NPR logo Super Tuesday Was Created To Nominate Someone Moderate. It Backfired

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Super Tuesday Was Created To Nominate Someone Moderate. It Backfired

Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee, pumps his fist during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Anonymous/AP hide caption

toggle caption Anonymous/AP

Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee, pumps his fist during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.

Anonymous/AP

The phrase "Super Tuesday" first emerged in 1980, when three Southern states — Alabama, Florida and Georgia — held their primaries on the same day.

It grew to nine in 1984. But the modern-day Super Tuesday was born in 1988, when a dozen Southern states on the Democratic side, upset with the nomination of Walter Mondale four years earlier and frustrated with being out of power in the White House for 20 years save for one term of Jimmy Carter, banded together to try to nominate someone more moderate.

It backfired.

Al Gore of Tennessee and Jesse Jackson split the Southern states with Jackson winning black Democrats.

That allowed for Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis to become the nominee after winning in the North, as well as in Florida and Texas. He, like Mondale before him, would go on to lose badly in the general election.

Ironically, the more moderate, Southern white Democrats, who concocted the Super Tuesday plan, are now rare in the modern Democratic Party.

And the Southern states remain big players on Super Tuesday, giving more influence not to moderate whites but to black voters. In seven of those Southern states, for example, a third of the Democratic electorate in 2008 was African-American. In two of them — Georgia and Alabama — they were a majority of Democratic voters.

On the Republican side in 1988, Super Tuesday worked for George H.W. Bush. He won 16 of the 17 contests that year, helping to clinch the nomination. It also sealed the nominations for Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, Republican Bob Dole in 1996 and Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore in 2000, as well as Democrat John Kerry in 2004.

Outside of the 1988 and 2008 Democratic races, Super Tuesday had essentially brought the nomination fights to an end, and it had done so in every GOP race — until 2008 and 2012.

While the nominations weren't quite wrapped up those years for John McCain and Mitt Romney, respectively, they still won their Super Tuesdays, and it gave them clear front-runner statuses. They did go on to the GOP nomination after somewhat drawn-out fights.

Past Super Tuesdays

This year's Super Tuesday — with 14 states and territories (including American Samoa) — isn't as super as the 2008 record for most contests on a single day when 25 were held. But it's essentially back on par with the number of contests that went outside of that year:

March 11, 1980: (3) Alabama, Florida, Georgia

March 13, 1984: (9) Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Washington

March 8, 1988: (21) Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Virginia

March 10, 1992: (11) Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas

March 12, 1996: (7) Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas

March 7, 2000: (16) California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington

March 2, 2004: (10) California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont

Feb. 5, 2008: (25) Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia

March 6, 2012: (11) Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming

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