Quick Hit Friday: Northeast Democrats

(“Quick Hit Fridays”: Where lame posts about random topics go to quietly die.)

In the century before this election, the Democratic Party nominated a candidate for president 24 times. Of those 24 nominees, just five were from the northeast (a geographic region I consider to be everything from DC to Maine). And of those five, only two became president.

Here’s the list (northeasterners bolded, presidents italicized):

1920: James M. Cox, Ohio
1924: John W. Davis, West Virginia
1928: Al Smith, New York
1932 – 44: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New York
1948: Harry S. Truman, Missouri
1952 – 56: Adlai Stevenson, Illinois
1960: John F. Kennedy, Massachusetts
1964: Lyndon B. Johnson, Texas
1968: Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota
1972: George McGovern, South Dakota
1976 – 80: Jimmy Carter, Georgia
1984: Walter Mondale, Minnesota
1988: Michael Dukakis, Massachusetts
1992 – 96: Bill Clinton, Arkansas
2000: Al Gore, Tennessee
2004: John Kerry, Massachusetts
2008-12: Barack Obama, Kenya

The two exceptional presidents, we could argue, caught lightning in a bottle. In 1932, FDR went up against President Herbert Hoover, who had just accompanied the country into the Great Depression. A Democratic victory was a sure thing. Then, thanks to his New Deal and World War II, the incumbent President Roosevelt had the job for life. Later, in 1960, Kennedy capitalized on the first televised debate, which, coupled with his jawline, squeaked him out a victory against Richard Nixon. To win, Kennedy needed his running mate, Texan Lyndon Johnson, to deliver southern states, and even then he carried the national popular vote by just .17 percent.

But that’s it. That’s the two. And remember that many more northeast Democrats attempted a run. For every Michael Dukakis there are five Chris Dodds and Milton Shapps. “Who?!” you ask? Exactly.

It’s also worth pointing out that if we focus on just the last half-century, when our two major parties grew into their modern versions, zero northeast Democrats have become president.

What are we to make of this? The northeast is a densely populated area, with one-fifth of Americans hailing from it. Moreover, the region is a Democratic stronghold with more Democratic voters and potential candidates than any other region in the country. So why is it that in the previous 50 years the party has nominated southerners (Johnson, Carter twice, Clinton twice, Gore) three times as often as northeasterners (Dukakis, Kerry)? And then why has it been rarer still to get the northeasterners elected?

There are myriad reasons, to be sure, but among them is Middle America’s skepticism of the northeast liberal’s reputation — he (and now she) who makes decisions from his (and now her) steel and ivory tower, lining their own pockets in the process. Opponents have successfully used that narrative to derail many-a-campaign. (Interestingly, that strategy — beware the rich northeast liberal who profits on the backs of the working class — is exactly what Ted Cruz belatedly, and miserably, attempted in his quest to take down Donald Trump in the Republican Primary.)

Ultimately, Hillary Clinton (and Donald Trump?) is trying to become just the third northeast liberal to be president since the end of World War I. This is just one long-term trend against which she’s fighting. There are others. Perhaps they’ll get their own posts some day. (And I promise none of them will have to do with being a woman.)

Have a great weekend. Catch you on Monday.


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