REPUBLICANS are pretty good about settling presidential...

THEO LIPPMAN JR.

March 23, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

REPUBLICANS are pretty good about settling presidential nomination contests early. Usually once the handwriting is on the wall, the presumptive losers drop out. In 1988, for example, Bob Dole was gone by March 29.

The Democrats always fight on and on, to their regret.

In '88, Michael Dukakis needed 2,081 delegates to clinch. He reached 2,264 on June 7 with a four-state primary sweep. Jesse Jackson vowed that night to stay in the campaign. He did not endorse Dukakis until July 18, and he insisted on being nominated and voted on at the convention on July 20.

In '84, Walter Mondale had 2,008 delegates, 41 more than a majority, after the June 6 primaries. That night opponent Gary Hart said, "The only thing that can be said about this nomination contest is that it's not over." He and Jesse Jackson both were nominated and voted on at the convention, though the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

In '80, Jimmy Carter clinched on June 3, with a comfortable margin of 300 more delegates than the 1,666 he needed. But opponent Edward Kennedy said, "Tonight is the first night of the rest of the campaign. The people have decided this campaign must go on." He tried to get the rules on delegate loyalty changed. He failed and gave Carter a lukewarm endorsement after the convention renominated Carter over him, 2,123 to 1,150.

In '76, after opponents Henry Jackson, George Wallace and Adlai Stevenson dropped out of the race on June 9 and urged their delegates to vote for Jimmy Carter, his total hit 1,514, 109 more than a majority. But Morris Udall continued in the race and withheld support of Carter till just before the convention vote; and Gov. Jerry Brown (!) stayed a candidate until after that vote.

In '72, when it took 1,509 delegates to nominate, Sen. George McGovern led Sen. Hubert Humphrey 1,378 to 386 after the June primaries. McGovern's opponents took the question of delegate loyalty to the Supreme Court to try to stop him. That failed, and Humphrey lost a bid to get the convention to change its rules. Only then, seeing that McGovern had 1,700 delegates sewed up, did Humphrey withdraw. Four other Democrats still did not withdraw and were nominated.

In '68, Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy battled inconclusively through the primaries while Hubert Humphrey took the smoke-filled-room route. Kennedy was murdered on the night of the California primary. Humphrey beat McCarthy 1,759 to 601 at that year's bloody convention in Chicago. McCarthy didn't endorse him until Oct. 29.

Now, in all those years except 1976, the Republicans settled things early, began the politically vital reunification process early and had a happy, non-disputatious convention. Not coincidentally, 1976 was the only year the Republican candidate lost in the November election.

So if you're a Democrat, your cry should be, "Go, Pat Buchanan! Whoa, Jerry Brown!"

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