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A History of U.S. Presidential Primaries: 1912-64

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docid=news-000002649356 CQ TODAY Dec. 25, 2007 – 10:13 p.m. A History of U.S. Presidential Primaries: 1912-64 By Bob
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 26, 2007

      CQ TODAY
      Dec. 25, 2007 – 10:13 p.m.
      A History of U.S. Presidential Primaries: 1912-64
      By Bob Benenson, CQ Politics Editor

      When it comes to electing the President, the modern
      campaign era has its roots 95 years ago when North
      Dakota held the first presidential primary. CQ
      Politics looks back and charts for you, election by
      election, how this process grew over the last century
      into the long and sprawling campaigns that have become
      part of the political landscape. This first in a
      series covers 1912-64.

      1912 (March 19): North Dakota’s launch of the first
      primary was an effort to open up a nominating process
      that had been dominated by party insiders. The
      Progressive political movement was a key factor in the
      rise of primaries and one of its members, Wisconsin
      Republican Sen. Robert M. La Follette, won the North
      Dakota primary, with former President Theodore
      Roosevelt finishing second. Roosevelt went on to win
      in most of the 12 other states that held primaries in
      this inaugural year. When William Howard Taft used his
      control of the party machinery to win the delegate
      vote at the GOP national convention, Roosevelt broke
      away and ran as the nominee of his newly formed (and
      ephemeral) Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party. Though
      Roosevelt made history as the only third-party
      candidate then or since to run ahead of an incumbent
      president — Taft finished last — the Republican split
      enabled Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win his first of
      two terms as president.

      1920 (March 9): New Hampshire established its
      still-unbroken tradition of holding the nation’s first
      presidential primary. Leonard Wood, a New Hampshire
      native who was a brigadier general and Army chief of
      staff, won the Republican primary — all Democratic
      primary votes went to “unpledged delegates” — and
      finished second in the combined vote for the year’s 20
      primaries to California Sen. Hiram Johnson. But at the
      convention, party chieftains tapped Ohio Sen. Warren
      G. Harding, who competed only in his home state’s
      April 27 primary. Harding won the 1920 general
      election but died in office in 1923.

      1932: Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, the governor of
      New York, outpaced his nearest rival by a ratio of
      more than 2 to 1 in the overall primary vote en route
      to winning his first of four nominations and elections
      for president. Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover,
      his popularity unraveled by the onset of the Great
      Depression, trailed former Maryland Sen. Joseph I.
      France by 15 percentage points in the overall GOP
      primary vote; though he prevailed at the convention,
      his primary problems signaled the end of his
      presidential tenure. Roosevelt won that November in a
      landslide 57 percent to 40 percent.

      1944: With the nation embroiled in World War II and
      Roosevelt running for an unprecedented fourth term,
      only 15 states held primaries this year. Army Gen.
      Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the U.S. forces in
      the Pacific, was not a candidate, yet his name was
      entered by activists urging him to run for the
      Republican nomination and he dominated the early
      primaries in Wisconsin (April 5) and Illinois (April
      11). But the convention that year ultimately went for
      New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, who ran well in the
      1940 primaries but lost the nomination to Indiana
      businessman Wendell Willkie. Dewey lost but held
      Roosevelt to 53 percent, the smallest vote share
      Roosevelt ever had for president, and established
      himself as the front-runner for the 1948 GOP

      1948: President Harry S. Truman, who moved up from
      vice president when Roosevelt died in April 1945, led
      a fractious Democratic Party that splintered at its
      convention: A conservative, segregationist Southern
      faction led by South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond
      broke away to form the States’ Rights Party, while a
      faction on the left joined former Vice President Henry
      Wallace in founding the Progressive Party. But these
      rifts were little in evidence in the primaries, which
      were dominated by Truman. Dewey, as in 1944, relied on
      support from party insiders and did not campaign
      heavily in most Republican primaries. Truman, enduring
      the brunt of postwar economic problems, began the
      campaign as the underdog to Dewey but scored a
      historic upset.

      1952 (March 11): Though New Hampshire had been going
      first for more than 30 years, it had almost always
      elected slates of unpledged delegates. The 1952
      campaign was the first in which the state played a
      major role in shaping the parties’ nominating
      campaigns. On the Democratic side, Tennessee Sen.
      Estes Kefauver outran incumbent President Truman by 55
      percent to 44 percent; Truman, hobbled by public
      disapproval of the stalemated Korean War, had hinted
      he would not run again and announced his retirement
      shortly after New Hampshire, though he insisted the
      primary result had not driven his decision. On the
      Republican side, retired Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower,
      the commander of Allied troops in Europe during World
      War II, established himself as a force by defeating
      Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft by 50 percent to 39 percent
      in New Hampshire. Though Taft ended up with more
      combined primary votes, convention delegates selected
      Eisenhower. Democratic delegates opted for Illinois
      Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson over Kefauver, who had
      dominated the total primary vote. Eisenhower easily
      defeated Stevenson in November, as he did in their
      1956 rematch.

      1960: Sen. John F. Kennedy, a little less than two
      months short of his 43rd birthday, established himself
      as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination by
      winning the April 5 primary in Wisconsin — the first
      after the New Hampshire contest March 8, which
      Kennedy, of neighboring Massachusetts, won easily.
      Kennedy appeared to be at a regional disadvantage in
      his one-on-one matchup with Minnesota Sen. Hubert H.
      Humphrey, making his 13 percentage-point victory
      margin even more impressive. The contest was captured
      in the well-regarded documentary film “Primary.”
      Kennedy went on to another impressive win, and
      effectively ended Humphrey’s hopes for the nomination
      by winning easily in West Virginia, overcoming doubts
      that the state’s overwhelmingly Protestant electorate
      would go for Kennedy’s bid to become the nation’s
      first Roman Catholic president. Kennedy faced
      competitors at the convention — including Texas Sen.
      Lyndon B. Johnson, who would become Kennedy’s vice
      president and ultimate successor — but clinched the
      nomination on the first ballot. He went on to win a
      very narrow general election victory over Republican
      Richard M. Nixon, the two-term vice president, who
      faced little primary opposition in his bid to succeed
      Dwight D. Eisenhower.

      1964: Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, a pioneering
      leader of the ideological conservative movement within
      the Republican Party, effectively sealed his
      nomination for president with a close victory in June
      2 primary in California; he won by 52 percent to 48
      percent over New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, who
      then was the premier figure in the then-sizable
      liberal wing of the national GOP. The conservative
      emergence was premature: Democrats still maintained
      the dominance they had enjoyed for most of the three
      decades since the rise of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and
      succeeded at portraying the militarily hawkish
      Goldwater as dangerous. Johnson — who became president
      following the November 1963 assassination of Kennedy —
      won in a landslide with 61 percent of the vote. The
      campaign was marked, though, by the emergence of actor
      Ronald Reagan as a conservative Republican spokesman.
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