lunes, 18 de junio de 2007

1976 Democratic Presidential Primary


En las primarias demócratas de 1976 tenemos el más espectacular ascenso político que ha conocido la historia moderna americana. En diciembre de 1974, poco antes de abandonar su cargo de Gobernador de Georgia, el desconocido James Earl Carter, que quería que lo llamaran Jimmy, anunciaba su candidatura a la Presidencia para las elecciones del 76.

El anuncio apenas tuvo eco en la prensa. Hacía pocos meses que Nixon había dimitido y había tal tormenta política a nivel nacional que ni la clase política de Washington, ni los grandes medios de comunicación tuvieron tiempo para prestar atención a este granjero sureño de 50 años, con experiencia de sólo 4 años como Gobernador.

Todavía en aquella época, desde la Guerra Civil, los Gobernadores de estados del Sur Profundo no entraban en consideración de nadie como serios aspirantes a la Casa Blanca. Parecían pertenecer a otro mundo. Nadie los tomaba con posibilidades de aspirar a un cargo nacional. Pero Carter comenzó pronto a viajar por todo el país y puso en marcha un tipo de campaña que parecía amateur a los ojos de muchos, basado en el reclutamiento de voluntarios y personal no profesionalizado.

La estrategia se demostró eficaz, ya que mientras los demás precandidatos demócratas, pesos pesados, pensando que la clave seguía estando en destacarse en los círculos políticos de Washington para lograr apoyos poderosos, no cayeron en la cuenta de que las reformas de las leyes electorales de finales de los 60 y principios de los 70 habían dejado caduca la manera anticuada de hacer campaña.

También olvidaron otro factor fundamental. El escándalo Watergate todavía estaba reciente en la memoria de los electores, por lo que el hecho de no pertenecer a la clase política de Washington suponía una ventaja real para Carter. Cuando empezó a subir como la espuma, las élites del partido no fueron capaces de construir una alternativa sólida a su candidatura, ya que el voto progresista clásico quedó dividido entre diferentes candidatos en las primarias. La opción de Carter parecía la única original y diferenciada del resto. Los demás, la mayoría "old-fashioned democrats", se parecían demasiado entre ellos.

Aquel año hubo overbooking de precandidatos demócratas. Al no existir un favorito claro, y con los republicanos en horas bajas, muchos fueron los demócratas que se apuntaron a la carrera por la Casa Blanca. Los más destacados: el Senador Birch Bayh, de Indiana; el Gobernador Jerry Brown, de California; el Senador Robert Byrd, de Virginia Occidental; el ex Gobernador Jimmy Carter, de Georgia; el Senador Frank Church, de Idaho; el ex Senador Fred Harris de Oklahoma; el Senador Henry Jackson, de Washington; el diplomático Sargent Shriver; el Senador Adlai Stevenson III, de Illinois; el Congresista Morris Udall, de Arizona; y el Gobernador George Wallace, de Alabama.

Fuentes: Wikipedia, PBS y Union Leader


(...) The 1976 campaign featured a record number of state primaries and caucuses, and it was the first presidential campaign in which the primary system was dominant. However, most of the Democratic candidates failed to realize the importance of the increased number of primaries, or the importance of creating momentum by winning the early contests. The one candidate who did see the opportunities in the new nominating system was Jimmy Carter, a former governor of Georgia.

Carter, who was virtually unknown at the national level, would never have gotten the Democratic nomination under the old, boss-dominated nominating system, but given the public disgust with political corruption following Nixon's resignation, Carter realized that his obscurity and "fresh face" could be an asset in the primaries. Carter's plan was to run in all of the primaries and caucuses, beginning with the Iowa caucus, and build up momentum by winning "somewhere" each time primary elections were held.

Traveling around the country long before other candidates began their campaigns, Carter listened, assessed the national mood, and decided it was the perfect time for an outsider like himself to run. While running essentially as a moderate to conservative Democrat, Carter emphasized his message of honesty, integrity, and character over specific issues. "I will not lie to you," he said, and he meant it.


A year before the election, Jimmy Carter didn't even make it onto lists of potential presidents. Carter startled many political experts by finishing second in the Iowa caucuses in January, putting Carter on the political map. Led by the "Peanut Brigade," a group of friends and volunteers from Georgia, Carter mounted a strong grassroots effort in New Hampshire. As a one-term governor from 1971 to 1975, by traditional standards Carter had little chance of becoming a serious contender for the nomination. But when David Brinkley of NBC posed the question, "Can a Georgia peanut farmer find happiness in a cold, Northern state where you couldn't raise a pound of peanuts to save your life?", an affirmative answer was given by 23,373 New Hampshire Democrats.

When Carter first ventured to New Hampshire as a declared candidate in February 1975, he planned to wage a limited effort — enough to make a respectable showing, but not an all-out drive. But after the initial foray, the decision was made to allot more time and resources to the Granite State. New Hampshire had seemed quite receptive to Carter's low-key manner, his charm and the different approach he brought to the issues confronting the nation.

Carter had been the chief executive of a Southern state, not a federal legislator, and the anti-Washington tone of his responses to public policy questions reflected that background. Carter was not a lawyer, but a farmer with a background of military service and that unusual past for a politician seemed to be significant, for as one of his supporters (himself a attorney) put it: "I was tired of lawyers running for major office, and I thought the nation was too — and it might be ready for a good, solid businessman."

Carter brought to the contest a tenacity unmatched by the four other major Democratic hopefuls who entered the New Hampshire primary — U.S. Representative Morris Udall of Arizona, U.S. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris and a former ambassador to France, Sargent Shriver.


En la imagen: Morris Udall haciendo campaña, 1976.

By 1976 it was obvious no presidential aspirant could afford to bypass the kickoff primary. There was one greater risk than running here and losing: not to compete at all — a lesson Senator Henry Jackson of Washington learned the hard way. Jackson's political operatives worried for months about entering the NH primary. They determined that Jackson's presidential hopes would be better served by not bothering with cranky New Hampshire. Jackson's absence guaranteed Jimmy Carter unchallenged access to moderate-to-conservative Democrats, a group to whom Jackson would have had some appeal. Morris Udall, meanwhile, had to compete with Bayh, Harris and Shriver for the moderate-to-liberal constituency.

Had Senator Jackson entered the primary, Udall's loss to Carter by just 4,663 votes might not have happened. Carter managed to win seven of the 10 counties. Yet the votes for Bayh (15.3 percent), Harris (10.9 percent) and Shriver (8.3 percent) carried a meaning well explained by one New Hampshire activist: "if one less liberal had run here, or if a conservative such as Henry Jackson had entered, Mo Udall and not Jimmy Carter would have had the cover stories on Newsweek and Time shortly afterward, and the outcome at the convention might well not have been the same."


En la imagen: Jimmy Carter, 1976.

After the New Hampshire victory, Governor Carter proceeded to slowly but steadily accumulate delegates in primaries around the nation. After a disappointing loss in Massachusetts, the next crucial battleground was Florida, where Democrats were counting on Carter to defeat George Wallace, the arch-segregationist former governor of Alabama. "By decisively defeating George Wallace," notes historian Dan T. Carter, "he not only succeeded in doing what the liberal [Democrats] wanted him to do, but transformed himself into a really powerful, major candidate." He defeated George Wallace in Florida and North Carolina, thus eliminating his main rival in the South.

Carter defeated Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson in Pennsylvania, thus forcing Jackson to quit the race. In the Wisconsin primary Carter scored an impressive come-from-behind victory over Arizona Congressman Morris Udall, thus eliminating Udall as a serious contender. Alarmed that this southerner they hardly knew might become their nominee, liberals mounted what became known as the "ABC Movement" -- Anyone But Carter. Liberals were worried that Carter's Southern upbringing would make him too conservative for the Democratic Party. The leaders of the "ABC" movement - Idaho Senator Frank Church and California Governor Jerry Brown - both announced their candidacies for the Democratic nomination and defeated Carter in several late primaries. However, their campaigns both started too late to prevent Carter from gathering the remaining delegates he needed to capture the nomination. So by the time the Democrats descended on New York in mid-July for their convention, the nomination was Carter's.

By June, Carter had the nomination sufficiently locked up and could take time to interview potential vice-presidential candidates. The pundits predicted that Frank Church would be tapped to provide balance as an experienced senator with strong liberal credentials. Church promoted himself, persuading friends to intervene with Carter in his behalf. If a quick choice had been required as in past conventions, Carter later recalled, he would probably have chosen Church. But the longer period for deliberation gave Carter time to worry about his compatibility with the publicity-seeking Church, who had a tendency to be long-winded. Instead, Carter invited Senators Edmund Muskie, John Glenn, and Walter Mondale to visit his home in Plains, Georgia, for personal interviews, while Church, Henry Jackson, and Adlai Stevenson III would be interviewed at the convention in New York.

Mondale was considered a long shot. But the two men (and their wives) hit it off, and Mondale's preparation, likable personality, and ties to the party establishment led Carter to choose the liberal Senator from Minnesota as his running mate. To provide some suspense for the convention, Carter waited until the last moment to announce his choice. When the offer finally came, Mondale accepted instantly. The major emphasis at the convention was to create an appearance of party unity, which had been lacking in the 1968 and 1972 Democratic Conventions. Carter easily won the nomination on the first ballot. (...)

Mapa de las primarias demócratas de 1976

En la imagen: Jimmy Carter y Walter Mondale en la Convención Demócrata, en Nueva York, julio de 1976.