Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Harold Washington, Barack Obama, and the Game Plan for Victory---Should We Have Seen This Coming??

A few months ago, in the midst of the primary season, I wrote a post wondering about how black turnout might affect the general election. Having done a lot of reading on Chicago politics over the past few years, I was becoming convinced that the Obama campaign was using a playbook that had proven successful in its own backyard, 25 years prior.

In 1983, Chicago elected its first African American mayor, Harold Washington. The election of Washington was an arduous two step process. First, the reformist Washington campaign had to win a bruising three way primary against incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne and Richard Daley, Jr., son of the deceased former mayor (and current mayor). With Byrne being the Democratic machine candidate and Daley the namesake of the city’s most dominant political family, Washington’s candidacy succeeded largely due to massive increases in black registration, mobilization, and turnout. For example, between the 1979 and 1983 mayoral races, registration in Chicago’s majority black wards increased 30% (as opposed to only a 4% increase in the rest of the city). The final tally gave Washington 37%, Byrne 33%, and Daley 30%. While the racial dimension of the campaign was evident in the primary, the general election brought a whole new level of rancor. Whereas the city was long dominated by the Democratic machine, giving Republicans few chances to win citywide office, Washington’s place at the top of the ticket led large swaths of Democratic voters to cross party lines and support Bernard Epton. Many of the city’s Democratic machine leaders agitated against Washington’s bid, using tactics and language that was anything but subtle in their racial overtones--Epton's campaign slogan was "Before It's Too Late." Again, Washington had to rely on black turnout and mobilization (coupled with support from high income, high education level whites). In the general, Washington narrowly won with 51.4% of the vote. Again, black turnout was huge—75%!!

Writing in the immediate aftermath of Washington’s victory, University of Maryland political scientist Ronald Walters wrote:

…the Washington campaign illustrated that a black candidacy could bring formerly politically inactive people into the electoral process and could make politics take on a relevance and urgency for those who had previously seen little connection between elections and their own lives. It also showed that participation by people who usually opt out of the system could change election outcomes (PS, Summer 1983; p. 492).

Thus, coming into this year’s election season, the Obama campaign surely realized that black turnout would be an important, although certainly not definitive, determinant of their success. While the Obama campaign’s financial juggernaut has been unprecedented and his appeal to young and upscale white voters has been crucial, one can’t ignore the degree to which the black vote has been the backbone of the campaign. Given the delegate allocation formula used by the Democrats, Obama was able to take advantage of his near universal support among black voters to ensure that Hillary Clinton was unable to gain ground quickly, despite her victories in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. With the early date of the South Carolina primary (with its large black electorate) Obama’s campaign was given a boost heading toward the Super Tuesday blockbuster of contests. These early victories also sent a signal to black voters, as described by Walters above, that their participation could indeed determine the outcome of the race.

One consequence of Obama’s success in the primaries, which I’ve also written about, is that it placed many established African American politicians in a difficult position. Long allies of the Clintons, these members of Congress, mayors, and Democratic insiders failed to see the oncoming Obama phenomenon. In fact, several faced (and may in the future face) primary challenges as a result of their initial snubbing of Obama. For many, Hillary Clinton was the safe, and rational, pick. Here again, some parallels to Harold Washington become apparent. In his campaign against the Chicago Democratic machine, Washington broke from a number of black Chicago leaders who, by providing the machine with scores of black votes, received patronage, neighborhood power, and electoral security over the years. Writing about this tension between insurgent and establishment politicians, the Brookings Institutions’ Paul Peterson wrote:

Black political leaders nationally have many of the same difficulties that the Washington candidacy posed for black aldermen and committeemen in Chicago. If they support the problematic candidacy of an insurgent, all the past ties and connections with leading white political figures, from which many identifiable benefits flowed, would be endangered. A black candidacy that achieved only modest success could leave them politically isolated. But if they decide not to support a black insurgent who succeeds at mobilizing the black community, the close connections with white leaders would only appear to black constituents to be still another example of having “sold out.” Even as many black aldermen lost their seats to Washington’s supporters, so black mayors and congressmen who fail to support one of their own brothers for president become vulnerable to local challengers. (PS, Fall 1983; p. 716).

Sound familiar???

To add another layer, I came across an
old article from Chicago Magazine, written in January 1993. The author discusses further increases in black mobilization in Chicago, this time focused on the election of the Clinton/Gore ticket and Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman ever elected to that position. The focus of the piece is Project Vote!, an organization formed to increase minority and low income voter registration. Whereas voter registration had normally been the purview of the Democratic Party machine in Chicago, Project Vote!’s efforts were conducted outside the party apparatus and were community based. For the 1992 campaign, the organization was successful in adding 150,000 black voters to the rolls. Bill Clinton’s win in Illinois and especially Moseley-Braun’s upset primary unseating of incumbent Senator Alan Dixon were aided by these new voters. Who was the Director of Project Vote!, you might wonder??? A 31 year old lawyer named Barack Obama. The article concludes with a young Obama being asked about his own political ambitions:

Obama shrugs off the possibility of running for office. “Who knows?” he says. “But probably not immediately.” He smiles. “Was that a sufficiently politic ‘maybe’? My sincere answer is, “I’ll run if I feel I can accomplish more that way than agitating from the outside. I don’t know if that’s true right now. Let’s wait and see what happens in 1993. If politicians in place now and the city and state levels respond to African-American voters’ needs, we’ll gladly work with and support them. If they don’t, we’ll work to replace them. That’s the message I want Project Vote! to have sent.”

So how might we gauge whether any of this emphasis on registration and mobilization, especially among African-Americans, is paying off??? Over the past few days we’ve started to receive some data on the early voting that is taking place across a number of states, including key battlegrounds like Florida and North Carolina (see this great site from GMU’s Michael McDonald). What seems to be taking place is tremendous, and unprecedented, black turnout. As Nate Silver at has pointed out, the states with the biggest increases in early voting, compared to 2004, are those with large black populations. We’re also seeing early voting spikes in counties in Ohio with large numbers of African-American voters. Thus, while we’re expecting to see higher than normal turnout among all voters nationwide, the more interesting question is what gap will exist between white and black voters. In 2004 white turnout was roughly 65% while black turnout was about 60%. What happens if black turnout not only grows (perhaps to parity with white turnout) but maybe even surpasses that of whites in some places? Should that happen, then the math starts to get really interesting, electoral votes start going red to blue, and what might normally be a close election starts to move toward landslide territory.

Thus, as we approach election day it’s hard not to think that the groundwork for the Obama campaign was put in place well before he announced his candidacy in early 2007 and before his famous address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Rather, much of what we’re seeing materialize has its roots in longstanding efforts begun back in Chicago. Many commentators have looked to previous elections for parallels to what we’re seeing this year—Is 2008 like 1992? 1980? 1932?

Should Obama win next Tuesday, my vote goes not for a presidential race in our past, but rather a mayoral one--1983. The fact that some of this year’s participants were either involved in or influenced by that campaign should, perhaps, have gotten a lot more attention by a lot more people.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Some Thoughts On the South

If you’ve been reading my posts over the course of the campaign, you know that the issue of race is something I’ve written a lot about. Well, in a week we’re going to get a lot of data that will clarify many of the questions I’ve been raising and obsessing over.

One of the big questions that has been posed is how Obama will fare in the south. Will the legacy of George Wallace be purged forever? Will black turnout be so high in some states, as to make their electoral votes attainable for the Democrats? Do white southern voters think and vote differently than white non-southern voters? Does the Bradley effect exist, and if so, does it exist everywhere or is it more regionalized?

However these questions get answered, one thing that can’t be ignored is the fact that by having a reason to ask these questions—the reality of the Obama candidacy—we have demonstrated progress. We’ll no longer have to ask ourselves “If an African American got nominated for President, would he win?” Now we’ll know. While race won’t be the only reason Obama wins or loses, it will be a variable that we can finally start to put some flesh on. As a political scientist, I can’t wait to start digging into the numbers.

In thinking about the historic nature of the Obama campaign, I came across on old Time magazine from 1971 focusing on the “New South.” Featuring the just elected Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter, the issue looked at how the region was trying to move beyond its old, race dominated politics:

Throughout the South, there are signs that the region is abandoning the fateful uniqueness that has retarded its development and estranged its people. William Faulkner’s South—heavy with ghostly Spanish moss, penumbral myths and morbid attachment to the past—is giving way to a South that has discovered it does not need fable to shore up its pride or the past to cloud its future. Moreover, a generation after the process was largely completed in the rest of the U.S., the South is caught up in an economic expansion that is reshaping the social order. The South has become at last a region of investment, both human and economic.

Making history—not living in its vainglories and myths—is the challenge and promise of the South today. The Southern frontier closed in that awful moment when the first man came to the South in bondage, locking the Southern experience into its tragic course. Three and one-half centuries later, the thrall can be broken, the frontier reopened. The South can grown rich while there is still time to safeguard the land from despoliation. It can acquire once more the political power of the sons who helped articulate the nation’s independence. Above all, it has a chance to shed its old hatreds and show the U.S. the way to a truly integrated society.

A little too optimistic or premature?? Perhaps. But should the election returns coming out of places like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and other states next Tuesday show high levels of support for Obama, and produce electoral votes, we should remember that these votes were not generated in an instant or in a vacuum. Southern voters, like all voters, have grown up, lived, and been politically socialized in a historical and social context. This context evolves and develops over time. Thus, it’s appropriate to appreciate the history of this evolution.

Of course it may turn out that the southern vote will continue to be the outlier in terms of willingness to support a black candidate. Here we return to the thesis of Thomas Schaller in “Whistling Past Dixie.” In short, Schaller believes that Democrats are unable to compete in these Deep South states because of how race clouds the vote choices of white voters. An ingrained racial backlash—especially heightened with a black candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket—works to the advantage of the Republicans. While I don’t normally focus much on polls in my posts, recently released polling suggests that this explanation for southern attitudes might not be pure fiction.

Some good test cases for the role of race in these states might be found down-ballot on Tuesday. In both Georgia and Mississippi, two U.S. Senate races have become highly competitive. In Mississippi, incumbent Republican Senator Roger Wicker (appointed upon the retirement of Trent Lott) finds himself in a tough race against former governor Ronnie Musgrove. In Georgia, Saxby Chambliss is seeking a second term against Democratic challenger Jim Martin in a race that few thought would be close. What I’m interested in comparing is the difference between the votes for Musgrove/Martin and Obama. If we assume that every African American in Georgia and Mississippi who votes for Obama will also vote for Musgrove or Martin (not a perfect but, it seems, pretty reasonable assumption), then the difference between the Senate votes and the Obama vote should show us, roughly (we also need to account for the Hispanic vote) whether white voters had different evaluations of the presidential and senatorial candidates. If the Senate candidates outperform Obama, then there would seem to be reason to suspect that race was a factor.

Whatever happens on Tuesday, we’re going to be in a better position to answer some of the most vexing questions that have infused our politics going back generations. Stay tuned for the analysis.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where They're Campaigning--A Macro Picture

In a number of posts over the past weeks, I’ve been looking at where each of the campaigns have been visiting to get a sense of their strategies and objectives. What can sometimes be missed in these daily snapshots is the larger picture or context in which the campaign takes place. Candidate visits are a part of the overall strategy of a campaign. In structuring their campaign, candidates must choose how to allocate their time, resources, and organization as well as how to frame their message and that of their opponent. With limited time, money, and organization the campaigns seek to best maximize the return on these resources within the context of a campaign’s constantly shifting position. If a candidate feels that a state is no longer in reach, they will no longer visit or air advertisements there, as witnessed by McCain’s pullout of Michigan in recent weeks. A candidate confident that a state is on their side won’t waste time with a visit—see Obama and Iowa, for example. If, however, a state seems either in danger of falling out of one’s column or potentially moving into it, a candidate will shift attention there. Here, witness the Obama campaign’s recent shift to Florida and Missouri.

Thus, by looking at where the two campaigns are spending their time, and how this has shifted over the recent weeks, we can get a sense, perhaps, of the larger direction the race is moving in. So, for example, are the campaigns spending most of their time in states won by Bush in 2004? If so, this would seem to bode well for the Obama campaign. If the Democrats are devoting resources to these states at a greater rate than states they won in 2004, they would seem confident in their ability to expand the electoral map and gain the electoral votes necessary for victory (assuming they aren’t sure they’ve already lost states they won in 2004). If McCain, likewise, is spending most of his time in the same states, this would imply a defensive stature. The Republicans can only afford minimal losses from the 2004 Bush map to win the presidency. Given the polling in some of these Bush states (Iowa, New Mexico, Virginia) McCain must find a way to win some states won by Kerry in 2004.

So, then, where are the campaigns actually spending their time? I’ve built a spreadsheet (see here) that tracks each visit by each presidential and vice presidential candidate since the end of the Republic an National Convention. These visits are tabulated by the Washington Post in their “Campaign Tracker” and updated daily. In the first column I’ve listed the date of each visit. Column 2 lists the candidate (Biden, Obama, McCain, Palin) making the visit. Column 3 is the state of the visit followed by the city in Column 4. In Column 5 I’ve noted the few visits that were fundraisers and not traditional campaign rallies or events. In the next 4 columns I’ve captured the “offensive” or “defensive” nature of each visit. This, I feel, will give a sense of the campaign’s real movement. Thus, we see Democratic visits to Bush 2004 states (offensive); Democratic visits to Kerry 2004 states (defensive); Republican visits to Kerry 2004 states (offensive); and Republican visits to Bush 2004 states (defensive). To add a visual dimension to this coding, I’ve color coded each column red (Republican) or blue (Democratic) to allow one to get a quick sense of what’s going on and to see these changes over time. I’ve also coded the visits that coincide with each debate yellow and not counted them in my tabulations as these cities were not chosen by the campaigns. I’ve also not counted a few visits that candidates made to their home state (Biden to Delaware and Palin to Alaska) because these visits do not seem part of the campaigns’ electoral strategy but were rather part of these VP nominees “roll-outs.” I’ve also not counted visits to New York as part of September 11 commemorations as official campaign stops.

In tabulating these visits, a few trends become clear. First, we see that by an overwhelming margin, the race (in terms of visits) is being conducted on Republican turf. This is very good news for the Obama campaign. 115 visits were to states won by Bush in 2004 (64 by the Obama campaign, 51 by the McCain campaign). Only 58 visits were to states won by Kerry in 2004 (26 by the Obama campaign, 32 by the McCain campaign). Put another way, the Obama campaign has spent 71% of its visits in states won by Bush while McCain has only spent 39% of its visits in states won by Kerry. Looking at this in more detail one sees, perhaps, a more dire picture for McCain. In the last ten days, the McCain campaign has only visited 3 states won by Kerry (Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and 1 stop by Palin in Maine). Over the same time period, the Obama campaign has visited 7 states won by Bush (Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia). Clearly, as Obama’s polling has improved over the past month, the campaign has felt emboldened to venture into a broader array of states, some of which were not thought to be winnable a few months back.

Another thing one notes is that the Obama campaign has been able to use its candidates—at least in terms of ground covered—more efficiently. One notices in the data a number of events attended by both Republican or Democratic candidates. These joint events, while probably larger in scope, are a less efficient use of the candidates’ time. Having two candidates in two places allows a campaign to accomplish more than having two candidates in one place. Here again we seem to have a Democratic advantage. Whereas the Republican ticket has had 19 joint events (thus coded as 38 visits), the Democratic ticket has had only 6.

When we look at the visits candidate by candidate, we don’t see a noticeable difference in terms of the candidates’ workloads. Obama has made 48 visits; Biden 42; McCain 42; and Palin 41. We do see some interesting trends, though, when we look at where each of these candidates has ventured. Joe Biden is probably the most interesting. He has made 43% of his visits to just two states—Ohio (13 visits) and Pennsylvania (5 visits). Thus, the “boy from Scranton” with his blue collar persona is clearly being used to try and shore up the segment of the electorate that has been most elusive to Obama throughout the campaign. Obama has made only 9 visits (19%) to those two states and concentrated his efforts on targets outside the Rust Belt like Colorado, Virginia, and Florida.

Thus, by looking at the campaign in a more “macro” sense, we can get some indication of the direction things seem to be moving. Some states that were earlier seen as competitive have seemed to solidify. Michigan, for example, hasn’t been visited by the McCain camp since September 23. It appears solidly in the Obama column. Likewise, the McCain campaign last visited Wisconsin and Minnesota on October 10. The decision by the RNC to stop airing ads in Wisconsin might signal that the Badger State is out of reach. Other states have suddenly gotten a lot more attention. Prior to October 9, Missouri had gone a month without being visited by the Obama campaign. Since the 9th, though, the Democrats have made 6 visits in a newfound sense of bullishness.

Over the remaining two weeks of the campaign, I’ll continue to monitor these visits to see if any further shifts take place. Should the polling begin to tighten in some states we’ll no doubt see the campaigns flock there. I’d also note, in closing, that the campaigns’ use of advertising will be a part of this larger strategy of resource allocation. The data for this year’s campaign advertising provided by the Wisconsin Advertising Project can be compared with these candidate visits to get a more complete picture of how the Democrats and Republicans view the current state of play. Like with visits, their recent findings suggest a battle being fought on Republican turf. The recent announcement by the Obama campaign that they had raised a staggering $150 million in September ensures that for the remainder of the contest, the Democrats will not be hindered by a lack of resources. While the laws of physics may prevent Obama and Biden from being wherever they would like to be, the opportunities available via the airwaves appear limitless.

**Update: Nate Silver takes a slightly different, but equally interesting, look at the data on candidate visits at

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bellwether County Polling

I don't usually write much about polling--other sites do a much better job but one story today seems worth noting. Its always nice to have county level polling. Today's Politico reports on recent polling in four bellwether counties that Bush won in 2004: Hillsborough County, Florida (see discussion in previous post); Jefferson County, Colorado; Washoe County, Nevada; and Wake County, North Carolina. The Politico/InsiderAdvantage polls have Obama currently ahead in 3 of the 4.

Also, echoing a post of mine from a while back, today's Washington Post has a nice overview of the fight for Hampton Roads, the key to Virginia's 13 electoral votes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where the Race Will Be Won, Part 4

At the beginning of the general election season, there seemed to be little evidence that Florida would end up competitive. Whereas the 2000 election had raised the Sunshine State’s stature to that of the ultimate battleground, Bush’s relatively easy win in 2004 and polling earlier this year suggested that Republicans would hold onto the state’s 27 electoral votes. That may be changing.

One of the main reasons that Florida is a state that can be so competitive is that it contains, demographically and economically, a little bit of everything. With a population now surpassing 18 million, it is a mixture of urban and rural; white, black, and Hispanic; young and old; north and south; natives and transplants.

The distribution of these groups has given Florida politics a decidedly regional flavor. In broad terms, the northern part of the state (panhandle, Jacksonville, Pensacola) has voted consistently Republican while south Florida, with the exception of the Cuban community’s Republican affiliation, has been the hub of the state’s Democratic support (Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward Counties).

The border between these two regions is Florida’s real battleground. The I-4 Corridor is viewed by many as the “Holy Grail” of Florida politics. Named for the interstate that runs from Tampa in the west to Daytona Beach in the east, the I-4 resembles a belt across the state’s midsection. Comprised of 12 counties, this region accounts for close to 30% of Florida’s population. It is also, politically, the most competitive. Much of the commentary on the state suggests that the largest concentration of Florida’s independents resides in this stretch. For a good recent article on the politics of the area, see here.

To flesh this out a bit more, let’s give some numbers. Here is the statewide vote, by county, for 2000 and 2004. Columns 1 and 2 give each county’s population and share of the statewide population, respectively. The final column gives the gain made by Bush in 2004 vs. 2000. Counties in the I-4 Corridor are highlighted. In 2000, as we know, the state was split (using the two-party vote) exactly 50/50. In 2004, Bush beat Kerry 52.5% to 47.5% for a net increase of 2.5%. Among the 12 counties of the I-4 corridor in 2000, Bush actually did better than he did statewide, garnering 51%. In 2004 he won 53.7% along the I-4, thus doing slightly better than he did statewide. His I-4 numbers in 2004 increased more than his statewide numbers compared to 2000 (+2.7% vs. +2.5%). Thus, we can attribute much of Bush’s success in repeating in Florida to his success in this part of the state.

More specifically, we can focus in on a few counties. Bush seems to have made his greatest strides is the more mid-sized counties in the region. For example, in Polk (Lakeland) and Brevard (Viera and Cape Canaveral) Counties, each home to roughly 500,000 Floridians, Bush’s numbers increased 4.4% and 3.9% respectively. In Volusia County (Daytona Beach), population 450,000, Bush’s margin increased by 3.4%. For this year’s contest, these counties would seem to be critical to Senator McCain’s efforts to hold the state.

For the Obama camp, the largest counties of the I-4 Corridor offer the greatest opportunities. The largest county in the I-4 Corridor is Hillsborough (population 1 million), which is dominated by the city of Tampa. In 2000, Bush won the County with 51.6%; in 2004 he received 53.4%. Thus, while still going for Bush, Hillsborough County’s Republican margin grew by less than the state average. Next door Pinellas (St. Petersburg) with a population of about 950,000 was won by Bush in 2004 by only 226 votes!!! Although Bush did better here than he did in 2000, this might be another opportunity for Obama to make gains. The final county in this region I would point to might be the ultimate bellwether. Orange County (Orlando) gave Kerry a slight majority in 2004 with 50.1% of the vote; it gave Gore 51% in 2000. This recent profile in National Geographic gives a fantastic overview of the diversity of the County as well as the degree to which it has exploded in growth over the past few decades.

With new polling bringing Florida back into toss-up status, both camps are spending time in the state and advertising dollars are flowing in. In the most recent report by the Wisconsin Advertising Project, the Tampa and Orlando media markets rank #5 and #7 nationally in terms of the number of ads aired. One can be sure that the recent economic downturn has contributed to the competitiveness of Florida. With a large population living off retirement savings and investments, the stock market collapse has been felt acutely. Also, the recently released unemployment figures show Florida’s unemployment rate now higher than the national average. Finally, Florida has one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the country. Thus, as we move into the final stretch of the campaign, we may be setting ourselves up for a repeat of 2000 in the Sunshine State.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008 Book Club--Revisiting 1976

A few weeks back, while visiting Milwaukee for work, I stopped into my favorite bookstore, Renaissance Books. A towering warehouse filled with miles of shelves lined with musty books, I like stopping in a few times a year because I’m always sure to find older works of political history and biography that can’t be found easily anywhere else. Sure enough, I found a few things destined to find their way into future posts. The treasure of my visit was a copy of the 1976 Almanac of American Politics. For political junkies—especially those who study the Congress—this is our bible. I’d never seen a copy this old (1974 was the first edition) so the past several days have been spent digging into the congressional bios of members long since gone and the voting data from the post-Watergate Democratic landslide. This is high level politics nerd-dom.

What I have found particularly interesting in my reading so far is how it described the upcoming 1976 presidential election. With the benefit of hindsight, we don’t often appreciate the uncertainty that exists a year or so out from an election. However, it was far from clear who would emerge from the chaos of the Watergate era to win the White House. Michael Barone and his co-authors' description of the potential candidates is fascinating.

For example, at the time of the book’s publication in 1975, the presumptive Democratic nominee appeared to be Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson:

…at this writing he is probably the leading candidate for the nomination. The impetus for the Jackson candidacy comes from those Democrats who are liberal on domestic policies and basically hawkish (though Jackson dislikes the word) on foreign policy. And his backers believe that Jackson has shown by his work in the Senate that he has mastered more subjects a President must understand than any other American legislator…Jackson has two majors problems as a presidential candidate: he is still not terribly well known, and he faces the implacable hostility of the portion of the Democratic Party that nominated George McGovern in 1972. At this writing, he is not known by almost half the American electorate; this will probably change in the course of the primaries, unless he runs unexpectedly poorly in the early contests. He certainly has the financial support necessary. He has already collected large sums, much of it from ardent supporters of Israel who appreciate his long record on Middle Eastern policy, much of it from businessmen who see him as a more congenial kind of politician than most liberal Democrats. The antiwar left is another matter. There are literally thousands of Democrats, including now some members of Congress, who got into politics primarily because of the opposition to the Vietnam War; why should they now support a man who was one of its major proponents?

Also given much discussion, but not much of a chance, was Alabama Governor (and 1968 and 1972 candidate) George Wallace. Reflecting on the Alabaman’s journey, including the 1972 attempt on his life, Barone writes:

No one doubts that he wants to run for President; it appears now that for all his primary runs and third party candidacies he has been seeking a way fro a one-time vocal segregationist to make it to the White House. Wallace has managed to raise literally millions in small contributions through direct mail, and he has enough hard core support—augmented, if anything by the respectability conferred by martyrdom—to run ahead of all other Democratic presidential possibilities in early 1975. But even more Democrats find Wallace totally unacceptable and would back anyone in the general election against him, even Gerald Ford; for all his talk of how he reflects the people’s real views, Wallace is clearly the weakest candidate the Democrats could nominate. And of course they won’t.

Also garnering attention, Arizona congressman Mo Udall:

Udall has not yet raised anything like the amount of money a presidential candidate is thought to need, and of course his name recognition is about zero. But he does have certain advantages: most notably, after the withdrawals of Edward Kennedy and Walter Mondale, there is a dearth of candidates acceptable to the liberal wing which dominated the Democratic convention in 1972 and may well again in 1976. Udall is at least acceptable to that group.

Where, you might ask, is Jimmy Carter, the eventual nominee and winner in 1976? Barone et al, less than a year before the beginning of the nomination contests, have very little to say about the former Georgia governor, and don’t seem to view his as a top tier candidate. Writing about his rise in Georgia political circles and election to the governorship in 1970, they state:

During his campaign, in which he shook tens of thousands of hands, Carter liked to describe himself as a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia. He placed somewhat less emphasis on the fact that he had served as a top aide to Admiral Hyman Rickover in the nuclear submarine program, and that his peanut farm was not a shack-and-forty-acres affair but a well-managed, thriving business. Carter lost the Atlanta metropolitan area in both the primary and general election; but surprised some of his erstwhile supporters by coming out foresquare for integration…Now he is running for President, vowing that he will go into all the primaries; barring a major upset of George Wallace, it looks like a uphill race.

Thus, on the eve of the Democratic nominating process, it was virtually impossible to predict who would ultimately emerge victorious. It’s important, I think, to appreciate how hard it is to predict the way events, especially electoral and political, will play out. To maybe put this into a more contemporary perspective, try to go back to the recent editions of the Almanac or its competitor “Politics in America” and find anyone making a convincing argument about Barack Obama’s chances of becoming President. Momentum can develop very quickly in American politics.

As a final note, check out this snippet, written almost in passing, in the section on Arkansas in the ’76 Almanac:

Arkansas seems full of young, fairly liberal, personally attractive Democratic politicians these days—a type that simply was not around in the days before Winthrop Rockefeller (although, ironically, none is in Rockefeller’s Republican Party). There are Bumpers and Pryor, of course, and state Attorney General Jim Guy Tucker and Congressman Ray Thornton and almost successful congressional candidate Bill Clinton.