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History Of The Pennsylvania Primary

The Pennsylvania presidential primary has a history that goes back to the Progressive Era origins of presidential nominating primaries.

In 2008, the Pennsylvania primary will be held April 22. Here is a selected history of the Pennsylvania primary, and, at the end of the post, some basic facts about Pennsylvania.

( Texas Liberal is leading the way in political history blogging in 2008. Please click here for other political history posts.)

1912—The Republican fight between President William Howard Taft of Ohio and former President Theodore Roosevelt of New York, was a test between the more conservative wing of the party, represented by Mr. Taft, and Mr. Roosevelt’s progressives. Mr. Roosevelt won 60%-40%.

Pennsylvania was at the time the second largest state in the nation and an anchor of Republican support in general elections. But primaries were not as important as they are today, and Mr. Taft won the Republican nomination despite a string of losses to Mr. Roosevelt. Mr. Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket won Pennsylvania in November of 1912.

1916Henry Ford of Ford Motor fame won 7.5% of the Republican vote as a write-in. Mr. Ford had already won his home state of Michigan and finished strong in Nebraska. Though in the end his campaign stalled.

1920-–The terrible Mitchell Palmer won the Democratic primary. Mr. Palmer had been a Congressman from Pennsylvania and Attorney General under Woodrow Wilson. As AG, he rounded up American Communists and others on the left during a World War I “Red Scare.” He did this with a frequent disregard for the basic rights of Americans. Mr. Palmer did not win the 1920 nomination.

(Photo is of former steel plant in Bethleham, Pennsylvania that has closed and has been replaced with a casino in the same location.)

1932—Governor Franklin Roosevelt of New York scored an important  57%-43% win over 1928 Democratic nominee former Governor Al Smith of New York. Mr. Smith had been the first Catholic to win the nomination of a major political party.

On the same day in 1932, April 26, Mr. Smith beat Mr. Roosevelt in Massachusetts. Irish-Catholic Democrats in Boston carried the day for Mr. Smith in Massachusetts. Mr. Roosevelt was the winner just about everywhere else in 1932.

1948—Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota was the 32%-30% winner over Governor Thomas Dewey of New York in the Republican primary. Many know of Mr. Stassen as a perennial candidate who would announce a White House bid every four years until the 1990’s. He was at one time a serious candidate. Not serious enough though. Mr. Dewey was the 1948 Republican nominee.

( Below is a photo of Mr. Stassen from his service in WW II.)

1964—Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton was the 52%-20% winner over Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. This was part of a fight within the Republican party, as seen in 1912 and to some degree in 2008, between more moderate conservatives and the red meat types. After Senator Goldwater’s 1964 win, the red meat types would hold an edge they’ve yet to give up.

1972—Senator and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota won 35% against 21% for Governor George Wallace of Alabama and 20% Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Senator McGovern’s anti-war liberalism was not a good match for Pennsylvania Democrats. 1972 was a long time ago, but you get a sense of the challanges faced by Senator Barack Obama of Illinois as he competes in Pennsylvania.

1976–-Former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia took 37% against 25% for Senator Scoop Jackson of Washington and 19% for Congressman Morris Udall of Arizona. This win was a big step in Mr. Carter’s nomination fight. While the late entries of Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Frank Church of Idaho gave Mr. Carter a bit more trouble down the road, Pennsylvania turned out in retrospect to have ended the process.

1980—Both the Republican and Democratic primaries produced interesting results. For Republicans, the more moderate George H.W. Bush of Texas beat former Governor Ronald Reagan of California 51%-43%.  This in a year that Mr. Reagan won 61% of all Republican primary votes against 23% for Mr. Bush. Pennsylvania was a late arrival to the Reagan Revolution.

Among Democrats, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts beat President Carter by the small margin of 45.7% to 45.4%. Any time an incumbent President loses a primary, he has trouble. Mr. Kennedy , like Senator McGovern in 1972, was the more liberal candidate. And as was Mr. Smith in 1932, he was  Catholic. Yet unlike those two men, he won the Pennsylvania primary.  This reflected a changing Democratic electorate, a tough economy in 1980, and the political weakness of President Carter.

The victories by Mr. Bush and Mr. Kennedy in 1980 were the last time Pennsylvania primary voters did not support the eventual nominee for either party. The Pennsylvania primary has taken place late in the process after the nominations have been wrapped up and not been important since 1976 and 1980.

Jesse Jackson won 18 % in 1984 and 27% in 1988 in Pennsylvania. These were showings consistent with his national showings in Democratic primaries.

In John McCain’s previous run on the Pennsylvania primary ballot in 2000, he lost to George W. Bush by 74%-23%. Mr. Bush had clearly won the nomination by that point.

12.4 million people live in Pennsylvania. It has the 6th largest population. Just under 10% of its people are black and just over 3% are Hispanic. John Kerry won Pennsylvania 51%-48% in 2004. Here is some more basic information about Pennsylvania.

Here is some information about presidential politics in Pennsylvania from the 2008 Almanac of American Politics—

For the last 70 years Pennsylvania has been a swing state in every close presidential election and even in some that were not close. Yet it is not typical of the country. With its older, deeply-rooted population, it tends to be culturally more conservative than the rest of the country; with its long-dying blue-collar communities, it tends to be economically more liberal—though both tendencies have been muted with time. But it does present a problem for political strategists of both parties: Combinations of issue positions which work for Democrats on the East and West Coasts or for Republicans in the South and the Heartland do not work well here. 

Here is a history of Pennsylvania.

The Field Negro is my favorite Pennsylvania blogger.

April 7, 2008 - Posted by | Books, Campaign 2008, Political History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. She’s the most effective individual to deal with foreign affairs, which will be the most important issue of this race in the end. How can we fix our economy without better foreign relations? Clearly, we cannot. Globalization insists upon improved relations and returning the US to it’s pre-Bush standing.

    This will be the fourth attempt for Obama to knock Clinton out of the race. He’s been incapable of doing so, which demonstrates his lack of feasibility as a candidate.

    There are good reasons why the superdelegates should ignore the Obama Campaigns cries for all Superdelegates to swing for Obama and instead endorse Mrs Clinton. There’s no question that superdelegates will consider electability as a factor in deciding whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Clinton CAN beat McCain in November. Obama cannot if he is on the ticket as President. Him as VP is a different story: http://clintonista.wordpress.com/

    Comment by Clintonista | April 22, 2008

  2. Clintonista—Senator Clinton had the chance to show her insight on the Iraq war vote. She can try her racial arguments about Mr. Obama being unable to win as much as she wishes, yet polls still show Mr. Obama as the stronger candidate.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | April 23, 2008


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