New Hampshire residents are finally able to go near their phones again without fearing chronic pollsters and candidate robo-calls. January was a hectic and consequential month for candidates in the Republican party and President Obama. The single month of January saw the list of possible candidates on the Republican side washed-out from 30 on the ballot in New Hampshire to the remaining 4 on the debate stage in the Florida battle. President Obama presented his State of the Union address and he is currently out visiting strategic parts of the country to support his address and to say “game on” to the Republicans.
The Republican primary has been one of seismic shifts since the Iowa caucuses. With Romney handily winning the New Hampshire primary and apparently with an 8 vote win in Iowa, he appeared to be the only candidate to enter South Carolina’s primary winning both prior states. But, with only a few days before voting in South Carolina, a recount in Iowa gave the caucus win to Santorum by about 30 votes. Then, Gingrich pulled off a stellar debate performance and won the South Carolina primary. And so, going to the Florida January 31 primary election, there is nearly a dead heat for first place.
The winner of Florida’s upcoming Tuesday primary will receive all 50 of its delegates since Florida is a winner take all state. That will give the winner a huge boost and make playing catch-up for the losers much harder. After Florida, the contest moves to a series of caucuses with the Nevada caucus set for Saturday, February 4.
This Republican primary in many ways is quite similar to the 1964 Republican primary which included Barry Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, and George Romney, and pitted deeply divided east coast moderates against Midwest strong conservatives. One can draw their own comparisons but during that primary Rockefeller, while in a leading position, fell from the grace of conservatives when his wife, whom he had just married the prior year after divorcing his previous wife, had a baby. Goldwater was a little too conservative for some party bosses so Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton was drafted as the “most able to beat Johnson” candidate; that effort failed and accomplished little other than further divide the already divided party. At the convention, to further complicate the party’s woes, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine was placed into nomination as the first official female candidate of a major party. Richard Nixon placed Goldwater into nomination and he eventually won. Ronald Regan gave the keynote address and Goldwater chose William Miller as the vice presidential candidate. In his acceptance speech, he said “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”. That line sealed the divide between moderates and conservatives and helped assure the Lyndon Johnson landslide victory in the general election. Another comparison to the 1964 primary is that the Republican convention that year and the 2012 conventions are the only ones in 60 years that do not include the names Bush, Dole, or Nixon (at least no “Bush” yet).
If the comparisons to the 1964 elections continue, we can expect some interesting antics once we are down to the final two (Obama or “Mr. X”). In 1964, the Democrats effectively painted Goldwater as a war mongerer and social extremist. At one point, Fact Magazine, specifically Ralph Ginzburg who was a staunch Democratic supporter, published a severely tainted “poll” of psychiatrists which portrayed Goldwater as having a paranoid personality and being unfit for office. Goldwater sued the magazine and Ginzburg for libel and eventually won but not until years after the “poll” received a great amount of reporting in the print and on-air media (the case eventually went to the Supreme Court which ruled in Goldwater’s favor).
Perhaps the other most famous advertisement of the 1964 campaign was the “Daisy Spot” commercial that the Democratic National Committee ran after Goldwater started being painted as the war mongering extremist. That commercial, LBJ Library Daisy Spot, presents a peaceful scene with a small girl pulling petals from a daisy and counting and when she reaches 9, an ominous male voice starts a countdown from 9 to zero with a nuclear bomb explosion. It was extremely effective and caused a national gasp. Because of its provocative nature, the Democratic National Committee immediately pulled the advertisement which played into the media frenzy which showed the video free for quite a while.
Are we in for more campaign tricks and treats similar to the 1964 elections? You can bet on it. Every presidential campaign has had its own controversial moments and we can rest assured that there are many brilliant minds in both parties cooking up things we mere mortals cannot even imagine until we realize the “gotcha” nature of what happened.