How soon some Democrats forget: Al Gore was not helped by easy nomination in 2000

by Rob Richie // Published May 10, 2008
The conventional wisdom crowd is having a field day with misguided arguments in favor of avoiding competitive contests in presidential primaries -- take former MccCain advisor Dan Schnur's somewhat wistful analysis for the New York Times that if Democrats had had the same popular vote results in each state and used winner-take-all rules, Hillary Clinton would have a lock on the nomination despite having fewer popular votes overall. You now have Leon Panetta, former chief of staff for Bill Clinton, opining that winner-take-all is the way to go.

I've argued in this blog that Democrats in fact are getting a leg up over Republicans with their process -- mobilizing far more voters that will help them in the fall in down-ballot races, getting far more press attention that has contributed to a widening advantage over Republicans in voter self-identification and getting more "battle-tested", with plenty of time to heal wounds as long as the contest ends soon after the Montana primary on June 3rd.

Of course for many Democrats, they just want to make sure the process doesn't lead to a loss in November. But they seem to be forgetting history:

* John Kerry in 2004 had an easy nomination process after his upset win in Iowa and follow-up win in New Hampshire. Then he lost a race a lot of Democrats thought they could have won.

* Al Gore in 2000 had a far easier nomination process than George Bush. After winning Iowa and New Hampshire and the onset of Bill Bradley's heart condition, he strolled to the nomination while Bush faced a vigorous challenge from John McCain. By May, Bush was 8% ahead in a New York Times poll and went onto win a race many Democrats thought was theres. Of course the election was highly controversial, but few would argue Gore somehow was boosted by having such an easy ride to the nomination.

* Bob Dole in 1996 overcame a stumble in New Hampshire to close out the nomination relatively early under Republican winner-take-all rules. He never came close to defeating Bill Clinton's re-election effort.

* In 1992, George Bush quickly fended off Pat Buchanan's insurgent campaign while Bill Clinton had to fight it out for months. But Clinton won by 6% in November.

And so on. Each election has its own reasons for why the general election goes the way it does, with the most important being the public attitude toward the party occupying the White House. Having a more democratic process for choosing nominees seems to be no barrier to winning in November.