Democratic Party presidential primaries

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For the current Democratic primaries, see Democratic Party presidential primaries, 2016.


Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee defeated President Harry S. Truman in the New Hampshire primary becoming the first person to ever drive an incumbent from the race during the 20th Century. Kefauver swept the primaries, but there weren't enough to be able to win the nomination.


Adlai Stevenson, who had won the 1952 nomination on third ballot, defeated Estes Kefauver in the early primaries, thus becoming the last losing Democratic Presidential nominee to win a second nomination. He would lose again.


Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts defeated Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota in the two contested primaries.


Governor George Wallace of Alabama made a feeble challenge to President Lyndon Johnson and his surrogates, who were running because he pretended not to be running.


In the last successful challenge to an incumbent President, Senator Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota came extremely close to defeating President Johnson in New Hampshire, and with polls showing him winning Wisconsin and the entry of Senator Robert Kennedy of New York, the President withdrew from the race.

Thus followed an exciting race between Kennedy and McCarthy, but Vice President Humphrey swept the caucuses and two favorite sons who already endorsed him had won primaries in Ohio and Florida, giving him a substantial lead by the time Senator Kennedy was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist on the last day of the primaries.


The 1972 primaries set the record for the highest amount of candidates in a major party's presidential primaries in American history, with 16. After the Chappaquiddick incident in 1969, Ted Kennedy fell from front runner to non-candidate. Ed Muskie was the establishment favorite until he was reported to have cried emotionally during a speech defending himself against the Canuck letter. George McGovern was able to gain ground and make a strong showing in New Hampshire. George Wallace ran as an outsider and did well in the South. His campaign was ended when an assassin shot him and left him paralyzed. McGovern went on to win a majority of the delegates and the nomination at the convention. However, his prior efforts to reform the nomination process had reduced the power of Democratic Party leaders. McGovern had difficulty getting a vice presidential running mate to run with him. It then took hours to get him approved. A couple weeks later it was revealed that Thomas F. Eagleton had undergone electroshock therapy for depression. After claiming to back Eagleton "1000%", McGovern asked him to resign three days later. After a week of being publicly rebuffed by prominent Democrats, McGovern finally managed to get Sargent Shriver to be his new running mate. This trouble compounded the already weak support he had among party leaders.


The 1976 primaries matched the record previously set in 1972 for the highest amount of candidates in any presidential primaries in American history, with 16. During the primaries, Jimmy Carter capitalized on his status as an outsider. The 1976 campaign was the first in which primaries and caucuses carried more weight than the old boss-dominated system. Carter exploited this, competing in every contest and won so many delegates that he held an overwhelming majority of the delegates at the convention.


The incumbent President Jimmy Carter faced high unemployment, high inflation and gas shortages in California. Against this backdrop, Ted Kennedy decided to run after sitting out 1968, 1972 and 1976. Kennedy stumbled badly in an interview, then the Iran hostage crisis in November 1979 dealt a near fatal blow as Carter's calm approach caused his poll numbers to rise. Carter won decisively everywhere except Massachusetts until the public began to grow weary of the hostage situation. Kennedy then began to win and even swept the last states. It was too little, too late. Carter had a slight advantage and enough delegates to win the nomination.


Walter Mondale entered the race as the favorite. He had raised the most money, had the backing of the most party leaders and had a very good organization in the Midwest and Northeast. Even so, both Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart managed to mount effective national campaigns against him. Jackson won several states in the South but was unable to recover after calling Jews "Hymies" and New York City "Hymietown".[1] Hart waged a strong campaign in New Hampshire, Ohio, California and the West, looking as if he could win. Hart's downfall came when, in a televised debate, Mondale said he was reminded of the Wendy's slogan "Where's the beef?" whenever he heard Hart talk about his "New Ideas" program. The audience laughed and applauded. Hart was never able to shake the impression created that his policy lacked weight. Mondale gradually pulled ahead, winning a comfortable majority by convention time.


Democrats entered the race hoping to build on mid-term wins that gave them control of the Senate and the ongoing Iran Contra scandal. Gary Hart's strong showing in 1984 gave him the advantage but extramarital affairs damaged his campaign. It was over after reporters caught him with Donna Rice. Ted Kennedy decided not to run back in 1985. Joseph Biden was caught up in a plagiarism scandal when Governor Dukakis took video of a Democratic debate and made a campaign hit piece showing that Biden quoted Neil Kinnock, then-leader of the British Labour Party, without attribution. A picture being worth a thousand words, the video outweighed multiple press accounts about Biden's pre- and post-debate use of the British quote while including attribution.[2] Biden was effectively tarred as a plagiarist by Dukakis and was forced out of the race. The Delaware Supreme Court's Board on Professional Responsibility would later clear Biden of law school plagiarism charges brought up in relation to the Dukakis political hit piece.[3] Except for Biden and Hart, all seven major candidates won at least one primary, and for a while the hope of a multiballot convention remained alive.

Michael Dukakis ended up with two-thirds of the delegates, winning the nomination.


Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush was riding a wave of popularity. The party leaders who otherwise might have run declined to, leaving the race open to lesser known candidates. By the beginning of the first primary, an economic recession had hurt Bush and energized the Democrats. Bill Clinton rose from the pack after allegations of an affair. His wife appeared on 60 Minutes with him. The damage control worked. Clinton placed second in the next primary in New Hampshire and then almost swept every Super Tuesday contest. Jerry Brown won several primaries but made a serious gaffe. At a meeting with New York City Jewish community leaders, he said he would consider Jesse Jackson as a Vice-Presidential running mate. Jackson had made anti-Jewish remarks in 1984, calling New York City "Hymietown". Brown never won another primary. He won more delegates than any other candidate except Clinton but Clinton had five times the vote and was easily the winner.


With popular Democratic incumbent President Bill Clinton running for re-election, the nomination process was uneventful. The only opposition was from fringe candidates, one of whom, Lyndon LaRouche won delegates but they were forbidden entrance to the Convention.

See Also


Incumbent Vice-President Al Gore had the support of the party establishment and a strong base within the party after eight years under President Bill Clinton. His only significant challenger was Bill Bradley who never managed to win a primary. With Bradley's delegates forbidden to vote for him, Gore was chosen unanimously at the convention.


After his loss in the last election, Al Gore decided not to run in 2004, leaving the field wide open. Howard Dean broke out early with an internet campaign and led in fundraising. Wesley Clark threw his hat into the ring too late and never gained footing. John Kerry and John Edwards made an unexpectedly strong showing in the first caucus. Dean finished second in the next contest but dropped out thereafter. Kerry dominated the race with only Edwards offering real competition. However Edwards managed to finish first only in South Carolina and withdrew after Kerry won decisive victories on Super Tuesday. Kerry easily won the nomination, with Edwards as his running mate. Kerry subsequently lost the presidential election to George W. Bush


Barack Obama won the nomination, running against Hillary Clinton. He later became President and she became Secretary of State in his administration.


Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama ran for re-election, and faced no major opposition in the primaries. The minor opposition was forbidden to have the delegates they had won attend the convention.


Hillary Clinton is the current frontrunner in all states but Vermont and New Hampshire, where Bernie Sanders is in the lead.


  1. ^ Larry J. Sabato's Feeding Frenzy (July 21, 1998). "Jesse Jackson's 'Hymietown' Remark – 1984". Washington Post. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  2. ^ Dowd, Maureen (September 12, 1987). "Biden's Debate Finale: An Echo From Abroad". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Professional Board Clears Biden In Two Allegations of Plagiarism". The New York Times. May 29, 1989. p. 29. 

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