Q: Did the 1992 Race Really Go Until June Like Bill Clinton Says? (A: Not Really)

By Ed O'Keefe

Mar 28, 2008 5:38pm

In his efforts to solicit patience from voters and Democratic officials alike, former president Bill Clinton constantly tells voters that the 1992 nomination race kept going until June.

"All these people that tell you, ‘Aw we oughta shut this thing down now the Democrats are so divided – that’s a bunch of bull," he said today in  Kannapolis, North Carolina. "I didn’t get enough votes to be nominated until June the 2nd, 1992."

That is literally true. Bill Clinton did not secure enough delegates through the primary and caucus process until the California primary, June 2, 1992.

But it is not politically true.

Bill Clinton had sewn up the nomination long before then. Months before then.

Moreover, the first real contest that year was on February 18, 1992. (No one competed in the Iowa caucuses since Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was a candidate that year) The first real contest this year, the Iowa caucus, was January 3, 2008. So you’d also expect that race to last later in the calendar — it started more than a month and a half later.

But regardless of that, here are some key dates for that 1992 race that indicate how misleading this argument is.

February 18, 1992 — Sen. Paul Tsongas, D-Mass., wins New Hampshire primary. A scandal-plagued Gov. Bill Clinton comes in second.

February 20, 1992  — San Diego Union-Tribune headline: "Tsongas got most votes, but Clinton says he won".

February 25, 1992 — Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., wins the South Dakota primary.

March 3, 1992 — Clinton wins Georgia. Tsongas wins Maryland. Harkin wins Minnesota and Idaho. Former California governor Jerry Brown wins Colorado. Still all very much up for grabs.

March 5, 1992 — With no money, Kerrey ends his campaign. "We were ready to go full throttle," Kerrey says, "but unfortunately we ran out of gas."

March 7, 1992 — Clinton wins South Carolina.

Harkin announces he will drop out.

March 10, 1992 — Clinton cleans up on Super Tuesday, winning Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas. Tsongas wins Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Kerrey: "I would say he’s got a very clear path to the nomination. But it’s not a path without mine fields. There are still things out there that he’s got to worry about. He’s got to win."

Jim Lehrer on PBS: "David, how close is Bill Clinton to being the Democratic nominee tonight?"

David Gergen: "He’s on the verge."

March 17, 1992 — Clinton wins Illinois.

At this point, it becomes clear Clinton will be the nominee. Tsongas drops out. Only Brown remains in the race.

March 20, 1992 — The Dallas Morning News: "Former Sen. Paul Tsongas abruptly halted his presidential candidacy on Thursday, effectively ending the Democratic contest and turning the primary campaign into a mop-up operation for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. ‘It was clear that we did not have the resources necessary to fight the media war in (the April 7) New York (primary),’ Mr. Tsongas told a packed crowd of supporters in Boston."

The Boston Herald: "A no-holds-barred presidential race between Democrat Bill Clinton and President George Bush – in a clash of generations and vastly different values – was all but sealed yesterday as Paul E. Tsongas ended his quest for the Democratic nomination."

March 24, 1992 — Brown wins Connecticut. Clinton holds a seven-to-one lead in delegates.

March 26, 1992 — Harkin endorses Clinton, expressing concern that the fight between Clinton and Brown will cause divisions in the party that would hurt the nominee in November.

"I say it’s time for Democrats to link arms, dig in our heels, set our sights to work together to put Bill Clinton in the White House in 1992," Harkin says.

Harkin is the first of Clinton’s former opponents to endorse him, and the party begins to officially rally around the presumptive nominee.

April 1, 1992 — Former President Jimmy Carter endorses Clinton, calling him "an honest, decent, competent, idealistic, practical man" who doesn’t deserve to have his character questioned. "Pretty obviously, Gov. Clinton is going to get the nomination," Carter says.

April 4, 1992 — Before the New York primary, Gov. Mario Cuomo says Clinton would be a "superb president."

April 8, 1992 — Bryant Gumbel: "Good morning. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, call him flawed, call him slick, but call him a winner this morning. He swept the primaries in New York, Kansas and Wisconsin. Big strides toward the Democratic nomination that seem his for the taking today, Wednesday, April the 8th, 1992."

As a slap in Brown’s face, Tsongas — no longer in the race — comes in second in New York.

April 12, 1992 — House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, endorses Clinton. "Bill Clinton will be the kind of president the United States needs to recapture our economic strength and leadership in the post-Cold War world," Gephardt says.

House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash: "All the dominoes are falling in favor of Clinton. He is going to be the nominee."

At the California Democratic convention, Brown says Clinton is likely to be the Democratic presidential nominee, and says he will back Clinton if he is nominated.

Austin American-Statesman: "Brown strongly indicated that, having lost the New York primary Tuesday, he will campaign as a crusader for political change rather than as a serious contender for nomination. Ron Brown, national party chairman, said the comments were ‘very positive’ and hinted that the contest has entered a new phase. The two met privately earlier in the day."

April 14, 1992 — Clinton wins the final round of Virginia’s caucuses. "Uncommitted" comes in a strong second, Brown comes in a distant third.

April 19, 1992 – Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, endorses Clinton.

Earth Day, 1992 – Clinton challenges President George H.W. Bush to a face-to-face debate on the environment.

April 28, 1992 — Clinton wins Pennsylvania primary, having earned 1,466 of the 2,145 delegates needed to win. Brown has 316 delegates.

And on and on…

This notion that the 1992 presidential race was not over until June is literally true. But it was truly over about five or six weeks after the New Hampshire primary.

- jpt

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