The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
  • Political Junkie Archive

  • ScuttleButton, Ken's weekly puzzle

  • Ken Rudin biography

    Politics Columns:

  • Early Returns
  • State of Play
  • Money Talks

  • Campaigns section

  •  
    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Do the Democrats Have a Race for the White House?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, July 9, 1999

    Question: If Al Gore stumbles in the Iowa caucuses and early primaries, is it possible other Democrats besides Bill Bradley could get into the race? This surely would be affected by the compressed primary schedule. – Frank Smist, Kansas City, Mo.

    Button
    Some Democrats waited in vain for Humphrey to seek the 1976 Democratic nomination. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Possible, yes, but unlikely. The real "first primary" is the money race in 1999. The latest finance numbers show Vice President Gore raising $18.5 million this year, and Bill Bradley collecting $11.5 million. For another candidate to wait for the early primary and caucuses before making a bid is impractical – he or she would have to raise a ton of money in a hurry. Plus, as you mentioned, we are dealing with a compressed primary schedule that for all intents and purposes could end the race for the nomination by mid-March. If Gore were to stumble, the delegates would go for Bradley. If not, Gore wins the nomination. If Gore were destined to be the nominee but was branded a general-election loser, someone could possibly get in the race as an independent. But not in time for the primaries.

    The dream-candidate scenario has surfaced before. Ted Kennedy was going to rescue the Democratic Party from the hapless George McGovern in 1972. Hubert Humphrey was going to come off the sidelines and take on Jimmy Carter in 1976. Gerald Ford was not going to let the GOP jump off the cliff with the conservative Ronald Reagan in 1980. We always wait for these candidates to appear, but they seldom do.

    Question: John Anderson abandoned his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in the spring of 1980, opting instead to run for the White House as an independent. What do you think the chances are of Bill Bradley doing something similar from the Democratic side in 2000? – G. Scott Thomas, Tonawanda, N.Y.

    Button
    This 1980 independent ticket was comprised of John Anderson, a Republican congressman, and Pat Lucey, a Democratic former governor of Wisconsin. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: In the fall of 1995, Bradley, then in his final year as a Democratic senator from New Jersey, publicly discussed a possible independent bid for the White House in 1996. Dissatisfactions with President Clinton and the Republican Party prompted his musings, but ultimately he decided against running. Bradley has given no indication that he would go the independent route if he fails to win the Democratic nomination in 2000. But Anderson, a liberal Republican congressman from Illinois, didn't either. At least at first.

    Anderson's rise in 1980's early GOP primaries was boosted by support from independent (and in some states, Democratic) voters. These voters – not Republicans – largely fueled his decision to seek the presidency as an independent. Anderson figured he had a chance to win if Republicans thought of likely nominee Ronald Reagan as too conservative and Democrats perceived President Carter as too flawed. But as is the case with most independent candidacies, the early dream of grandeur – some polls showed Anderson in the 20s and preparations were made for an Electoral College stalemate – faded fast. He never was able to raise the money to compete with the two major-party nominees. He wound up with just 6.6 percent of the vote.

    Question: Bill Bradley seems to be a real threat to win the Democratic nomination. And Bill Clinton is heavily supporting Al Gore. This could pose real problems for the Democrats. It would seem to me that Clinton is in a position where he could seriously aggravate Bradley supporters. What do you think? – Andrew Kleit, State College, Pa.

    Answer: Clinton is known to be concerned about his legacy, and Gore's election as his successor is one way to assure it. The president has said many times – well before Bradley entered the race – that he will do whatever he can to see that Gore is nominated and elected. That remains the case, despite reports of friction over the Veepster's public criticism of Clinton's involvement with Monica Lewinsky. But Bradley's rise in the polls may be partly a reaction to weariness over what Clinton has put the country through during the past seven years, so in that respect the Bradley people might not mind having Clinton and Gore linked in voters' minds.

    Post Script: In the June 18 column, there was a question about presidents who "continued their political life in elected office" after they vacated 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Mike Dowling of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Adam Hurtubise of Malden, Mass.; Matt Pinkus of Silver Spring, Md.; and Willy Jay of Churchville, Md., all pointed out the case of John Tyler. Tyler, the nation's 10th president, took over following the death of William Henry Harrison. He left office in 1845 after failing to win his party's nomination for a full term. In November of 1861, Tyler, 71, won election to the Confederate Congress as a representative from Virginia. But he died on Jan. 18, 1862 while preparing to attend the first session of this Congress. So though he was elected, he never served. And that gets me off the hook with my answer.

    The following came in response to another question in that June 18 column:

    Question: I was surprised you left out Wendell Willkie in your list of dark- horse nominees. Certainly, no political pro gave him much of a chance when the Republican convention began in 1940. He was a declared Democrat until 1939, a Democratic delegate who voted for FDR at the 1932 convention, and finally won the 1940 GOP nomination on the sixth ballot. – Dennis McCulloch, Kansas City, Mo.

    Button
    Willkie took the 1940 GOP convention by storm and won the nomination on the 6th ballot. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: I tried to define a "dark-horse nominee" as a reluctant candidate who a nominating convention turned to when it found itself hopelessly deadlocked (Polk in 1844, Pierce in 1852, Seymour in 1868, Hayes in 1876, Garfield in 1880, Harding in 1920 and Davis in 1924). In some respects, Willkie was indeed a dark horse; the Republican Party in 1940 was mostly isolationist, and it would have been surprising to turn to the internationalist Willkie. All along the favorites for the nomination were Thomas Dewey and Robert Taft. Willkie had been campaigning for the GOP nod for months, warning of the threat from Germany. But his well-financed campaign really took hold just as the Republican convention opened, when the Nazis defeated France. There was a marked shift in public sentiment (helped along, in part, by publisher Henry Luce), and Willkie won the nomination on the sixth ballot.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar