded a flight from Washington to New York and a string of passengers encouraged him to run in 2020.