Prospective Presidential candidates are constantly asked if they plan to run, and they rarely answer truthfully because if they are running, they want to roll that news out when it’s most advantageous. Yet they still get asked.
But what I really want to know is in hindsight what made a candidate run when clearly the timing was bad, and why did they pass up what probably would have been a better time?
Here’s one big example: Joe Biden. Biden joined a crowded '88 field when he was still pretty young and even before he had to drop out due to the plagiarism scandal he wasn’t really in the top tier. Then he gets into an absolutely impossible field in 2008, when he has to compete against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the 2004 VP nominee. Yet he passed on 2004, which had a crowded but weak field plus a vulnerable incumbent, and he passed on 2016, when Hillary Clinton was having problems with an 83-year old socialist. We do know the reasons he passed on 2016, but has anyone ever asked him why he chose to wait until 2008 to run, or why he was so eager to get in in 1988?
Another one that’s always bugged me is Bob Graham. Bob Graham was touted as Presidential material as far back as 1980. He was touted as a short list VP candidate in the next several elections. Yet he passed on 1988, he passed on 1992 when another southern governor rose out of obscurity to take the nomination and the Presidency(Graham was in the Senate an arguably would have been a much bigger name than Clinton at the time), and didn’t jump in in 2004 until very late. What gives? Waiting 24 years to run for President from the time the media touts you as Presidential material must be some kind of record. A good comparison would be Cory Booker not running until 2040.
Speculation on why guys like this don’t take advantage of their moment is welcome, but even better would be links to interviews where they discussed their past runs and what their thinking behind them was.
Walter Mondale said he didn’t run in 1976 because he didn’t have “fire in the belly.” He finally got it in 1984, just in time to run against Reagan. Bad timing.
A lot of potential candidates don’t run because they don’t think they can handle the fundraising involved. A few years later, after they’ve cultivated more political contacts, gotten acquainted with more and bigger donors, they convince themselves money won’t be a problem.
I can’t find a site, it might be in Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars by Jack Germond, that Biden in 88 was going to try to use his spotlight as chairman of the judiciary committee to push himself to the Democratic nomination. Remember that the Democrats had finally taken the Senate back in 1986 after some of those republicans carried in on Reagan’s coattails got defeated. This was the chance for the Democrats to fervently oppose the next Reagan Supreme Court nominee as well as grill Reagan cabinet officers. Plus, there was still the Iran-Contra scandal.
Of course, Biden wasn’t quite that blunt, but he knew there was a good chance Reagan would swing for the fences and try to get Bork on the Supreme Court.
That was my first political history book. Fascinating look at the primary process, especially on the Democratic side. I understand Biden’s choice to at least give it a shot in '88, even though his chances were slim even without the Kinnock thing. What I don’t get is why he passed up 2004 and then thought 2008 was a good idea. 2004 was so tempting even Bob Graham couldn’t stay out of that one.
To the extent that Clinton had problems with Sanders, those problems peaked well after it was reasonable for someone to get into the race. She was 20+ points ahead of him for all but a short period in 2015.
True, but Biden was clearly in a stronger position even late in the campaign than he was in 2008. That decision to run was utterly pointless, unless he secretly had contempt for his less experienced but more glitzy Senate colleagues and thought Democratic primary voters would see how much more he knew his business than they did. Which wouldn’t surprise me, but of course he’ll never say that.