Concern among Republicans that the prolonged battle for their party's presidential nomination could have a lasting negative impact on the eventual nominee is intriguing given how struggles for the nominations of both parties used to unfold.
There is some understandable hand-wringing among GOP leaders who would like to see a wrap on the nomination battle so a presumptive nominee can begin to focus on campaigning against the president. But a look back would suggest it's the nature rather than the length of nomination battles in either party that wears on the voters.
And a student of history might reflect that something has been missing in recent presidential-election years. The process of presidential-preference primaries, born in Oregon in 1910 and originally viewed as empowering the people to choose their parties' candidates, has become a boring march to the inevitable for the past generation.
But 2012 may provide a revisiting of those campaigns in which the trail to the nomination led through Oregon in late May and on to the primaries' climax in California in early June.
It's the first time in 20 years that a June date in California and the quest for its huge pot of delegate gold has been possible. In 1996 California decided that its primary had become anti-climactic and moved it ahead to March so it could catch the heat of action.
Last summer, pronouncing that the experiment for California to compete for election dollars, high profile candidate appearances and perhaps also an increase in political clout had failed, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to restore the state's primary to June.
So ironically, the decision may have put California and its 172 delegates back in the eye of the campaign hurricane, a week after Texas bestows its 155 delegates, and the two, plus Oregon and a handful of other states in late May, could explain why all of the four candidates insist they are staying in the race.
An ironic reflection on past presidential-nomination contests is provided by the one in which Mitt Romney's father was a vital early figure. I haven't seen as much recollection as I thought there might be on the fact that Gov. George Romney wasn't only a hopeful for the 1968 GOP nomination, but had been viewed as almost the pre-emptive favorite heading into that year.
And had he not made the disastrous slip of explaining his change of heart to become an opponent of the Vietnam War as having been "brainwashed on Vietnam," Mitt Romney might now be running as part of a family political dynasty, ala the names Kennedy or Bush. And it might have been a campaign in which the issue of a Mormon in the White House had long ago been resolved.
The '68 campaign was also one in which, as I reflected several years ago, prominent figures from Washington state played key roles, a campaign that, as a young political writer, I had the opportunity to cover.
There were still three nomination hopefuls in the Democratic-nomination race by the time of that '68 Oregon Primary. And there would still have been three by the disastrous Democratic convention in Chicago had Robert Kennedy not been assassinated a week after Oregon, moments after acknowledging victory in the California primary.
Everest-conqueror Jim Whittaker of Seattle was an ever-present figure by Kennedy's side until the fateful moment in a hallway of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Sirhan Sirhan shot Kennedy.
Washington's former governor and U.S. Senator Dan Evans still well remembers the GOP convention in Miami and his role as the keynote speaker whose support was sought by both eventual nominee Richard Nixon and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who still had a chance at convention time. Nixon even suggested the vice presidency might accompany an endorsement from Evans, who chose instead to endorse Rockefeller.
The Republican primary effort that year, despite enduring up to the convention, as did the Democrats', was a much more gentlemanly affair than the bitterly divisive, Vietnam-fueled Democratic struggle. And most students of history would suggest that campaign bitterness had an influence on the fact Richard Nixon won in November.
Four years later, the decision about the Democratic nominee also stretched to the Oregon and California primaries. Eventual Democratic nominee Sen. George McGovern beat former Vice President Hubert Humphrey by 44 percent to 39 percent in California to assure himself the nomination.
Washington Sen. Henry M. Jackson was a distant third in '72 but didn't drop out until early May. And he was a more serious challenger in'76 in what was still a four-man race for the Democratic nomination when he dropped out May 1 after losing the Pennsylvania primary to eventual nominee, then president, Jimmy Carter.
As those and other campaigns make clear, there's nothing inherently undesirable about a prolonged primary campaign that exposes the candidates to an electorate that deserves the opportunity to get to know as much as possible about the person who could wind up as their president.
If the candidates' comments and pronouncements make their shortcomings as presidential timber obvious, that's beneficial to the voters, if not necessarily to their party. It's only when the unending barrage of negativity from opponents paints a picture of shortcomings that may not even exist that a prolonged campaign does damage to the political process.
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