Welcome to the logical conclusion of what George McGovern wrought. This is the thirteenth presidential cycle since the Democratic Party changed their nomination rules for 1972 and upended how presidential candidates are chosen by their parties.
In 1968, Hubert Humphrey controversially won the Democratic nomination without competing in a single contest prior to the convention. McGovern led the committee that re-wrote the rules to ensure voters could and would always weigh in.
Understanding his own rules better than his competitors, he won a close nomination contest, defeating Humphrey and several others. At that point, this meant competing in all of the available caucuses and primaries, and taking Iowa seriously.
Jimmy Carter began his 1976 campaign in January 1975, way earlier than anyone else had ever officially launched. McGovern was an underdog, but Carter was virtually unknown. Laser focused on Iowa, “Jimmy Who” finished first and began winning other contests before a few of his more heralded competitors even entered.
This was the last time any serious candidate attempted entering the nomination race after voting began. And Carter inspired an endless stream of little known to completely unknown candidates who camped out in Iowa with the hopes of repeating his miracle.
While nobody has repeated the exact feat, George Bush the Elder and Younger owe their presidencies to the 1980 Iowa Caucuses. After becoming an honorary Hawkeye, Bush upset front-runner Ronald Reagan, winning the caucus. While Reagan recovered in New Hampshire and swept to the nomination, Bush wound up as Veep. Next thing you know, 41 and 43 were a thing.
Now, nobody blinks when a candidate declares for the presidency a full year or more before Iowa votes. With earlier announcements, earlier debates followed. What used to begin in the fall before voting now starts at the beginning of summer.
While candidates made sure to declare before voting, they were continuing to enter the race after debates began. That practice may have ended permanently with Rick Perry in 2012. Slightly late to the show, having missed the first debate, he stumbled through the second, forgot the name of a cabinet agency he wanted to eliminate in the third, and his career never fully recovered.
Department of Irony: He’s currently serving as cabinet secretary for the very entity he couldn’t remember.Continue reading “Debate Prep (Night One): Standing Room Only”