United States presidential election, 1984

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"I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience." - President Reagan
President Ronald Reagan was still popular and approved of by the time came for him to be reelected. While Reagan easily won the Republican nomination with hardly any dissent, Democrats searched hard to find a candidate they thought could win. They eventually chose former Vice President Walter Mondale as their candidate. Mondale surprised America by choosing Representative Geraldine Ferraro as his running-mate, the first female Vice Presidential candidate in history and a political unknown. Despite his popularity, Reagan campaigned hard for reelection; however he seemed to look rather exhausted in the first of the Presidential Debates which was on the economy, an area where his administration had been strong. He improved by the second debate which was on foreign policy -- an area where he did not yet have the same strong accomplishments, but Reagan appeared fresh and experienced and bounced back.

Primaries and convention

In 1984 longtime party mechanic Walter Mondale entered the convention 40 delegates shy but secured the nomination with Superdelegates, a contingent of unelected party insiders he helped write into the rules two years earlier. Superdelegates include sitting and former elected officials who can bypass regular rules governing delegate selection to avoid a grassroots backlash and still enjoy a position of power, prestige, and privilege[1].

Insurgent challenger Sen. Gary Hart won 26 states and 1164 delegates at the convention. Walter Mondale won 17 states and is said to have amassed about 1600 delegates. Jesse Jackson, the first African-American to win states in a major party primary, questioned the disparity between his vote total and delegate count, but even the New Left turned New Democrat, Gary Hart, echoed the DNC in poo-poo'ing Jackson's complaint[2].

By convention time Hart was beating President Reagan by 10 points in national polls, but Mondale won nomination capturing virtually all the Superdelegates. But most scholars and historians agree Mondale lost the General Election right there and then in his Acceptance Speech by vowing to raise taxes on the American people.

Even at this late date more than 30 years later it is hard to ascertain just exactly how many Superdelegate votes there were at this crooked convention. As of April 2016 Wikipedia's 1984 Democratic Primaries page still does not even mention the term "Superdelegate" anywhere. Multiple original sources put the figure between 550 and 800; The Nation magazine says "roughly 700" [3] and Salon says 550 [4]. Wikipedia is silent on the matter. Whatever the result, it is patently clear the Democratic establishment was not going to let anyone other than Walter Mondale win the nomination after Sen. Ted Kennedy who helped write the rules for a two-way contest between himself and Mondale forfeited the race early in 1982[5].

One state, Wisconsin is recorded as having voted twice according to the official surviving record in primaries and caucuses under the new rules Mondale's DNC machine engineered[6]. Wisconsin Democrats had won a ruling against the Democratic National Party in the state Supreme Court which the DNC appealed to in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin was forced to abandon 80 years of direct primary election of delegates and adopt a closed caucus method of delegate selection (see Winograd Commission). Voters were disenfranchised, and only allowed to express a non-binding "presidential preference.”[7]

Under the rules then, Superdelegates were not supposed to "commit" to a candidate until the convention. Hart says he and his wife personally spoke with all of them to ask for their support, but virtually all were committed to Mondale for 2 years already[8].

President Reagan ran unopposed in the primaries and won re-nomination.

Campaign

By 1984 Ronald Reagan was popular amoung Republicans and "Reagan Democrats." Mondale made issue over the large federal deficit, however that was overshadowed with low oil prices, low inflation and high employment. Mondale made a bold choice in his campaign, when he announced in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention that he would raise taxes, which would come back to backfire on him. Reagan's campaign was mostly optimistic and positive. He produced several ads entitled "morning in America", which included lush images of Americans buying houses, raising flags, washing cars, and going to work. His campaign also talked about the importance of military spending and the Soviet threat. The most famous example is in an advertisement with a bear representing the Soviet Union prowling around the woods. The narrator then asks, "Isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear—if there is a bear?"

The two candidates participated in two presidential debates and George H. W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro in one Vice Presidential debate. At 72, Reagan was asked about his age during the second debate. He responded "I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience", which would become one of the most memorable moments of the campaign.

Reagan was able to win the election with a landslide popular and electoral majority over Mondale, who won only the District of Columbia (which has never been won by a Republican candidate) and his home state of Minnesota.[9] The Mondale/Ferraro ticket lost Geraldine Ferraro's home district, which voted for Reagan. In many ways, the election and its result were a repeat of the 1972 election, where a sitting Republican president won in a landslide against an extreme liberal Democrat.

Even in Minnesota, Mondale won by a mere 3761 votes, meaning Reagan came within less than 3800 votes of winning in all fifty states. Reagan won a record 525 electoral votes total (of 538 possible), and received nearly 60 percent of the popular vote. Mondale's 13 electoral college votes marked the lowest total of any major Presidential candidate since Alf Landon's 1936 loss to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With regards to the Electoral College, Mondale's defeat was also the worst for any Democratic Party candidate in history.

Results

candidates popular vote percent electoral vote
Ronald Reagan 54,450,603 58.8% 525
Walter Mondale 37,573,671 40.6% 13
David Bergland 227,949 0.2% 0
Lyndon LaRouche 76,773 0.1% 0
Sonia Johnson 72, 153 0.1% 0
Bob Richards 62,371 0.1% 0
Dennis Serrette 47,209 0.1% 0
Gus Hall 35,561 0.0% 0
Mel Mason 24,687 0.0% 0

[10]

References

  1. DNC Chair Says Superdelegates Ensure Elites Don’t Have To Run “Against Grassroots Activists”, Ben Norton - Salon, Saturday, Feb 13, 2016. democraticunderground.com
  2. DISPARITY BETWEEN JACKSON'S VOTE AND DELEGATE COUNT VEXES PARTY, By DAVID E. ROSENBAUM, New York Times, May 20, 1984.
  3. Not So Superdelegates, By Ari Berman Editorial, The Nation, January 31, 2008.
  4. America’s last great convention: Mondale, Jackson & Hart dish to Salon about wild 1984 DNC, Phil Hirschkorn, Salon, Feb 15, 2015.
  5. Beating Reform:The Resurgence of Parties in Presidential Nominations, 1980-2000, Marty Cohen , David Karol, Hans Noel, Daniel Zaller, University of California Los Angelas, 9/17/01, p. 14 pdf. www.princeton.edu
  6. The official record shows Hart winning a plurality, 44% to Mondale's 41%; three days later in a highly unusual move, the "Wisconsin caucus" delivered a 54% to 29% majority (see by state to Mondale in a winner-take-all closed caucus. Progressives would say Fighting Bob LaFollette turned over in his grave.
  7. The ruling did not apply to Republicans which were in compliance with an 80 year old state law and the national party's rules of delegate selection.
  8. Gary Hart: How Superdelegates Did Me In in '84, Interview with Jennifer Parker, ABC News, Feb. 13 2008.
  9. Encyclopedia of Presidents, by Zachary Kent, Children's Press, 1989, pp. 71-73.
  10. A Pictoral History of the U.S. Presidents, by Clare Gibson, Gramercy Books, 2001, p. 127.