So Many Candidates – Too Many Choices?

The other day I got to thinking about the number of Democrats who have declared their candidacy to be our next president. At this point there are 24 names to consider.  

First I wondered: Does this number set some kind of record?  

After a limited amount of research it appears that our field of 24 Democratic candidates is not record breaking, but it is big. Larger numbers of candidates vying for the presidency have appeared periodically. It can happen when no incumbent is running or when the incumbent is vulnerable, and/or when the country is in a particularly high level of turmoil and uncertainty. (Situation sound familiar?) 

For instance in the 1860 election just before the Civil War began, there was a total of 27 candidates representing 6 political parties competing to be nominated by their parties. Eventually there were 4 candidates from 4 parties on the presidential ballot. Lincoln won a plurality of the popular vote (39.8%) and a majority of electoral votes. – Definitely a good outcome. 

After World War I in 1920, there was no incumbent president vying for reelection. So, there were 17 Democrats and 12 Republicans competing for the presidential nomination at their respective party conventions. The president who eventually won the election was Warren G. Harding. His administration was scandal plagued, as was his personal life. He feared impeachment and died in office. – Outcome: not so good. 

In 1968 with the Vietnam War raging, there was a total of 19 Republicans and 23 Democrats who declared themselves for the presidency. The sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, withdrew his name for a second full term and candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated. After the major party conventions ended, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey faced off, along with Governor George Wallace in his third party. When the votes were counted. Nixon won. – You all know how that turned out. 

Today, we have a different dynamic for handling presidential nominations. The big party conventions with various “favorite sons” on the first ballot and political deal making behind closed doors are no more. They’ve been replaced by nationwide primary elections in each state. By the time a convention is held, everyone knows who the presidential candidate is.  

In 2008, after experiencing eight years of George W. Bush, there were 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans running for president. The Democratic Party’s eventual candidate was known two months before the party’s August gathering when Hillary Clinton conceded to Barack Obama. The Republican candidate, John McCain, was recognized even earlier. – Outcome: we got an inspiring president and a skilled secretary of state who eight years later would win the popular vote for president, but lose the electoral vote. 

And the political process isn’t all that has changed. The fundraising capabilities of Internet savvy campaigns now make it possible for lesser-known candidates to quickly rise into the national conversation. Today’s central party organization has less power to anoint their party’s next choice for president. 

2016 saw 6 Democrats, 17 Republicans and 4 figures from lesser-known parties vying to be president. That year, you can bet the Republican Party’s central organization had no desire to see Donald Trump head up their party’s ticket. But it happened. And now we’re learning how big a role the Internet (and Russia) played in the results of that election. Outcome: Terrible! 

So after delving into these bits of history, I’m now asking myself: With so many Democratic contenders and quite likely a contentious primary battle ahead, can we end up with the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump while nominating the best president for our United States? — So far, I don’t know the answer to that. However, I am certain of one thing. Anyone who can remove Trump from the White House will instantly make America a better place to live.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

For a fascinating interactive look at the last 10 presidential primary campaigns, visit this Bloomberg page.

P.S. There’s a news item further down in this newsletter that refers to a political action group I hadn’t heard of. The group is the “Sister District Project.” They are having a fundraiser in a Winnetka home for a Virginia House of Delegates candidate. Since I was unfamiliar with the group I looked them up on the Internet. Their mission recognizes the importance of taking control of state legislatures in as many states as possible before the 2020 census is completed. Whichever party controls their state’s legislature in 2020 will control the post-census congressional district boundaries for the next ten years. Here’s their address. Check them out. In the coming campaign year you may want to give them a hand.