History May Not Help Figure Out Iowa

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Sen. Birch Bayh's second-place showing in the 1976 Iowa caucuses was of little help to his chances. hide caption

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But Gov. Michael Dukakis' third-place finish in 1988 didn't prevent him from winning the nomination. hide caption

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Richard Nixon is one of three candidates who lost his home state while winning the White House. hide caption

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Before Stephen Colbert's brief attempt this year, Pat Paulsen made a mock-serious bid for president in 1972. hide caption

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This month's NPR Democratic candidate debate in Iowa was the third radio-only presidential debate in history. hide caption

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Thirty-two years ago today, a pre-primary Gallup Poll shows President Ford trailing challenger Ronald Reagan. hide caption

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Jimmy Carter, seen speaking in 1976, spent a tremendous amount of time campaigning in Iowa and finished strong with rural voters. Brian Alpert/Keystone/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Brian Alpert/Keystone/Getty Images
Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter, seen speaking in 1976, spent a tremendous amount of time campaigning in Iowa and finished strong with rural voters.

Brian Alpert/Keystone/Getty Images

Once upon a time, the Iowa caucus was the first step in a long process leading to the presidential nomination. Now, for some (if not many) candidates, it may be their first and final step.

The purpose of all those other states in moving up their primaries and caucuses to early February was to dilute the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. Never before has what happens in Iowa been so important, even if the delegates at stake (45 Democratic, 37 Republican) are minimal.

With three weeks to go, the once-asterisk candidacy of Mike Huckabee is the surprise story on the Republican side, while for the Democrats the question is whether Hillary Clinton's path to the nomination will be the slam-dunk everyone had once expected.

But there's more to it than that. For many candidates who have invested so much time and money in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, finishing well back in the pack could prove to be their Waterloo.

Sometimes, winning Iowa could propel a candidate to the nomination; sometimes, it made no difference. And sometimes, you could lose Iowa and still go on to become the party's nominee. Here's a look at the history of what's happened in Iowa since 1972, when its caucuses first led off the political calendar.

1972 (Jan. 25)
Democrats - Not much attention was paid to Iowa in '72; everyone was looking ahead to see what would happen in New Hampshire, where Maine Sen. Ed Muskie, the clear front-runner, was facing a challenge from Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, the anti-Vietnam War insurgent. But Iowa would be the first sign that Muskie's strength was overrated. The McGovern campaign conducted an under-the-radar effort in the state, and it paid off — if not with a win, then certainly surpassing expectations. Uncommitted 36%, Muskie 35.5%, McGovern 23%.

Republicans - None.

1976 (Jan. 19)
Democrats - Former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter tried to duplicate McGovern's plan but took it one step further, spending a tremendous amount of time in the state, finishing strong with rural voters. His closest rival was Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, who tried to rally liberal Democrats to his side. Uncommitted 37%, Carter 28%, Bayh 13%, former Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris 10%, Rep. Mo Udall of Arizona 6%, Sargent Shriver 3%.

Republicans - The GOP was slow to embrace Iowa as an early test. President Gerald Ford did not campaign in the state at all, and ex-California Gov. Ronald Reagan made one visit. In a random sampling of 62 precincts, Ford received 264 votes to Reagan's 248.

1980 (Jan. 21)
Democrats - President Carter, citing foreign policy crises in Iran and Afghanistan, did not campaign; he sent Vice President Walter Mondale to Iowa in his stead. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts tried in vain to engage Carter on the campaign trail. Carter 59%, Kennedy 31%, Uncommitted 10%.

Republicans - With front-runner Ronald Reagan apparently taking the state for granted, a more energetic George Bush ambushed the former governor with a continuous presence in Iowa that led to an upset victory. Bush 32%, Reagan 29.5%, Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee 15%, ex-Texas Gov. John Connally 9%, Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois 7%, Rep. John Anderson of Illinois 4%, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas 1.5%.

1984 (Feb. 20)
Democrats - Front-runner Walter Mondale, the former vice president, did not disappoint, winning nearly a majority of the vote against seven major party rivals. The big news was the disastrous showing of Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, who was thought to be Mondale's chief rival. Mondale 49%, Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado 16.5%, ex-Sen. McGovern 10%, Uncommitted 9%, Sen. Alan Cranston of California 7%, Glenn 3.5%, ex-Florida Gov. Reubin Askew 2.5%, Jesse Jackson 1.5%.

Republicans - None. (President Reagan ran unopposed for the nomination.)

1988 (Feb. 8)
Democrats - The two Midwesterners, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, dominated, with Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis finishing a competitive third. Gephardt 31%, Simon 27%, Dukakis 22%, Jesse Jackson 9%, ex-Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt 6%, Uncommitted 4.5%, Gary Hart .3%.

Republicans - The strong second-place showing by TV evangelist Pat Robertson, backed by a heretofore invisible throng of Christian conservative voters, sent shockwaves through the GOP establishment, and it sent Vice President George Bush into third place. Bob Dole, as expected, won the caucuses. Dole 37%, Robertson 25%, Bush 19%, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York 11%, ex-Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont 7%.

1992 (Feb. 10)
Democrats - Once Sen. Tom Harkin — of Iowa! — announced his candidacy, all the other Democrats stayed out of the state. Harkin 76%, Uncommitted 12%, ex-Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts 4%, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton 3%, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska 2%, ex-California Gov. Jerry Brown 2%.

Republicans - None. (President Bush unopposed in caucuses.)

1996 (Feb. 12)
Democrats - None. (President Clinton ran unopposed for the nomination.)

Republicans - As he did in 1988, Bob Dole won again, but by a smaller margin than his campaign had hoped. The results gave a boost to TV commentator Pat Buchanan, who finished a close second, and ended the hopes of Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. Dole 26%, Buchanan 23%, ex-Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander 18%, publisher Steve Forbes 10%, Gramm 9%, radio talk-show host Alan Keyes 7%, Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana 4%.

2000 (Jan. 24)
Democrats - Vice President Al Gore defeated ex-Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey by a huge margin. Gore 63%, Bradley 35%.

Republicans - Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the establishment favorite for the nomination, won convincingly, but both Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes, who had run in '96, did better than expected. Bush 41%, Forbes 30%, Keyes 14%, conservative activist Gary Bauer 9%, Sen. John McCain of Arizona 5%, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah 1%.

2004 (Jan. 19)
Democrats - Much of the campaign was thought to be a seesaw battle between former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt, who had won the caucuses back in 1988. Both of them were upended by a late surge from Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina. Dean picked up what was thought to be key endorsements from Sen. Harkin and Al Gore. Kerry 38%, Edwards 32%, Dean 18%, Gephardt 11%, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio 1.3%.

Republicans - None. (President Bush ran unopposed for the nomination.)

Now, your questions:

Q: Had he been elected in 2000, Al Gore would have been one of the few presidents who failed to win his home state. How many presidents have met that fate? - Herb Yood, Orleans, Mass.

A: Let's assume of course that we're using Tennessee as Gore's home state (as opposed to the District of Columbia, where he was actually born). And let's assume George W. Bush's home state is Texas, not Connecticut. Thus, with that criterion in mind, here are the three presidents who lost the state they were ostensibly "from" at the time of their election:

Richard Nixon (New York) - 1968

Woodrow Wilson (New Jersey) - 1916

James Knox Polk (Tennessee) - 1844

Q: A fan of Stephen Colbert, I still can't tell how serious he was about running for president. Was he just trying to get attention or was he actually planning to get on the ballots? - Ian Rexroad, Beavercreek, Ohio

A: It's hard to tell when he's serious and when he's putting us all on, but I suspect Colbert's attempt to run for president in both the South Carolina Democratic and Republican primaries was the latter. Between the large filing fee required to get on the GOP ballot, and the objections from party leaders that kept him off the Democratic ballot, he decided not to run, and maybe that was his intention all along.

Q: I have recently come across your column for the first time. I was surprised that you twice identified John Lindsay as a Democrat running for president. Lindsay, as I recall, was a Republican, hailing from the liberal Republican tradition of Mayor La Guardia. In addition, I was wondering if Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon was a Democrat at the time he was one of two senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. I know he switched parties at one point, and I actually thought it was after 1964. - Phillip Pearson, Santa Barbara, Calif.

A: Lindsay was indeed a liberal Republican when he served in Congress from 1959-65 and when he was elected mayor of New York City in 1965. In 1969, seeking a second term as mayor, he was defeated in the GOP primary and ran — and won — as a candidate on the Liberal and Independent lines. His primary defeat perhaps freed him from aligning with a party that he had been drifting away from for years — though he did, to his lasting regret, give a seconding speech for vice presidential candidate Spiro Agnew at the 1968 Republican convention. In 1970, while not yet a member of the Democratic Party, he endorsed the Democratic candidate for governor, Arthur Goldberg, who was running against incumbent Republican Nelson Rockefeller.

But Lindsay made it official, on Aug. 11, 1971. Goodbye, he said to the Republican Party. Good riddance, said many in the Republican Party. Lindsay shortly thereafter launched a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it went nowhere. He was out of the race following a sixth-place finish in Wisconsin.

As for Wayne Morse, while you are correct in saying he had been a Republican, he had already been elected to the Senate twice as a Democrat by the time he voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. He left the GOP in the fall of 1952, saying he could not vote for the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket, and became an independent. After the Democrats regained control of the Senate in the 1954 elections, Morse officially became a Democrat.

Q: Can you recommend a good book on Bobby Kennedy and/or the 1968 election? - Lawrence Jones, Conifer, Colo.

A: For an assortment of reasons, Robert Kennedy is one of those people I cannot read enough about. I am fascinated about his life, especially the last five tortured years, from Dallas to Los Angeles. So much tragedy, so many "what ifs."

Anyway, one book on RFK I am very high on is Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas (Simon & Schuster, 2000). It is an excellent examination of Kennedy, warts and all.

GOP HOLDS ON TO SPECIAL CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS: Two House races were held on Tuesday to fill seats left vacant by the deaths of Republican incumbents: Jo Ann Davis in Virginia's 1st Congressional District, and Paul Gillmor in Ohio's 5th CD.

Virginia 1st: Rob Wittman (R), a state legislator, received 61 percent of the vote to succeed three-term Republican Davis, who died of breast cancer in October. The district overwhelmingly went for President Bush in both 2000 and 2004.

Ohio 5th: State Rep. Bob Latta (R) won the seat on his second try. When his father, Rep. Delbert Latta (R), retired in 1988 after 30 years in office, Latta sought the seat but lost the GOP primary to Gillmor by 27 votes. Gillmor died in September following a fall in his home. Democrats haven't won in this district since the 1930s, but had poured money into the special election hoping to catch Republicans by surprise. Latta won with about 57 percent of the vote, about what Gillmor won in 2006.

STARSTRUCK This note from Jack Pierce of Goshen, N.Y.: "Rudy Giuliani's London fundraiser may be the first organized by an American presidential candidate, but it is not the first held in London on behalf of such a candidate. The late American actress Lee Remick, who then resided in London, sponsored a fundraiser in 1972 for George McGovern. I was in London at the time and coincidentally discovered I was walking past the very venue where the event was being held. Though a supporter of McGovern, I did not enter, and subsequent events reveal that a modest contribution on my part could have had little positive effect on McGovern's political fortunes. But I will forever regret that I did not take the opportunity to meet the lovely Ms. Remick."

ON THE CALENDAR:

Dec. 12 - Republican candidate debate, Iowa (Des Moines Register).

Dec. 13 - Democratic candidate debate, Iowa (Des Moines Register).

Jan. 3 - Iowa caucuses.

Jan. 5 - Wyoming Republican county conventions (caucuses).

Jan. 8 - New Hampshire primary.

2 P.M. START FOR THE TOTN "JUNKIE" SEGMENT: Don't forget, the "Political Junkie" segment that has been heard every Wednesday on Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, has become (uh oh) even longer, now starting at 2 p.m. Eastern time and running 40 glorious minutes. The "expanded" Junkie segment will continue each week through next year's elections. Remember, if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can hear the program on the Web.

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It's a combination of brilliant analysis and sophisticated humor, hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and myself. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here. And you know you can subscribe to the podcast directly via iTunes.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: The Gallup Poll shows President Ford trailing challenger Ronald Reagan 40%-32% among Republican voters for the 1976 presidential nomination (Dec. 12, 1975).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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