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We've Been Here Before

In many remarkable ways, the ongoing battle of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination is way too similar to the 1972 battle between George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey. In 1972, George McGovern was attracting the votes of young antiwar voters, while Humphrey's major base of support was the older, more traditional, if not more conservative Democrats.

McGovern was leading in delegates by 929 to 760 for Humphrey just before the pivotal June California winner-take-all primary, which had 271 delegates at stake. McGovern needed just over 1,500 delegates to capture the nomination. After losing the California primary to McGovern, Humphrey continued to press his case all the way to the Democratic convention's rules committee, hoping to change California's winner-take-all primary rule. Only after losing in the rules committee, did Humphrey withdraw from his run for the presidency, some of his delegates supporting the nominee McGovern, and others supporting an 11th hour failed effort by neoconservative Washington Senator Henry Jackson.

2008 is looking very similar. Clinton has attracted largely the same sort of more traditional, if not more conservative Democrats that Humphrey once attracted. And Obama is creating the same sort of excitement among young voters, many antiwar, that George McGovern once attracted.

And it was an accepted 2008 DNC rule to not seat the Michigan and Florida delegates as a penalty for holding their primary too early, although a Republican governor in Florida was responsible, just like the tough California winner-take-all rule. Since Clinton is behind in delegates she would like to have the DNC rules committee change the rules on Florida and Michigan, which would move up the number of required delegates needed to win the nomination from 2,026 to 2,210. If half of the delegates are seated, the number would move up to 2,118. This is very similar to the Humphrey effort to change the California winner-take-all primary rule after the primary did not turn out in his favor.

Not only are there these similar events to 1972 in 2008, but a divided Democratic Party had many more traditional Democrats refuse to support McGovern in the general election. Many Humphrey voters helped to re-elect Republican Richard Nixon who was offering a "stay the course" path on the Vietnam War.

McGovern was a change candidate, Nixon was the status quo candidate. McGovern was the end-the-war candidate, Nixon the stay-the-course candidate.

1972 has many lessons for 2008. A divided Democratic Party cannot win. Both major Democratic candidates need to come together with strong support or a divided party fails in the general election.


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Comments (5)

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

The saddest thing about Florida and Michigan is that we had the time, interest, incentive and funding to re-do both primaries, but that effort was blocked by Obama.

No doubt Obama will fare better with the result of the DNC decision this weekend than he would have had the primaries been done over and counted in full -- but the resulting angst and anger over the issue wasn't worth the price in the larger picture. In the final analysis, Obama didn't need to block the re-do in order to have enough delegates - and it's no coincidence that Obama has major-league issues to overcome with Florida voters who don't trust him -- older voters primarily.

If Obama ends up losing the national election because he doesn't win Florida... what a price we Democrats have paid at that point.

There is actually a great deal of history in 1972 for to give some thought to both the Clinton and Obama camps. Is Obama another very liberal antiwar candidate like George McGovern who is unelectable? Is Clinton damaging the party by driving many more traditional and more conservative Democrats towards supporting McCain in 2008? Will Florida and Michigan be resolved well enough by the DNC to prevent the loss of Michigan to McCain. Florida is likely a lost cause because it a Southern state, and roughly votes with Republicans most of the time anyway. 1972 is worth pondering for many reasons.

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

Sure - NOW you ponder *wink

It is too late. There are a great number of similarities, and the superdelegate rules were written specifically to address this and to prevent another "McGovern", but Obama and a doting press have ridden roughshod over the Democratic party, and it's too late now -- like it or not -- Obama is it.

To tell you the honest truth, Lee, I've always had some real concerns about both Obama and Clinton, despite some positive things I also like about both of them. Had my father lived, he would have supported John Edwards. Maybe he had it right. Edwards was a safe, traditional sort of Democrat, straight out of central casting, but unfortunately with little real support. If Edwards could just get the nomination, he would likely have been the most electable of the pack.

While the Republicans can always be counted on to pick some "business as usual type" for their nominee, it is the more progressive nature of the Democrats to sometimes choose some candidate not really marketable to a basicly conservative dominated nation that sometimes leave Democrats on the short end of elections. In Canada or Europe, many Democratic nominees like a McGovern could essily win election, just not in this country.

Will Democrats lose an easy election in 2008? Rasmussen still gives the Donkey Party a better than 61% chance of winning the White House despite any nominee they eventually choose. I hope they're right.

Lee Ward[TypeKey Profile Page]:

I think Obama will manage - somehow - to beat the odds and lose the election.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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