This article in the Boston Phoenix provides an overview of recent contests for both the Democratic and Republican nominations (h/t Suburban Guerilla) and finds that running primaries all the way to the convention is far from unusual, especially among Democrats. Author Steven Stark concludes, “[t]he fact is that, until now, candidates have rarely, if ever, faced such a concerted movement. . . urging them to drop out before their rival has clinched the nomination.” He notes that this is “an argument virtually without precedent in modern political history, at least at this stage of such a close race. And while it does have its origins in an effort to preserve party unity, it also has its roots in an odd and vitriolic crusade to purge the Clintons and hand the nomination to a candidate who has yet, after all, to win a single large state’s primary (other than his own), let alone the nomination.” (Well, I would say that Georgia is a significant large state victory, but that neither Obama nor Clinton is likely to win its Electoral College votes in November.)
Stark then reviews recent Democratic primaries, noting that in 1988 Jesse Jackson and in 1980 Ted Kennedy (who was after all running for the nomination against a sitting President!) waged their campaigns all the way to the party convention. He also notes that rivals for the nomination carried on to the convention in both 1976 and 1960, and that Ronald Reagan (he of the “eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” remember?) went all the way to the 1976 Republican party convention also against a sitting president,Gerald Ford. (Historiann isn’t a modern U.S. political historian, but that run-down looks accurate to me–historians with more knowledge, please render your judgment of Stark’s analysis in the comments below.) “Yet,” Stark writes, “in one of the tightest races in modern history — before the opponent has come close to clearly clinching the nomination, before a number of voters have been given the chance to have their voices heard, and when Clinton still has a chance, albeit a slim one, to win the prize, she is continually vilified for failing to see the light and bow out. What gives?”
Well, as you regular readers know, Historiann has been asking“what gives?” about the blatantly unjust press coverage and the vitriol from within the Democratic party trained on Clinton all along. Stark assigns a lot of blame to “Clinton Fatigue,” and raises the question of sexism, but Historiann thinks he overlooks another important factor: the primary elections listed above weren’t nearly as close as this one is. The reason Obama loyalists are calling for Clinton to drop out is that, to paraphrase Monty Python, she’s not dead. Obama hasn’t been able to deliver the knockout blow–despite the hyperventilations of Chris Matthews, he failed to turn his Iowa triumph into a victory in New Hampshire, and he only ran even with her on Super Tuesday (although she took the big prizes, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York, natch). He trounced her in the Crabcake Primaries, but then was himself soundly beaten both in Ohio and Texas in March. The upcoming primaries look pretty good for Clinton, and with the exception of North Carolina, not so good for Obama. This primary has been run to a draw, friends, so let’s see this “Drop Out!” demand as the political tactic it is. In spite of her campaign’s blunders, wretchedly biased press coverage, and the condescention and insults aimed at her by a small but loud subset of Obama backers, she’s running just about dead even, and neither candidate will be able to clinch the nomination without the Superdelegates. Neither candidate should drop out–they owe it to the Democratic Party to give us a fair fight, to let everyone vote, and to let all the votes be counted. (He may yet do it in Pennsylvania–polls have shown that it may be a very competitive race, but a SUSA poll released today shows Clinton up by 18 points, and benefiting from a big swing in men’s votes.)
Recently, the Obama campaign has apparently sent out a new memo to its surrogates asking them to dial back the calls to “Drop Out Now, Hillary!” (I heard Chris Dodd scaling back on The Ed Schultz Show last week, for example, and the candidate himself has walked this one back, too.) That’s a good move, considering that at least half of us prefer Clinton and resent, in Stark’s words, “that Clinton is being held to a different standard than virtually any other candidate in history. . . . In this case, when Clinton is simply doing what everyone else has always done, she’s constantly attacked as an obsessed and crazed egomaniac, bent on self-aggrandizement at the expense of her party.” If Obama is the nominee, he needs to make sure that Clinton doesn’t just lose, he needs to make sure that he wins decisively. And the only way to do that is to let the people vote.