Go to HHH home page.
Smart Politics
 


Presidential Nominees Likely To Be Determined By <br>'The Unknown'

Bookmark and Share

As politicians officially and unofficially begin their campaigns for the presidency in 2008, speculation about the strengths and weaknesses of each potential candidate will naturally be thoroughly debated in the media.

Frequent questions already being posed by pundits include: Will Mitt Romney's Mormon faith alienate religious fundamentalists? Are John McCain's foreign policy positions too closely aligned to an unpopular president? What will happen when Rudy Giuliani's socially liberal pre-9/11 record becomes known to Republican primary voters? How will Barack Obama handle the post-honeymoon period of his campaign? Will Hillary Clinton's support of the Iraq War hurt her chances to win Democratic primaries?

What is being missed in this partially substantive, partially fluffy, and wholly speculative analysis is the power the 'unknown' holds in determining a party's nominee. For it is the 'unknown' that frequently sends one campaign into a tailspin and launches that of another to victory. The 'unknown' rarely has anything to do with a candidate's policy position or strategic positioning among the other candidates in the field. In fact, several recent primary races—especially on the Democratic side—can point to one crucial turning point that seems to have derailed a frontrunner or strong contender for the nomination.

In the fight for the 1988 nomination, Gary Hart was an early frontrunner, before his affair with Donna Rice broke—dropping out of the campaign a week after the story emerged in May 1987.

But the unknown moment need not be a sexual indiscretion. In 1992, former U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas was running a strong campaign, raking up dozens of delegates after wins in New Hampshire, Maryland, Arizona, and Rhode Island. Tsongas then suddenly withdrew from the race after new questions about his health emerged (he had battled cancer in the 1980s). On the other hand, Bill Clinton's campaign was ultimately able to survive 'the unknown' after revelations of his infidelity emerged in 1991; Clinton's candidacy did suffer in the short term, but, as his 'unknown' was revealed early in the campaign, he (unlike Gary Hart, who quit) prevailed in the end.

In 2004, Howard Dean's image took a huge hit when, at a post Iowa caucus rally, a unidirectional microphone filtered out sympathetic (and equally raucous) crowd noise in a call-and-response battle cry that—on television—made Dean appear rather unhinged and decidedly un-presidential. While Dean's third place finish in the Hawkeye State admittedly also signaled that the momentum he had developed during the past year had been somewhat curbed, prior to that rally Dean was still a legitimate candidate—and still the most successful fundraiser in the field.

Although he was never viewed as a strong contender, Jesse Jackson's 1984 campaign (as well as his chance for the Vice-Presidential nomination) took two steps back after making anti-Semitic remarks on the campaign trail.

So, the question may not be whether or not a candidate's views on Iraq will earn him or her the nomination, but whether or not that candidate is harboring—or will fall victim to - the unknown.

Previous post: Divided Government in Minnesota: New Smart Politics Commentary at TPT
Next post: Addresses by Upper Midwest Governors Remarkably Similar

2 Comments


  • Romney is not a true Republican because he voted for Paul Tsongas.

    Reasons to agree

    1. A good republican would never vote for a Democrat.
    2. A vote for a Democrat is a vote for the Devil himself. D is for Devil. Even if it is the just the primary and you vote for George H. Bush (like Romney) in the General election.

    Reasons to disagree

    1. Romney was a good republican because he was very practical. In 1992 there was no Republican primary. He had two options. He could sit on the side lines and not vote (like me this last election cycle) or he could vote for the best candidate who would not likely beat Bush in the General election. Romney chose the latter. This does not make him a bad republican.
    2. Paul Tsongas was a fiscal conservative.
    3. Paul Tsongas was a good guy.
    4. I wish every Republican would have registered as independents in 1992 and voted for Paul Tsongus. Bush would have lost anyways, but we would have had Tsongus instead of Clinton. And now Hillary Clinton. Maybe George H. Bush would have one against Paul Tsongus. Two descent guys, that had nothing to do with Hollywood instead of Bill going against H. Bush in 1992.
    5. Maybe Republicans should all claim independent, so that we can vote for Hillary in the Primaries and our guys in the General election.
    6. There was no GOP primary contest in 92. In 1992 Mitt Romney voted against Bill Clinton twice.
    7. I am a Romney fan, but not even I think Romney was smart enough to see that Bill Clinton was a bigger liability than George H. Bush was an asset for our Country. I am not going to attribute Mitt Romney of difficult political calculus. This was very basic addition. Vote once for the guy you like best, or vote twice? Hmm, let me see…

  • Romney is not a true Republican because he voted for Paul Tsongas.

    Reasons to agree

    1. A good republican would never vote for a Democrat.
    2. A vote for a Democrat is a vote for the Devil himself. D is for Devil. Even if it is the just the primary and you vote for George H. Bush (like Romney) in the General election.

    Reasons to disagree

    1. Romney was a good republican because he was very practical. In 1992 there was no Republican primary. He had two options. He could sit on the side lines and not vote (like me this last election cycle) or he could vote for the best candidate who would not likely beat Bush in the General election. Romney chose the latter. This does not make him a bad republican.
    2. Paul Tsongas was a fiscal conservative.
    3. Paul Tsongas was a good guy.
    4. I wish every Republican would have registered as independents in 1992 and voted for Paul Tsongus. Bush would have lost anyways, but we would have had Tsongus instead of Clinton. And now Hillary Clinton. Maybe George H. Bush would have one against Paul Tsongus. Two descent guys, that had nothing to do with Hollywood instead of Bill going against H. Bush in 1992.
    5. Maybe Republicans should all claim independent, so that we can vote for Hillary in the Primaries and our guys in the General election.
    6. There was no GOP primary contest in 92. In 1992 Mitt Romney voted against Bill Clinton twice.
    7. I am a Romney fan, but not even I think Romney was smart enough to see that Bill Clinton was a bigger liability than George H. Bush was an asset for our Country. I am not going to attribute Mitt Romney of difficult political calculus. This was very basic addition. Vote once for the guy you like best, or vote twice? Hmm, let me see…

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    Gender Equality in the US House: A State-by State Quarter-Century Report Card (1989-2014)

    A study of 5,325 congressional elections finds the number of female U.S. Representatives has more than tripled over the last 25 years, but the rate at which women are elected to the chamber still varies greatly between the states.

    Political Crumbs

    Small Club in St. Paul

    Mark Dayton is one of just three Minnesotans ever elected to three different statewide offices. Dayton, of course, had previously served as State Auditor (1991-1995) and U.S. Senator (2001-2007) before winning the governorship in 2010. At that time, he joined Republicans Edward Thye and J.A.A. Burnquist on this very short list. Burnquist was elected governor in 1914 but then became governor after the death of Democrat Winfield Hammond in 1915. He then won the gubernatorial elections of 1916 and 1918 and eight terms as attorney general two decades later (1939-1955). Thye was similarly first elected lieutenant governor of the Gopher State and became governor after the resignation of fellow GOPer Harold Stasson in 1943. Thye won one additional full term as governor in 1944 and then two terms to the U.S. Senate (1947-1959). Twenty Minnesotans have been elected to two different statewide offices.


    Respect Your Elders?

    With retirement announcements this year by veteran U.S. Representatives such as 30-term Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, 20-term Democrat George Miller of California, and 18-term Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin, it is no surprise that retirees from the 113th Congress are one of the most experienced cohorts in recent decades. Overall, these 24 exiting members of the House have served an average of 11.0 terms - the second longest tenure among retirees across the last 18 cycles since 1980. Only the U.S. Representatives retiring in 2006 had more experience, averaging 11.9 terms. (In that cycle, 10 of the 11 retiring members served at least 10 terms, with GOPer Bill Jenkins of Tennessee the lone exception at just five). Even without the aforementioned Dingell, the average length of service in the chamber of the remaining 23 retirees in 2014 is 10.2 terms - which would still be the third highest since 1980 behind the 2006 and 2012 (10.5 terms) cycles.


    more POLITICAL CRUMBS

    Humphrey School Sites
    CSPG
    Humphrey New Media Hub

    Issues />

<div id=
    Abortion
    Afghanistan
    Budget and taxes
    Campaign finances
    Crime and punishment
    Economy and jobs
    Education
    Energy
    Environment
    Foreign affairs
    Gender
    Health
    Housing
    Ideology
    Immigration
    Iraq
    Media
    Military
    Partisanship
    Race and ethnicity
    Reapportionment
    Redistricting
    Religion
    Sexuality
    Sports
    Terrorism
    Third parties
    Transportation
    Voting