The road to the presidency in the United States consists of two formal stages. The first stage is composed of primary elections and caucuses lasting from early February to late June. Its purpose is to select a party nominee through a series of intra-party and usually competitive state contests. Most of these contests are presidential preference primaries, in which participation is open to the party rank and file and often to independents as well. Others are caucus contests; of these, Iowa’s caucuses are the most famous because of their special status as first in the nation. After a short summer recess and the national conventions, the second stage of the presidential selection process–the general election campaign—begins (Mayer 285).
In the last two decades, presidential nominating contests have become as exciting as the presidential election itself in America. The mass media devote more time, space, and resources to cover the presidential primaries notably Super Tuesday than on the general election itself. The term Super Tuesday refers to presidential primary elections wherein a large number of states hold presidential primaries (PBS). Since Super Tuesday primaries are held in a large number of states from geographically and socially diverse regions of the country, Super Tuesday typically represents a Presidential candidate’s first test of national electability. Convincing wins in Super Tuesday primaries have usually propelled candidates to their party’s nomination.
The first official Super Tuesday was held on March 13, 1984, with nine states participating. In the Democratic contest, Gary Hart won six while Walter Mondale three (Geer 89). Mondale still won the nomination but suffered a 49-state general election defeat at the hands of President Ronald Reagan. In response to the defeat, the southern Democrats created their own Super Tuesday. They wanted to use their collective clout to nominate a more moderate candidate who would better reflect their interests.
The plan, however, backfired in 1988. States from geographically and socially diverse regions of the country joined the bandwagon. Senator Al Gore of Tennessee and civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson split the southern vote that cleared the way for Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis to win the nomination. On the Republican side, Vice President George W.H. Bush had struggled, finishing third in Iowa and winning a bitter victory over Bob Dole in New Hampshire. But his organizational and fundraising strength were impossible for the other candidates to match on Super Tuesday. Bush went on to win the nomination and crushed Dukakis in the general election.
Those who had wanted Super Tuesday to give southern Democrats more influence finally succeeded in 1992. After losing seven of the first nine contests, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton won nine of 11 Super Tuesday contests. Clinton went on to win the nomination and defeated President Bush in the general election. U.S. Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sealed his bid for the Republican nomination in 1996 when he swept all ten Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses. Dole, however, failed to stop President Clinton from being re-elected that November (BBC).
In 2000, Vice President Al Gore (Democrat) and Texas Governor George W. Bush
(Republican) cemented their nomination bids with Super Tuesday wins. Bush would then be elected in the closest presidential election in U.S. history (Guardian). In 2004, eventual Democratic nominee, U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, won decisive victories and knocked U.S. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina out of the race. Kerry picked Edwards as his running mate, but they narrowly lost to President Bush in the general election (CNN).
This 2008, after Super Tuesday, U.S. Senator John McCain solidified his position as the Republican front-runner. And U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and U.S. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois were locked in a tight race on the Democratic side.
The 2008 Super Tuesday described what has become the largest-ever simultaneous number of states having U.S. presidential primaries and caucuses. Twenty-four states and American Samoa held contests for one or both parties on February 5, 2008 wherein 1,681 (52 percent) of the Democratic and 975 (41 percent) of the Republican delegates need for the presidential nomination were awarded (Balz). Delegate selection events were held in the following states on Super Tuesday: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho (Democratic), Illinois, Kansas (Democratic), Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana (Republican), New Jersey, New Mexico (Democratic), New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia (Republican) and Utah (Murphy 3).
Eight states were originally scheduled to hold a primary or caucus on Feb. 5, 2008. But several moved up their contests to increase their importance in the nomination process. Critics say Super Tuesday compresses the primary campaign cycle, giving more obscure candidates a distinct disadvantage. But some states not only dismiss these concerns, they try to move their primary or caucus elections even earlier. However, the national committees of the Democratic and Republican parties established penalties for states going before Feb. 5. States that defied the rules, including Michigan and Florida, either lost all or some of their convention delegates (New York Times).
This 2008, the focus in the primary election is on the Democratic Party with frontrunners Senator Barrack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton fighting for the nomination. On the other side, Senator John McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee. The personalities that are aspiring for president this year are interesting because the three of them are going to make history. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who turns 47 in August, would be the first black U.S. president as well as one of the youngest. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York is the wife of former President Bill Clinton and would be the first female U.S. president. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who turns 72 in August, would be the oldest person to take office as a first-term U.S. president (Reuters).
Results of the 2008 Super Tuesday show that for the Democratic camp, Hillary Clinton won the largest states, but Barack Obama won the most states. Clinton, by a very slim margin, won more votes, but Obama, by a similarly narrow margin, have won more delegates to the Democratic Party’s convention (Manjoo). As of this writing, Senator Obama won the last 10 primaries starting Super Tuesday and if the trend goes on is most likely to win the Democrat nomination. Senator Clinton largely needs to win the Pennsylvania primary in order to stay alive on the race. To secure the nomination, a Democratic candidate needs to win at least 2,025 delegates (proportional nomination). A Republican (free for all) needs 1,191 to win his party’s nod.
The major issues for the 2008 presidential elections that the candidates – Senator John McCain (R) and Barack Obama (D) or Hillary Clinton (D)- are the economy and national security. The Democrats are highly favored to offer a sound solution to the looming recession of the American economy. McCain has always acknowledged that the economy is his weak point and is struggling to offer a sound economic plan. The candidates will have to deal with issues such as free trade, outsourcing of jobs to China and India as well as oil prices that are at an all-time high. On the other hand, national security is the expertise of John McCain and the waterloo of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Being, a war veteran and a key member of the Bush national security team, Senator McCain is seen as the best candidate to handle the safekeeping of the only remaining superpower in the world today. But as the war on Iraq drags, there is growing support for the pullout of American troops.
With regards to experience, McCain has amassed a record of legislative achievement, including a landmark bill to tighten controls on campaign financing, a signature issue. As relative newcomers to the Senate, Clinton and Obama have far shorter records of accomplishments. Yet Clinton has been a leading voice on health care, while Obama helped lead a charge to tighten ethics rules in the scandal-hit Congress.
The Super Tuesday results definitely have a big impact to the result of the presidential elections. Senator John McCain sealed convincingly the Republican slot during Super Tuesday while Democratic candidates Senator Barrack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton were the front-runners and were statistically tied after Super Tuesday. Because of the tightness of the presidential primary race, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton maybe slugging it out until the democratic national convention on August 25-28, 2008 to be held in Denver, Colorado.
As for this year’s run for presidency, the winner is still difficult to tell. According to the latest CNN Poll the three remaining candidates are statistically tied with Clinton holding a 48-45 percent lead over McCain while Obama and McCain are even at 45 percent. Factoring the poll’s 3-point margin of error, both Democrats are even with the presumptive Republican nominee.
Super Tuesday may not have decided the race this year. But it will still have a profound influence in the outcome of the general election.
Andersen, Kurt. “Facing the Fatigue Factor” Time. 23 April 1984. 22 April 2008. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,921674,00.html>.
Balz, Dan. “Feb. 5 Primaries to Pose A Super Test of Strategy” Washingtonpost.com 15 Jan. 2008. 23 April 2008 < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/14/AR2008011402926_pf.html>.
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Geer, John. Nominating Presidents: An Evaluation of Voters and Primaries Greenwood Press, 1989.
Guardian “Gore concedes presidential race after the fight of his life” US elections 2000. 14 Dec. 2000. 22 April 2008. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2000/dec/14/uselections2000.usa12>.
Manjoo, Farhad. “Who won Super Tuesday?” Salon 7 Feb. 2008. 22 April 2008 <http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/02/07/delegates/index.html?source=sphere >.
Mayer, William. In Pursuit of the White House 2000: How We Choose Our Presidential Nominees Seven Bridges Press, 2000.
Murphy, Brian. “Super Tuesday 2008 Brainroom briefing book” 22 April 2008. <http: www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/supertuesday_foxnews.pdf >.
New York Times “Primary Calendar: Democratic Nominating Contests” New York Times. 24 April 2008. <http://politics.nytimes.com/election- guide/2008/primaries/democraticprimaries/index.html>.
PBS . “Historians Reflect on Super Tuesday’s Evolving Role” PBS 7 Feb. 2008. 22 April 2008<http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/jan-june08/historians_02-05.html > .
Reuters. “Factbox: McCain, Obama and Clinton” Reuters 22 April 2008 <http://www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/2008candidates >.