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

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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.

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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

    Strange Bedfellows: A Historical Review of Divided US Senate Delegations

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    The North Carolina U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis may go down to the wire next Tuesday, but along the way Libertarian nominee Sean Haugh is poised to set a state record for a non-major party candidate. Haugh, who previously won 1.5 percent of the vote in the Tar Heel State's 2002 race, has polled at or above five percent in 10 of the last 12 polls that included his name. The current high water mark for a third party or independent candidate in a North Carolina U.S. Senate election is just 3.3 percent, recorded by Libertarian Robert Emory back in 1992. Only one other candidate has eclipsed the three percent mark - Libertarian Christopher Cole with 3.1 percent in 2008.


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