Three other presidents-- Nixon, Ford, and Bush--all used the vice presidency as a stepping stone to the White House. Two unsuccessful nominees--Hubert H. Humphrey and Walter F. Mondale--also capitalized on their vice presidential credentials as evidence of demonstrated leadership.
Most other recent contenders in the out-of-office party have experienced far greater difficulty in differentiating their qualifications and leadership potential from their intraparty rivals'. One of the few successful candidates among the relative unknowns to emerge from the pack in 1976 was former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. An obscure, one-term southern governor, Carter campaigned successfully in the primaries as an anti-Washington, conservative-minded leader who would reinstill "trust in government."
Most recently, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, a relative unknown on the national scene in 1992, managed to run the presidential primary gauntlet, portraying himself as a Democratic centrist who would bring change to Washington after the twelve-year Reagan-Bush era. Clinton's leadership message was undoubtedly aided by the fact that several strong contenders-- GovernorMario Cuomo of New York, Senators Al Gore and Lloyd Bentsen, and Congressman Richard Gephardt--all decided not to enter the race because they considered President Bush unbeatable in light of his leadership of the victorious allied coalition in the Persian Gulf War. 35
In the postreform era, leading contenders in the out-of-office party must be well financed and should concentrate on winning the opening-round primaries and caucuses, for the early victories are essential to building momentum for a candidate and demonstrating to the national media that the candidate is a "winner." If possible, the leading contenders aim for a knockout, especially on Super Tuesday--when several hundred delegates in each party are at stake. In 1988, for example, Vice President Bush's sweep of the Republican primaries on Super Tuesday in early March pushed his delegate totals near the "magic number" that would enable him to claim the GOP nomination. Especially within the Republican Party, the winner-take-all rules, still permitted in approximately half the states, help the GOP front-runner build up his or her delegate totals in a hurry.
On the other side, the Democratic Party rules, with the mandatory proportional representation rule, are less conducive to early capture of the presidential nomination when the party does not occupy the White House. Still, in three cases out of four between 1976 and 1992, the Democratic front-runner had locked up the nomination before the end of the primary season.