Pining for Another Presidential Candidate

Cuomo

A "dream candidate" for many Democrats, Mario Cuomo refused to take the plunge in 1988. hide caption

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Ted Kennedy

The one time that Ted Kennedy did run for president, he took on the president of his own party. hide caption

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Lurleen Wallace button

George ran for president in 1968, while Lurleen held onto the governorship in Alabama. hide caption

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Free Cuba button

Forty-six years ago today, in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion, JFK said the U.S. would not send in troops. hide caption

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The political community has a history of surveying the field of presidential candidates and wishing someone else would get in the race. We've seen this time and again; usually it happens when voters of a particular party are dissatisfied with their choices and pessimistic about their chances in the next election.

Democrats went through it in 1988, when many were hoping that New York Gov. Mario Cuomo would jump in. Similarly, many Republicans — nervous about the odds of defeating President Clinton in 1996 — pined for a Colin Powell candidacy.

We'll never know if Cuomo or Powell would have been good choices, because they never ran. But as "dream candidates" they were just that – a dream. And dream candidates, so long as they stay that way, cannot lose.

I think of all the times Democrats tried to get Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) to declare for president (or make himself available for vice president). In 1968, '72 and '76, many Dems practically begged Teddy to run, but he always turned them down. And when he finally decided to seek the White House — in 1980, against a president from his own party, no less — he failed miserably. That he lasted all the way to the August convention is not the point; that may have been less a message about Kennedy's appeal and more about President Jimmy Carter's failings. Whatever, it was a good example of what happens when someone goes from dream candidate to reality.

That leads us to 2008. Democrats, it seems, are happy with their choices. That may not be the case with many Republicans. An unpopular war and an unpopular president have a way of dampening enthusiasm among a party's core base, and that seems to be what's happening now in the GOP. Plus, for a party that prides itself on conservative principles, the three leading contenders for '08 — Arizona Sen. John McCain, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts — leave much to be desired.

That may explain the appeal of former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, two non-candidates (so far) who are drawing double-digit support in most national polls.

Thompson, a former and once-again actor who retired from the Senate after 2002, announced this week that the (previously undisclosed) lymphoma he was diagnosed with in 2004 is in remission. Some wonder if he has the fire in the belly to actually get in the race; a decision is expected no later than May. In any event, he is an odd choice to be a conservative favorite, given his strong support for McCain in 2000 and his championing of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation (which was anathema to most conservatives). At this point, he is being urged on by Reps. Zach Wamp and Jimmy Duncan, Sen. Lamar Alexander and former senators Howard Baker and Bill Frist – Tennesseans all.

Gingrich, who was extremely unpopular when he resigned his office following the 1998 elections, has been longing to return to the spotlight ever since. He says he will assess the field and make a decision by early fall. I suspect that neither Gingrich nor Thompson will ever be as popular as they are today. But that's the definition of a dream candidate.

And that brings us to this week's questions:

Q: I see that a record number of states — perhaps 20 to 25 — are planning to hold presidential primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5. How does that compare with previous "Super Tuesdays?" — Elaine Cooper, Albany, N.Y.

A: It would be the biggest one-day primary event in history, a day which many people are calling "Super Duper Tuesday."

The idea first came into existence in 1988, four years after the Democratic debacle in which nominee Walter Mondale lost 49 out of 50 states. Mondale's landslide loss was attributed by some as a byproduct of his inability to stand up to liberal interest groups. That led some centrists in the party to come up with the idea for a "Super Tuesday:" Primaries would be held mostly in the South; it was designed, theoretically, to result in a more conservative nominee, such as Sen. Al Gore (D-TN) or maybe even Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA). It didn't happen.

On March 8, 1988, primaries were held in 16 states, 11 of which were in the South. Gore managed to win only four of them: Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and his home state of Tennessee. Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts and hardly a conservative, carried the two largest states, Florida and Texas. But Jesse Jackson, perhaps the polar opposite of the conservatives who devised "Super Tuesday," was the big winner, taking five states: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia.

With Super Tuesday more or less a bust, there was less interest in duplicating the tactic in 1992. That year's mega-primary day came on March 10, when just eight primaries took place. Seven were held on March 12, 1996. The big day in 2000 came on March 7, with 11 primaries. And in 2004 (March 2) there were nine primaries.

Q: In the March 28 column, you stated that George Wallace began planning a third-party run for president after his wife, Lurleen, was elected governor of Alabama in 1966. Didn't Wallace first run in the Democratic primaries that year? Or am I mixing that up with 1972? And in your list of senators who have run for president since 1961, didn't Hubert Humphrey run in 1976 as a sitting senator? You list him running in '72, which I remember, but didn't he also run four years later? — Gus Sperrazza, Washington, D.C.

A: Wallace, who first sought the presidency in 1964 by running in a few Democratic primaries that year, ran only as a general-election independent candidate in '68. He returned to the Democratic fold in '72 and once again sought the nomination via the primaries. He won Florida, Tennessee and North Carolina. On May 15, 1972, one day before the Maryland and Michigan primaries (which he also ended up winning), Wallace was shot and critically wounded by a would-be assassin. He would be in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.

Wallace sought the Democratic presidential nomination once more, in 1976, but his candidacy faced more than a physical handicap. Jimmy Carter of Georgia proved to be a more acceptable choice for Southern voters, and when Carter bested Wallace in the Florida primary, it was the beginning of the end of the Alabaman's hopes for the White House.

As for the second part of your question, Hubert Humphrey never sought the presidency in 1976. While many Democrats pleaded with him to get in the race, insisting that he was the only person who could deny Jimmy Carter the nomination, Humphrey did not do so.

(Similarly, in answer to the question from Aaron Farber of Los Angeles, Bill Bradley was a former senator when he challenged Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000.)

ELIZABETH EDWARDS AND CANCER: The March 28 column touched a nerve with many readers. Jamie Eiler of New Albany, Ind., writes, "Thanks for your compassionate and honest column on candidate wives and cancer. That's part of your perspective on politics that makes a difference. You actually care about the people beyond the issues. I've always assumed that losing his mother to cancer has been an important part of the decisions made by our senator, Evan Bayh."

Much of the e-mail that came in was of a personal nature. Liz Shore of North Potomac, Md., writes, "Well said on Elizabeth Edwards. While my bout with cancer was nowhere near as severe as what she is going through, it is clear to me that everyone has different ways of dealing with illness and their desire to recover. Perhaps continuing with the campaign is their way of fighting the disease and not letting the disease take over their life. It is so important to have other things to hang on to and look forward to."

Andrea Carlucci of Rochester, N.Y., adds, "It was refreshing to read your take on the Edwards family ordeal. There have been too many opinions for such a delicate matter. The fact is, no one knows how he or she is going to deal with such a situation, until they themselves are placed there."

And this from Paul Haley of Portland, Maine: "While no one can or should tell John and Elizabeth Edwards what they MUST do, I'm surprised at how many people are saying implicitly or explicitly that the rest of us shouldn't discuss it out loud if we don't go with the flow that says uniform compassion and restraint are the only approved modes of comment. I absolutely applaud stepping forward with life and denying the disease the controlling hand, but that doesn't mean the shot at the presidency must be only course for exemplifying that."

The situation really hit home for Sandy Biggs of Salt Lake City, Utah: "I respect the [Edwards] family's decision to go on with the campaign, but I must ask if the family, with oncology expert advice and educating themselves on the horrible path cancer takes when it is inoperable, untreatable and eminent in its painful, indignant death, that the children might feel differently about their father running and may even hold some resentment at best.

"I recently lost my twin sister to inoperable cancer, stage four, and while she was coherent and determined to go forward with treatment, I believe it only worsened her condition, for where cancer existed before it just found other organs to infiltrate. All the while we believed that maybe, just maybe, she would be allowed a few years. She got just five months after her diagnosis; two of those months were very painful. She was scared and it all seemed so unfair. I held her as she breathed her last breaths, she was so fragile and her eyes were glazed over in defeat.

"I like John Edwards for the nomination, but I cannot, in my pain and good conscience, condone or respect his choice to go on with his candidacy. Elizabeth can coherently speak publicly in his behalf now, but this will not always be the case. I believe it is a selfish testimonial of love and compassion."

(A less personal question came from Judy Stearns of Gobles, Mich., who wanted to know why the "Elizabeth" button we used in the column had a "johnkerry.com" mention on it (as opposed to an Edwards Web site). The button dates from when John Edwards ran as Kerry's running mate, rather than from his own 2004 presidential bid.)

POLITICAL MISCELLANY: I remain perplexed about two columns written in the past year by Robert Novak about Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who has become a leading antiwar spokesman among House Democrats. In his June 22, 2006, column, Novak wrote at one point:

"Murtha proves there are second acts in American politics. I had forgotten that federal prosecutors designated him an unindicted co-conspirator in the Abscam investigation 26 years ago. I was reminded of it after Murtha became a candidate for [House] majority leader, not by a Republican hit man but a Democratic former colleague in the House."

Months later, in a Feb. 19, 2007, column recapping Murtha's unsuccessful bid for majority leader, Novak wrote:

"Two Democrats reminded me Murtha was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1980 Abscam investigation."

My question: Since when does Novak need Democrats to remind him about a Democrat's shady past? Why the need to attribute Murtha's Abscam past (which I can't believe anyone of Novak's stature could forget) to someone else? Very strange,if you ask me.

On the decision by several Democratic presidential candidates to accede to liberal interest group demands and pull out of a joint Fox TV-Congressional Black Caucus debate scheduled for later in the year, Jim Terr of Santa Fe, N.M., writes, "I think this is incredibly short-sighted. We liberals complain constantly about how Fox viewers are single-source and tunnel-visioned, and how liberals are demonized and dehumanized on Fox. So here's a chance to hold forth and let Fox viewers see liberals/Democrats say what they've got to say, be humanized, etc., and they blow it off. Seems incredibly stupid to me. Oh well, nobody ever accused Democrats of being media-wise."

Mark Richard of Columbus, Ohio, wanted to know if I erred in writing that Julian Bond was first elected to the Georgia state legislature in 1965; Mark thought it happened in 1966, the same year arch-segregationist Lester Maddox became governor. Bond's initial election was indeed in 1965.

But my math was off a bit regarding Senate rules. In the question about the last time the GOP reached the magic 60 seats in the Senate – it was 1908 – both Greg Jackson of Woodland Hills, Calif. and Daryl Cochrane of New York City correctly point out that the Republicans didn't need 60 votes back in 1908, because there were only 45 states back then (no Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska or Hawaii). Thus, to reach three-fifths of the Senate in 1908, only 54 votes would have been needed.

WE'RE ON THE AIR: The Political Junkie segment can be heard on Talk of the Nation, NPR's call-in show, every Wednesday at 2:40 p.m. If the online column leaves you craving more, then you should tune in to TOTN each Wednesday for your fix! If your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web.

This week's segment focused on John McCain and the war, with the Republican consultant, Roger Stone, as the special guest. (By the way, a very nice note from David Hollis of Hamilton, N.Y.; he was appreciative of my comments on this week's show pointing out Don Imus' history of making derogatory comments about women, blacks, etc. Two must-reads about Imus: Gwen Ifill's op-ed piece in the April 10 New York Times, and John Leo's column in the next day's Wall Street Journal.)

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That just happens to be the name of our weekly podcast, which can be found at www.npr.org. In our most recent episode, we tried to duplicate the old Huntley-Brinkley split-anchor format. You might remember that in the 1960s, NBC's evening news had Chet Huntley in New York and David Brinkley in Washington. In a similar vein, last week's "Spring Break" podcast had Ron Elving in Washington and Ken Rudin in Sunny Isles, Fla.; it was the first time in NPR podcast history that one of the hosts did the show in a bathing suit, a vision that is certain to haunt listeners for weeks to come. New program goes up every Thursday afternoon.

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 Political History: Five days before Cuban exiles launch an invasion at the Bay of Pigs, President John Kennedy announces at a press conference that there would be no intervention by U.S. forces in Cuba "under any conditions" (April 12, 1961).

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

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