Super, but not Duper, Tuesday

ElectionsDemocratic PartyJesse JacksonGovernmentPoliticsRepublican Party

Before there was Super-Duper Tuesday, there was plain old Super Tuesday, the Southern state primary-packed March contest that aimed to make or break presidential candidates. See what The Times editorial board had to say about the campaign gauntlet and California's role in it.

On May 13, 1986, the board seemed resolutely against Super Tuesday, which it believed would disadvantage its own California:

The South is serious about this presidential primary business, and that is going to force California Republicans and Democrats to do some deep thinking about their June primary election.Nine southern and border states have agreed to conduct their 1988 presidential primary elections on the same day, the second Tuesday in March. About one-third of the delegates needed for a party's presidential nomination will be at stake south of the Mason-Dixon line on the same day. The nine states are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina are expected to join in the new super-regional primary.No one can predict now the impact of the massive primary vote in one day. Some experts believe it will put even more emphasis on the earlier Iowa caucuses and the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary, to build precious momentum going into the Super South.It is certain that any successful nominee will have to make a credible showing the second Tuesday in March. Candidates will arrange their campaigns accordingly. As Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) said, "You have to fit your campaign to the calendar."How would this affect California? There is still the chance that the race for the nomination would be deadlocked that late in the game and California could decide the ultimate winner. The prospects for that event fade rapidly, however, as more states cluster their primaries into March and April. The California primary has been virtually irrelevant in recent years as it is.Now is the appropriate time for California Democratic and Republican leaders to consider moving the presidential primary to an earlier date and possibly consulting with neighboring states about a regional primary of their own. Otherwise, California may find that its presidential primary is strictly secondary.
But on the eve of Super Tuesday 1988, The Times equivocated, unsure what it would mean and what might happen. It noted that the South's gambit wouldn't necessarily mean a win for southern-styled Democrats:

Super Tuesday could turn out to be a super success, a super bore or just plain super confusing. Pay the money and take a choice . . .Conservative and moderate Democrats originated Super Tuesday with the goal of stealing attention and importance from Iowa and New Hampshire and recapturing the party from the liberal reformers of the past 20 years. Super Tuesday was to have made it possible for a conservative-to-moderate Democrat like Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia to walk away with a giant victory and thus be propelled to almost certain nomination at the Democratic National Convention this July in, appropriately, Atlanta.One problem was that Nunn and other prominent Southerners decided not to run after all. That fact may demonstrate that the structure of the political-primary system is not as important as the makeup of the field of candidates — including their number, their philosophies and their styles . . .There is irony in the fact that Super Tuesday was supposed to diminish the effect of the Iowa and New Hampshire events . . . Sen. Albert Gore of Tennessee gambled by virtually ignoring Iowa and New Hampshire and focusing on his home turf in the South. But Gore's candidacy probably will be dead unless he does better than the pre-primary polls indicate . . .A further irony of Super Tuesday is that two Democratic liberals, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson, could gain the most . . .An early criticism of Super Tuesday was that so many Democratic delegates were at stake that one Democrat almost certainly would have had the nomination wrapped up by the morning of March 9. About the only certainty now is that this will not happen.
On March 10, 1988, the board reflected on the big day, deciding that it wasn't so devastating for the American system:

For all the complaining about the experiment known as Super Tuesday, the regional Southern primary produced some dramatic results. The irony is that the Democrats conceived of Super Tuesday as a means of producing a conservative-to-moderate Democratic presidential nominee who could unite the party and carry the South to victory in the fall election. Super Tuesday seemed to produce a nominee, all right, but it was a Republican--Vice President George Bush . . .For Democrats, it was a big day for Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Jesse Jackson and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee and a disaster for Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri. Perceived as a Northern liberal, Dukakis demonstrated broad support by winning the two biggest states that bracket the Old South — Florida and Texas. It is clear now that the Democratic contest will go all the way to the convention in Atlanta in July . . .The most dramatic development of Super Tuesday and the entire political-primary season may be the evolution of Jesse Jackson from the complaining gadfly of the 1984 Democratic contest into a formidable mainstream Democratic presidential candidate. No longer should Jackson be put into a special box of his own, as the black candidate. While Jackson's success came mostly from blacks, white voters contributed to his margin of victory in several Southern states . . .Super Tuesday was a big day for Bush, Jackson, Dukakis and Gore. As an experiment in the democratic process, Super Tuesday was not a bad day for democracy in America.

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