Can a Republican Nobody Win the Nomination?

By: Inoljt,

It is the June, 2012. The Republican candidate, recent winner of the party’s presidential nomination, rises up to deliver a triumphant victory speech. He launches a full-throated defense of conservatism, inserts a few sly attacks on the Democratic president, and thanks his opponents for endorsing him.

Just six months ago nobody had heard about him. Yet then he won the Iowa caucuses, shocking everybody in the political world. New Hampshire followed, then a string of victories that utterly defeated his remaining opposition. Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee never stood a chance.

How likely is this to happen?

More below.

Well, it is certainly within the bounds of conceivability – although admittedly somewhat unlikely. There are several factors that ought to be considered.

Firstly, there is the state of the current Republican field itself. This is a surprisingly weak selection. There are a number of potentially strong candidates out there. The problem is that none of them are running.

Unlike most previous contests, there is no obvious front-runner such as Governors George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. Former Governor Mitt Romney is the one who best fits the definition. But Mr. Romney’s political skills are uncommonly weak; there is something about him (and this is a personal characteristic, not his Mormonism) that just turns-off voters.

So, unlike previous nominations, there is still plenty of space for a surprise Republican candidate to enter.

What about historical precedent? Here the picture is still pretty good. History is full of surprise candidates taking the nomination by storm. The most recent instance is, of course, the president himself (although he was actually pretty well known amongst the Beltway before 2008).

Even more encouraging might be example of President Jimmy Carter. Nobody, not even those immersed in politics, had heard of the peanut farmer before he ran for president. As late as January 1976 – the equivalent of January 2012 today – only 4% of Democrats chose him as their candidate. But Mr. Carter won the Iowa primary through retail politics, and then a string of other small primaries to build momentum.

There are other examples: Senator John Kerry in 2004, Governor Bill Clinton in 1992, and arguably Governor Mike Dukakis in 1988. These should hearten an ambitious yet unknown Republican.

On the other hand, all these examples come on the Democratic side. For whatever reason, political unknowns haven’t been as successful in the Republican Party. The last time the Republican frontrunner lost was in 1964, when Senator Barry Goldwater won the nomination (probably not the most inspiring model). Perhaps there is something in the nature of conservatism that is less attracted to exciting, new candidates of change.

At the moment, however, the chances that an unknown Republican will win the nomination better than they have been since – well – 1964.

The importance of a ground game – down-ballot drop off

21st Century Democrats is excited about the extraordinary amount of enthusiasm Barack Obama’s nomination has generated. The Pew Research Center is suggesting increased voter turnout in the general election bodes well for Democrats. However, some stats from the primary season show that increased turnout for the presidential election doesn’t always help down-ballot races.

In fact, assuming a strong Presidential ticket will pull Democratic candidates in the House, the Senate, and local offices to victory is dangerous. This assumption is not in line with electoral empirics or America’s personality. Splitting tickets will always occur in our nation which prides itself on having a “maverick spirit” and values competence over loyalty. More importantly, many Americans will rightfully not vote for candidates they are unfamiliar with. Why would anyone put someone they know nothing about in a tremendous position of power? In the midst of all the excitement generated by the Obama campaign, we cannot forget that voters need to have face to face contact with canvassers for all our candidates, not just our candidate for President.

Looking at this year’s primaries, there is a substantial discrepancy between the number of people who voted for Democratic Presidential Candidates and the number of people who voted for other Democrats. Across the board, significantly less people voted for other Democratic candidates than voted for Democratic Presidential Candidates.

In Pennsylvania there was a stark disparity between votes accumulated by Democratic Presidential Candidates and Democrats running for other state-wide offices. There were only two contested statewide primaries in Pennsylvania this cycle. Below are two charts comparing the number of votes for Democratic Presidential candidates in April’s Primary with votes for Democrats running for State Treasurer in PA.

Candidate Votes Percent
CLINTON, HILLARY 1,275,039 54.6%
OBAMA, BARACK 1,061,441 45.4%

Total votes for Obama and Clinton in Pennsylvania = 2,336,480

*Obama and Clinton were the only Democrats on the ballot in PA

Candidate Votes Percent
MCCORD, ROBERT 783,675 43.2%
CORDISCO, JOHN F. 472,027 26.0%
MANN, JENNIFER L. 441,745 24.3%

Total Votes for Democrats running for PA State Treasurer 1,661,549

There was a 674,931 vote or 29% disparity between Democrats who voted for our party’s candidates for State Treasurer and our parties candidates for President in Pennsylvania. That means nearly 3 out of every 10 people who voted in the presidential primary, gave the State Treasurer a pass.

In Ohio, two 21st Century Democrats’ endorsed candidates also were victims of down-ballot drop off. In the 1st Congressional District, there were a total of  115, 387 votes for Obama , Edwards and Clinton. Steve Dreihaus ran an uncontested and only got 60,454 votes, a 57,840 vote difference.  Nearly 1 out of every two voters who cast a vote for the Democratic nominee decided to not cast a vote for their Congressman.

In the 15th CD, Mary Jo Kilroy was also uncontested and received 85,840 votes. All the Presidential Candidates received 91,233 votes in total. That’s a 5, 393 vote drop off. Given Mary Jo’s 2006 election results, she can’t afford to have that sort of drop off.

Out in Oregon,  remember those Obama crowds? All that excitement generated 641, 499 total votes in the Democratic Presidential Primary. One would think that the heated primary for the Democratic Senatorial nominee would have little drop off. In spite of intense competition between two well funded campaigns less people voted for our Senatorial candidates than voted for our Presidential Candidates. In fact there was an almost 14% or 91,523 vote difference between total votes for Democratic Presidential Nominees and total votes for Democratic Senatorial Candidates in Oregon. How will Merkley beat Smith if he has to get 115% of Obama’s take in Oregon?

Why am I telling you this? Because at 21st Century Democrats, we believe that in order to have a true progressive revolution in America we’ll need a bottom up, not a top down, approach to elections and campaigns. We have been training and placing field organizers for two decades now. We know that many down-ballot races cannot depend on Obama’s team. They have a big enough task ahead.

21st Century Democrats is endorsing over fifty down-ballot candidates all over the country. For example Jim Roth is running for Corporate Commissioner in Oklahoma, and Andy Meisner is running for Oakland County Treasurer in Michigan. These candidates need resources to get field organizers hitting the doors, and cannot rely on Barack Obama’s field team to do it for them. The nation will not be changed without your help. We already have organizers in critical races across the country, but we need you to partner with us to get down-ballot candidates like Darcy Burner (WA-08), Dan Maffei (NY-25), Jim Himes (CT-4), Judy Baker (MO -9) and other progressives near you elected.


Big thanks to Corey Goldiner, 21st Century Fellow, for doing most of the legwork and tracking down all these statistics.

Training Progressive Field Organizers For The Future

Cross posted from

The 2008 election presents an incredible opportunity for Democrats to take control of our government and build the foundation for a long lasting progressive movement in our country. But to win in November, we will have to contend with a desperate Republican Party that has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to divide and deceive the American people for their own partisan gain. To cut through all of the GOP propaganda, Faux News misinformation campaigns and right-wing radio hate speech Democrats are going to have to get out and talk face-to-face with voters about our vision for America and how we will put this country back on track.

At 21st Century Democrats, we are working hard to play our role in the progressive infrastructure. We train activists in the art of field organizing and then put them on campaigns all across the country so they can go out and talk to voters about our candidates and our vision for the future. On June 4-8, we will hold our National Field Organizer Training: Major League Action at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Over four days of intensive training, we will transform up to 200 activists into prepared field organizers that can be dropped anywhere in the country and start making a difference right away.

You can learn more about our MLA training here.

Or, if you’re all ready to go and would like to reserve a spot in the training you can register here!

Our organization seeks to build a more progressive America not only by electing more progressive Democrats, but also by building human capital within the progressive community. Training a young person to be a field organizer helps us not only in the current cycle, but gives that person a skill that will be valuable in every election. Thankfully, there are a lot of great groups like The Center for Progressive Leadership, Democracy For America, The New Organizing Institute, Wellstone Action! and many others that train progressive activists, organizers and candidates.

If you want to get more involved with the election this year and build some organizing skills for the future, please consider attending our Major League Action Training and/or one of the other great trainings put on by our progressive allies. Or, if you can’t make it and would like to help pay the travel expenses and registration fees for a dedicated young progressive to attend our training you can donate to our Field Organizer Fund. The better we are at finding and talking to our neighbors about the issues that are important to them, the more successful we will be in November and the more likely we are to build a true progressive movement in this country.

Mark Lotwis is the Executive Director of 21st Century Democrats.