The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations before and after Reform

The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations before and after Reform

The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations before and after Reform

The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations before and after Reform

Synopsis

Throughout the contest for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, politicians and voters alike worried that the outcome might depend on the preferences of unelected superdelegates. This concern threw into relief the prevailing notion that- such unusually competitive cases notwithstanding- people, rather than parties, should and do control presidential nominations. But for the past several decades,The Party Decidesshows, unelected insiders in both major parties have effectively selected candidates long before citizens reached the ballot box. Tracing the evolution of presidential nominations since the 1790s, this volume demonstrates how party insiders have sought since America's founding to control nominations as a means of getting what they want from government. Contrary to the common view that the party reforms of the 1970s gave voters more power, the authors contend that the most consequential contests remain the candidates' fights for prominent endorsements and the support of various interest groups and state party leaders. These invisible primaries produce frontrunners long before most voters start paying attention, profoundly influencing final election outcomes and investing parties with far more nominating power than is generally recognized.

Excerpt

In his campaign for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, Vice President Hubert Humphrey did not contest a single primary. He campaigned instead among party leaders, union bosses, and other insiders. Meanwhile, his competitors, Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, entered every state primary they could and won the vast majority of votes in them. Yet when the Democratic Party convention met to pick its nominee, Humphrey won on the first ballot. This was possible because the leaders of the Democratic Party controlled enough delegates to the nominating convention to choose whomever they wished. The opinions of voters in the primaries could be safely ignored.

Roughly the same was true on the Republican side. Up until the 1970s, politicians who wished to win the Republican nomination needed to run in state primaries to prove their popularity, but the real power lay among the top politicians and activists of the regular party. These party insiders used the results of primaries to gauge the popular appeal of the leading competitors, but in the end they chose as they saw fit.

That system is a far cry from the one that exists today. In the old system, party leaders controlled outcomes by controlling state and local party conventions, most of which were either closed to . . .

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