I would like to make historical comparisons, if I can. Some on the Left, make a generalized comment that the Democratic Party chooses the most conservative candidate for the Presidential nomination. I will start with the 1972 Presidential Primary and conclude with the 2008 Presidential primary.
In 1970, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie gave the message of the Democratic Party to Congressional voters before the mid-term elections. In January of 1971, South Dakota Senator George McGovern announced his candidacy for the Presidential nomination, polling in 5th place among other Democratic hopefuls. By August of 1971, Muskie was the heavy favorite to win, not only the Democratic nomination but to win the Presidential election. In January 1972, McGovern was polling at 3% among Democratic voters. In January 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace announced his candidacy for the Presidential nomination. Former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey announced his near perennial decision to run for President in 1972. In March of 1972, former Governor of North Carolina announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Congressional Delegate for Washington, D.C., Walter Fauntroy, announced his candidacy and won the D.C. primary. After a series of campaign attacks, Muskie ended up losing momentum and withdrew from the nomination before the convention. George Wallace survived an assassination attempt in May of 1972, but was paralyzed from the waist down. This effectively ended his campaign and he withdrew during the convention. Humphrey was well-organized for the 1972 primary season, eventually winning many primaries. He ultimately withdrew after a delegation fiasco at the convention. Sanford withdrew during the convention after finishing in 5th. McGovern won the nomination.
Edmund Muskie: Muskie was the vice-presidential nominee for Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 election. Muskie became the voice of the Democratic party by 1970. He was also chosen to give remarks to the State of the Union address in 1972 and 1973. Muskie was the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination. But Richard Nixon and his “dirty tricks team” forged a letter alleging that Muskie insulted French Canadians and that his wife drank and swore. Muskie made a big deal out of his defense for his wife. He had melted snowflakes on his face that many people thought were tears. He was accused of breaking down. Even though Muskie won the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary, Muskie’s momentum was halted and he withdrew from the nomination.
Hubert Humphrey: Humphrey served as Vice-President from 1965-1969. Humphrey was originally a skeptic of the Vietnam War. But after President Lyndon Johnson gave him the cold shoulder for his criticism, Humphrey became a vocal supporter of the war. Although Humphrey had major support from labor unions and other key Democratic allies, including civil rights activists, he was eventually troubled from his lack of support from college students and anti-war activists over his support for the Vietnam War. Humphrey, who had the full faith and credit of the Democratic Party in 1968, tried to skip the primaries in 1972, ultimately failed, losing to George McGovern at the convention.
George Wallace: Wallace was the Governor of Alabama, who ran in 1970 for re-election as Governor, based on pretty racist advertisements including accusing blacks vowing to take Alabama. Wallace did not support the Vietnam War. Wallace’s 1968 election has been the platform for the Republican Party, since. He argued against the federal government and busing laws. Arguments, that more or less, carried over to today. But in 1972, Wallace declared himself a Democrat and that he was a moderate on segregation. Wallace was a great campaigner, but his assassination attempt ended his campaign.
Terry Sanford: Sanford, the former Governor of North Carolina, announced his candidacy to show that not all Southerners were in favor of segregation. Sanford served as Governor of North Carolina, where he increased the state’s expenditures to public universities. He oversaw the creation of North Carolina’s Community College System. He raised taxes to help pay for the expenditure. He also fought for desegregation in North Carolina. He also was a vocal opponent of the death penalty. Sanford did not fare well in the primaries.
George McGovern: McGovern, the Senator from South Dakota, was a vocal critic of the Vietnam War. He had helped lead protests in 1968 after Humphrey won the nomination. He announced his candidacy before anybody else, in January 1971. McGovern was still polling below 5% by 1972. McGovern ran with a grassroots level organization focusing on his anti-war policies. McGovern won less primary votes than Hubert Humphrey but won, in part by a winner take all system in California. McGovern’s campaign was focused on withdrawal of Vietnam, amnesty for draft dodgers, and a 37% decrease in defense spending, McGovern’s campaign at the end was attacked by the labor movement and Southern Democrats.
Conclusion: McGovern won over the party’s established candidates in Muskie and Humphrey. By focusing on college students and appealing to the Left, McGovern won the nomination. The favorites were both Muskie and Humphrey, they both lost.
There were no heavy favorites for the 1976 Democratic nomination, a record 23 people entered the race, but ultimately, it went to Jimmy Carter. In February of 1975, Henry Jackson, Senator from Washington, announced his candidacy. He was considered the favorite when he ran for his candidacy. Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy, as late as January of 1976, Carter was polling at 4% among Democratic voters. After Carter announced his candidacy, Morris Udall, a Congressman from Arizona announced that he would be the liberal alternative to Carter. Near the end of the campaign, Governor of California Jerry Brown announced that his campaign hoping to stall the conservative Carter’s campaign.
Henry Jackson: Jackson was considered a whore for defense spending. He criticized President Dwight Eisenhower for not spending enough for defense spending. He was considered the Senator from Boeing for his all talk about adding additional contracts to his state. Jackson was one of the biggest supporters for the Civil Rights movement. But because of his calls for defense spending and his support for the Vietnam War, Jackson’s campaign was initially attacked by the Left. Jackson had raised his profile by speaking about the Middle East and U.S.-Soviet policy. Jackson was also supported for his vocal support for Israel. But because he never got off the ground for his support for Vietnam War and his lack of support from the labor movement, he ran out of money and ultimately dropped out of the campaign.
Jimmy Carter: Carter was not well-known nationally. But because of the opposition to the Watergate scandal, Carter was able to target people because of his outsider status. Carter won election as Governor of Georgia, in part because of a nasty racially charged campaign. While he was Governor, he announced that segregation was over. Carter merged hundreds of state agencies, as well. He ran as a moderate in the South to George Wallace’s ideology. While in the North, he looked Conservative. Carter grabbed the early momentum by winning Iowa and New Hampshire. His early successes led the Left to find a new candidate to support.
Morris Udall: By the time Udall decided to run, Carter defeated his early challengers with a string of victories. Udall announced his candidacy as the liberal alternative to Carter. Udall was known in Congress for his environmental policies, Native American welfare, and commitment to campaign finance reform. Udall, apparently, made witty speeches, which delighted a lot of his supporters. Udall did not really emerge as a a formidable foe to Carter. He was attacked as a racist in the Michigan primary. He ultimately lost and did not get over the campaign as he endorsed Edward Kennedy’s run in 1980 against Carter.
Jerry Brown: Brown announced his candidacy even later, hoping to challenge the moderate Carter. Brown was the Governor of California, at the time. He was a fiscal conservative, championed environmental issues, and opposed the death penalty. Brown was unable to stop Carter’s momentum, despite ultimate primary wins in Louisiana, New Jersey, California, and Nevada.
Conclusion: There was no clear establishment favorite after Edward Kennedy declined to run. Jackson was the first favorite, but ultimately dropped out. Carter was considered a conservative, at the time, but never really earned the support of the Party. The Carter primary victory was vastly different than any since.
At the beginning of the campaign, vice-president and former Senator from Minnesota, Walter Mondale was the early favorite for the 1984 Democratic nomination. Despite a primary win in New Hampshire by a moderate Senator from Colorado named Gary Hart, Mondale maintained his front-runner status. Civil Rights Activist Jesse Jackson was regarded as a fringe candidate and finished in 3rd place, eventually winning 21% of the popular vote from the Democratic primary. Former astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn also announced his candidacy, he was in 2nd place behind Mondale in early polling, but Glenn ultimately failed as a candidate.
John Glenn: Glenn was an astronaut and became a Senator in 1974. Glenn was considered a choice for Carter’s vice-president nominee but his speech did not impress the Democratic Party. In November of 1983, Glenn was polling a close second, trailing only Mondale. Glenn decided to run for President as if he was voting for Senate. He declined to cater to the interest groups, trying to appeal to everyday voters. Glenn went deep in debt for his presidential campaign and failed to live up to his early billing.
Jesse Jackson: Jackson was more or less considered a fringe candidate. He managed to win three to five primaries. He won more votes in Virginia than any other candidate, but Mondale won more delegates. Jackson’s campaign was doomed by his anti-Semitic remarks referring to New York City as Hymietown. He also refused to disassociate himself from Louis Farrakhan. He also was a supporter of the Palestine state. Jackson was also critical of Mondale, saying that the last relevant politician from Minneapolis was Hubert Humphrey.
Gary Hart: Hart, Senator from Colorado, started out behind many contenders as someone who was not well known within the Democratic Party. He began his campaign in New Hampshire earlier than most. By late 1983, Hart was ahead of the middling contenders and polled in the middle of the pack. Although, he lost the Iowa caucus, he came back and won the New Hampshire primary. Hart was a moderate Democrat, who people thought represented the future of the party. Because he was more independent, his ideas were different than many of the contenders in the Democratic primary. Mondale jumped on this by claiming that Hart’s ideas were not substantial enough. Ultimately, Hart lost to Mondale in the Democratic convention.
Walter Mondale: Mondale, by virtue of being Vice-President from 1977-1981 and running in 1980, was the clear front-runner in the 1984 election. Mondale was a typical liberal Democratic presidential candidate who eventually campaigned against Ronald Reagan by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, a nuclear freeze, and against Reagan’s economic policies. His liberal attitudes helped him clinch the Democratic nomination but ultimately failed him in the general election.
Conclusion: Mondale was the most liberal candidate in the field. He was also the front-runner throughout the entire election. Some credit his lopsided defeat in the general election as the reason to shift to more moderate candidates from the Democratic party.
After the fairly strong showing in the 1984 presidential primaries, Gary Hart was considered the front-runner for the 1988 nomination. But in 1987, news broke that Hart had an extra-marital affair. Hart suspended his campaign and it became a free-for-all for the nomination. Representative Dick Gephardt initially seized some of the momentum in Iowa by highlighting what he thought was unfair trade practices by Japan and South Korea. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis portrayed Gephardt as a flip-flopper in commercials. Gephardt finished second to Dukakis in New Hampshire but his flop-flopping advertisements doomed Gephardt by Super Tuesday. In early 1988, Jesse Jackson gained momentum by winning in Michigan. But that was short-lived, as Dukakis won the Colorado primary and Wisconsin primary in back to back days. Senator Al Gore ran, as well, trying to capture the momentum on Super Tuesday as being the only Southern candidate, when 12 states would hold their primaries. But he failed to account for Jackson, as Jackson and Gore split the Southern votes. Dukakis did not focus on the Southern states and was able to win the majority of the primaries.
Dick Gephardt: Rep. Gephardt ran for President from his position representing Missouri, the 3rd District. Gephardt, initially was dependent on labor and union spending as he decided to run. He, initially, was critical of the decision in Roe v. Wade but later decided that he no longer supports restrictions on abortion rights. He, also, initially voted in favor of Reagan’s tax cuts before being against them. He supported universal health coverage, fair trade, and progressive taxation. He was able to capitalize on this spending by running advertisements that included highlighting unfair trade from Japan and Korea. But after Jesse Jackson’s strong showing in Michigan, many unions and those in the labor movement switched support to Jesse Jackson, Gephardt ran out of money and steam. Despite his strong showing early, he was out by Super Tuesday.
Al Gore: Gore, initially was a long-shot for the nomination. But because of his youthfulness and his centrist policies, Gore seemed to be a match made in television heaven. Gore was a Southern Democrat who opposed federal funding for abortion, supported prayer in school, and voted against banning interstate sales of handguns. Gore was compared, somewhat favorably, to John F. Kennedy. But Gore did not foresee Jackson splitting the Southern vote with him on Super Tuesday. Gore was also criticized for some of the supporting words given by New York City Mayor Ed Koch in defense of Israel. Many of these views cast others in negative light and Gore was perceived as being too negative, he soon dropped out of the race.
Jesse Jackson: Initially considered a long shot due to his race and his kind of strange showing in the 1984 Presidential nomination process, Jackson showed to be a formidable foe by giving a rousing speech to the United AutoWorkers in Detroit. Jackson picked up a lot of support in the union heavy Michigan. After, he won the state, Jackson was considered the front-runner. Jackson was considered to be a very liberal candidate supporting a variety of views that were not even on the Democratic party platform. He was a supporter of single payer health care, going away from mandatory minimum sentences, reviving many of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies for farmers, providing free community college for all, among others. Jackson was doomed, in part, because of the criminal activity of his half-brother. Jackson, also, did not have the support from white voters.
Michael Dukakis: The Governor of Massachusetts at the time, Dukakis merely outspent the rest of his opponents to eventually win the nomination. It really wasn’t that impressive of a victory. This seems similar to Mitt Romney in 2012. Dukakis ate up his competitors by outspending them and appealing to white voters. By not focusing on the South, Dukakis was able to win other stats while Gore split the South with Jackson.
Conclusion: This election was very strange. Dukakis was able to pick apart his opponents by using their weaknesses against them. By focusing on flip-flopping with Gephardt, appealing to white voters to defeat Jackson, and to show that Gore was not liberal enough, Dukakis was able to secure the nomination. This one had three lead changes for the nomination and the heavy favorite before the election did not even end up running.
As the Iowa caucus came about Iowa Senator Tom Harkin won handily but less than one month later, Harkin was out of the race. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who was painting himself as a New Democrat, was a relative unknown. A woman came forward claiming an affair with Clinton, but he re-branded himself as the comeback kid. He finished in second place behind Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas in New Hampshire. California Governor Jerry Brown won in Maine delaying the momentum of Tsongas. Clinton began to take the momentum away from Tsongas and Brown, finishing in 2nd place in Arizona before beginning to win states of his own. Tsongas hoped to push Brown out of the race by Illinois but Brown managed to stick around coming in 3rd place. A week later, Brown won Connecticut sealing the fate for Tsongas. Clinton won the vast majority of states after Connecticut. Brown lost New York after being ahead for awhile. That was the end for Brown. Clinton was able to secure the nomination.
Tom Harkin: The Iowa Senator was considered the early favorite for the Democratic nomination. He had strong support with the labor movement and began his run as a populist. But he was not well suited for a national campaign. Poor showings at other primaries doomed Harkin. He threw his support behind Bill Clinton, early on, and later campaigned for him.
Paul Tsongas: Tsongas ignored the Iowa caucus and decided to focus on the New Hampshire primary. He began the campaign focusing on his independence and fiscal conservatism. He decided against campaigning on a tax cut like many other candidates. He was viewed as a social liberal and an economic moderate. While in Congress, he focused on environmental conservation and pro-business economic policies. He was critical of the Democratic party for focusing on wealth redistribution when he thought they should be focusing on the federal deficit. Tsongas, after his New Hampshire primary win, picked up several other primaries but was unable to match Clinton for fundraising. His biggest chance was to force Jerry Brown from the race, which he was unable to do. He was briefly considered the front-runner but Bill Clinton’s popularity and narrative as the comeback kid, placed him as the favorite for the majority of the race.
Jerry Brown: The former Governor of California was considered to be the most left candidate and the candidate who was the most right. He campaigned by only accepting individual donations. He also campaigned on populist ideals, calling for Congressional term limits. But at different points, he campaigned for a flat tax, the abolition of the Department of Education, opposition to NAFTA, and support for living-wage laws. Brown’s campaign was interesting, not spending for commercials but hosting talk and radio shows. What allowed him to be a serious contender to Clinton was a narrow victory in Connecticut. What doomed him was his in the New York primary, he told many Democratic leaders in New York City that he was considering Jesse Jackson as his Vice-President. Because of his anti-Semitic remarks earlier, Jackson was still a hated figure in New York City. Brown was unable to win New York. Ultimately, Brown came in 2nd place overall.
Bill Clinton: Clinton gave a very long speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention that was poorly delivered. He should have played the saxophone. But Clinton was an unknown in Iowa for the nomination, finishing a distant third. While campaigning in New Hampshire, accusations of an extramarital affair was surfacing. Clinton went on 60 Minutes with Hillary Rodham Clinton fighting the charge. Clinton was able to convince enough voters to give him some love. He finished within single digits of Tsongas in New Hampshire. This was considered a major victory for Clinton’s campaign because he was not expected to do this well. Clinton secured most of the South on Super Tuesday but he had failed to win a state outside of the South. Because of Jerry Brown’s mistake in New York, Clinton was able to win New York which gave him credence that he wasn’t a regional candidate. Clinton later became the nominee.
Conclusion: The original favorite bowed out early. Clinton became the favorite by New Hampshire but there were still many questions about his ability to win outside of the South fairly late. While Brown was never considered a favorite, he gave Clinton a challenge. As for who was most Conservative and most Liberal? Clinton was thought to be the leader of the New Democratic Party where it was going to win the middle of America. Brown was considered the most Conservative and most Liberal candidate. Tsongas is certainly not a Liberal. Harkin was the closest to a Liberal in the campaign. But, yikes. There was not a true Liberal in the Mondale mold.
Vice-President Al Gore was considered the favorite to run for the presidential nomination, as early as 1997. Meanwhile, New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley formed an exploratory campaign to run for President in 1998. Bradley was the only candidate to challenge Gore. He trailed Gore in every poll and every primary.
Bill Bradley: Bradley campaigned as the liberal alternative to Vice-President Al Gore. He campaigned on universal health care, gun control, and campaign finance reform. Bradley also advocated for expanding the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit, expand Head Start, and expand welfare. He stated that the best tax system would be low rates and no loopholes. Bradley did not lead in any poll and he lost every primary.
Al Gore: After basically 12 years in the national spotlight, either running for President or being Vice-President, Gore was the Democratic Party’s favorite to win the nomination. Gore ran to the middle throughout the campaign and distanced himself from Bill Clinton. Gore was offensive with Bradley during their debates, but thanks to access to the party’s credit card, Gore was able to win the nomination, easily.
Conclusion: If you’re arguing for Hillary Clinton to be the nominee, Al Gore is basically your comparison. Gore was much more conservative than Bradley and was considered the favorite three years before election. If this is the nomination process in 2016, I fear for the 2016 Democratic nomination. As we’ve seen for a number of primaries the favorite failed to secure the nomination, but in 2000, this was remarkably changed.
In May of 2002, Vermont Governor Howard Dean announced he would form an exploratory committee to run for President. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry announced in December of 2002 that he, too, would form a committee. North Carolina John Edwards also announced his intention to form a committee. In April of 2004, fundraising totals for the first quarter of 2003 were announced showing Edwards in the lead, followed by Kerry. Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman were ahead of Howard Dean but they were still over $4 million behind Kerry and Edwards. Dean showed the first advertisement of the campaign. A liberal website, MoveOn held a nonbinding Democratic primary for financial support and the website’s endorsement. Dean came in first, followed by Dennis Kucinich, and Kerry. By July of 2003, the second quarter fundraising numbers were in and Dean was now able to raise more money than anyone else. Kerry came in second. Edwards tied with Lieberman, in third place. In fall of 2003, Dean was considered the favorite, performing strongly in polls. Although he was a pragmatic centrist as Governor, in the mold of Bill Clinton, he denounced George W. Bush’s policies, in addition to, Democrats who did not oppose them, enough. Dean was referred to as a Rockefeller Republican, socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Despite being a heavy favorite, Dean focused on negative advertisements in Iowa. After the results of Iowa were counted, Kerry finished in 1st, Edwards in 2nd, and Dean in 3rd. Dean downplayed the result but Kerry was able to win New Hampshire, as well. Edwards regained momentum by focusing on positive ads. Kerry was able to maintain his lead throughout the process and secured the nomination.
Howard Dean: Dean has become a favorite of liberals on the internet who think that Dean represented the only liberal response in 2004. They forget the criticism of Ralph Nader and others that called him a Rockefeller Republican. Dean opposed the Iraq War and the Bush tax cuts and drew on the internet for grassroots activism and campaign funding. This was in the mold of Jerry Brown asking for individual donations for his presidential campaign. Dean was a longshot candidate to begin with, but because of his early announcement, as we’ve seen, he was able to gain early support.
John Edwards: Edwards was a one-term Senator from North Carolina. He was the second or third place finisher in almost every primary. Looking at the fundraising numbers, Edwards was the favorite to win the nomination. By virtue of staying in the race longer than others, he was able to secure a number of delegates. He also focused on positive advertisements. He refused to attack John Kerry.
John Kerry: Despite not being the party favorite or party activists’ favorite, Kerry won nearly every primary or caucus. You know he’s pretty much the favorite, when they say that the Iowa caucus revitalized his sagging campaign. It’s the first caucus. Whatever.
Conclusion: Edwards was initially the favorite if you look at fundraising. Due to the internet and progressives, more or less seeing the same blogs and websites, Dean was the favorite. But when it came to voting, there was no doubt, Kerry was the favorite, throughout. Dean was considered by some to be the most liberal and that’s certainly the popular narrative now. But that could simply be political posturing. Edwards was often the one who was characterized as being the populist. But we know how narratives can be invented years after the fact.
This was the first presidential election I remember paying close attention to. I watched the Democratic Presidential debates and also one of my friends and I volunteered for John Edwards’s campaign. With respect to the other candidates, the choices were between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton emerged as the early two favorites in terms of fundraising. Clinton was the favorite, according to an assortment of polls. In September 2007, she was leading the first six states that would hold primaries and caucuses. After multiple third place finishes, Edwards dropped out of the race. Barack Obama won the early momentum by winning Iowa after Hillary Clinton declined to show up. Obama campaigned largely on hope and change. The Iowa caucus announced his presence to those who had been ignoring politics. After the Iowa caucus, Obama began to look a little bit better in polls, showing him leading in New Hampshire. Clinton narrowly won New Hampshire. She stumbled after New Hampshire, implicitly making a racial remark about Obama. Bill Clinton later compared Barack Obama’s primary victories to Jesse Jackson’s victories in 1988. Obama surged on Super Tuesday after a one on one debate with Hillary Clinton. The idea among Democratic voters and progressives was that Obama would be more liberal than Clinton.
The favorite for the Democratic primary won in 1984 and 2000.
The most “moderate” candidate won in 1976 and 2000.
There is not strong historical evidence for the claim that the Democratic party would nominate the most moderate candidate. Nor is there strong evidence for the favorite before the primary season to win the Democratic nomination.