TOPICS > Politics

The First Super Tuesday

March 9, 1988 at 12:00 AM EDT


ROBERT MACNEIL: We look next to Super Tuesday, itself. Did it work? Southern Democrats came up with the idea of a regional primary as a way to put a moderate at the head of the ticket, but yesterday’s results were far from conclusive, as we’ve just heard, in those Southern states. Rev. Jesse Jackson captured the deep South states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia. Tennessee Sen. Al Gore won his home state as well as the Southern border states of Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis finished first in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt’s sole win was in his native state, so just how effective did Super Tuesday turn out to be? We pose that question now to one of it’s main architects, former Virginia Gov. Chuck Robb, and one of it’s main opponents, Don Fowler, the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Convention and former Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. He joins us from the studios at WLVT in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Mr. Fowler, you opposed it. Were your fears justified? Was it a flop?

GOV. DON FOWLER: Well, I didn’t oppose it because I had fears of what would become of it. It actually turned out pretty much as I had expected it. I opposed it because I thought it was an attempt to predetermine the result in selecting a Democratic nominee. I thought that was a bit fanciful and then I thought it was a not going to work out to achieve that end. I’ve been involved in the nominating process and rule making for 15 years and it seems that every time that we address this subject, there is a group or some candidate that wants to rig the system or change the system to achieve a particular result, and I thought the Southern primaries that started was an attempt to do that. It didn’t work exactly that way, although it did give Sen. Gore a new lease on life, which was a little surprise to me and some other people, but it turned out pretty much as I expected.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Gov. Robb, did it work from your point of view?

GOV. CHUCK ROBB: I think it did. Let me suggest with respect to Gov. Don Fowler’s characterizations of Super Tuesday it’s designed to have a definitive result, or for that matter, other characterizations, it was designed to either attract a particular candidate, a particular philosophy, or someone from a particular region. Those may have been some of the hopes that those who ultimately supported the concept held, but Super Tuesday was basically designed to nationalize the message, to try to reduce the influence of the so-called Iowa syndrome or the rather parochial approach to a number of litmus tests that have been administered in the caucus system. It was designed to get elected officials into the process. These are some of the things that those of us who were in effect present at the creation and wanted to achieve and we think we did achieve them on that score.

ROBERT MACNEIL: How about some of those things that have been said about it, Gov. Robb, that it put a premium on television ads, on tarmac campaigning, that instead of giving the Southern voter a real contact with the delegates, it was all so rushed that it, as I say, put a premium on ads, particularly negative ads, and of course, the requirement of raising money to pay for the ads. You just heard Mark Shields say the “S” in Super Tuesday should be a dollar sign.

GOV. CHUCK ROBB: To some extent I think that’s true, but Super Tuesday was designed to test candidates skills in a general election. We’re not terribly concerned, those of us who were part of the formation of the Super Tuesday concept, about how many states are in it, and there may be a few less in it the next time around, but what we wanted to do is to move away from the individual approach, the so-called retail approach, and see if a candidate could talk about issues and priorities and presidential terms, and that requires an emphasis on organization, on money, on the ability to motivate on a broad scale, without doing it on the basis of one on one approaches to an individual wart healer or somebody else in a state that may encourage them to bring out all these friends on a cold February night. We wanted them to talk about the broad issues that are facing the country and there is a certain amount of tarmac campaigning in a presidential election.

ROBERT MACNEIL : Now how do you feel about that, Mr. Fowler?

GOV. DON FOWLER: Robin, there are two or three thoughts that I have about what Gov. Robb said. First of all, I think that in terms of the Democratic Party, we did receive a good result, because Super Tuesday nominated George Bush, and I think we can beat him, but let me move on. I think the South in a very peculiar way had a greater impact on the race in 1984 than it did this time, because as you well remember, Vice-President Mondale came out of New Hampshire and he had lost and he came down to Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and he won. I think that after Super Tuesday this year we don’t have that much more of a key as to who’s going to be the ultimate nominee than we did before yesterday, although I will say that the good organization and a large amount of money that Gov. Dukakis has gave him an edge and he maintained that edge. Money and organization is at a premium, but we’re looking for a representative, a fair system of nominating our candidates, we need to look at something other than the broad brush of a single region. If we want to have general election issues discussed, and I certainly agree with Gov. Robb on that, I think something more akin to a time zone regional primary would be better, because it’s more diverse, it’s more representative of the Democratic Party than either Iowa or New Hampshire, and I certainly share Gov. Robb’s objections to the impact of those two states, but I think that a time zone primary, or a series of caucuses would be more effective for the Democratic Party and force a concentration on a broader range of issues than a regional primary.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Let’s bring in our two analysts now. David Gergen, do you think Super Tuesday should be kept, dropped, made smaller, what?

DAVID GERGEN: With all due respect to Gov. Robb, whom many Southern Democrats would have enjoyed having in the race on Super Tuesday and would have been a very strong candidate, I believe that Super Tuesday, while it may have helped some of the candidates, did not help the voters. He said that there were several criteria by which Super Tuesday should be judged. Certainly, the ability to raise money and the ability to organize well were two criteria that both Bush and Dukakis met, however, I do not think it met the third criteria, and that was to deliver a message. I don’t think we heard much out of these candidates in this tarmac campaign that has enlightened us about what the future is going to be like under either one of the parties. And in that respect, I think the voters went to the booth yesterday very uninformed about what the candidates believed in. Over a third of the voters that came out of the democratic side said they were uncertain about their candidates, a lot of them said they might split from the party. I don’t think it served the process well, I don’t think it served the voters well, to have this kind of massive election effort.


GOV. CHUCK ROBB: I think that the effort did succeed. I will acknowledge that the message question is still a troubling one. What we wanted to do frankly was to avoid the downside. Too often in Iowa and some of the early contests, candidates had said things that made it very difficult for them to have any real prospect of winning a general election. Let me shift the focus, if I may for one minute though, in terms of what actually happened and may be of real benefit to the Democrats. There’s a lot of credit that clearly goes and ought to go to George Bush, but if you look at the individual numbers and all the talk about realignment and repositioning, and then look at the vote totals, and in three of… I’m looking just now at the Southern Super Tuesday states, some thirteen states, in three of the states, all three of the Democratic candidates frequently described as unelectable by our Republican friends, all three of them beat George Bush. In five additional states, at least two of the candidates had a higher vote total than George Bush’s total and in four additional states at least one of the candidates had a higher vote total than George Bush. In only one of the thirteen states, Florida, did George Bush end up beating all three of the candidates. That’s in a field that was described by a number of Republicans as having two or three, depending upon the way they described the candidates, unelectable candidates.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Does that validate Super Tuesday in your mind, Mark Shields?

MARK SHIELDS: Gov. Robb always validates things when he makes… it was a good argument. No, it was a good argument. No, it doesn’t validate Super Tuesday to me. I come back to the message problem. I do think that the emphasis upon money, I remain a partisan, a fan of both Iowa and New Hampshire, of a small state being at the outset where an under-financed, under-covered candidate, who isn’t the darling of the media, can have an impact and make a difference. I guess what I would add to it is, following up what Gov. Don Fowler observed, voters on Super Tuesday in all those states rejected electability as a factor. The two most electable candidates in both parties by most politicians’ judgment, Bob Dole and the Republicans, and Dick Gephardt and the Democrats were rejected.

DAVID GERGEN: I’d like to ask Gov. Robb if he thinks the man who’s now merged with the inside track in the Democratic Party for the nomination, Gov. Dukakis, will go in, if he’s the nominee, will go in as the favorite against George Bush in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina.

GOV. CHUCK ROBB: David, I would have to concede that at this point I think that if Mike is the nominee of the Democratic Party, he’s going to start off as the underdog. But I think things have changed and the playing field is a bit more level and I think that the stature of the Democratic candidates in the last few weeks has improved and I think that the two front-runners at the time in the Republican field have been cut down to human size, so I think that the contest is a little closer than it was, but the point I was making is that all this talk about realignment was supposed to have all of the swing voters and everybody who is participating Super Tuesday lining up on the Republican side. Better than two out of three of every voter who went to the polls on Super Tuesday voted for a Democratic candidate.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Let me bring Gov. Don Fowler back in. You said a moment ago you’d be in favor of a wider national primary, if we’re going to try that kind of thing, hasn’t the objection of a time zone primary, hasn’t the objection to that always been that it would be what Super Tuesday already demonstrated and put this enormous premium on national campaigning, well known candidates, already well known candidates, the ability to raise money, and wage television campaigns, just like in a general election.

GOV. DON FOWLER: Sooner or later…

ROBERT MACNEIL: Wouldn’t it just exacerbate the problem of Super Tuesday?

GOV. DON FOWLER: Sooner or later you have to come to that where the candidates do have to speak to a national audience and to a national range of issues, my sense about a time zone primary is that it is more representative than a regional primary, even the Southern regional primary. I think that you can get a mix of people and a mix of concerns that will serve the public more generally. Now Mark Shields is a big fan of retail in politics and I think there’s a place for that. My objection to Iowa and New Hampshire is that they are not representative. If you want to retail politics early in the process, get two or three states that are more representative and let the candidates get in there, but at some point, you’re going to have to get the wholesale politics, and my point about the time zone primary is that except for maybe the mountain zone, all three of the others are certainly more representative than any particular region. I do Robin, before I quit and get off and respond and add to what Gov. Robb said to Mr. Gergen’s comment about who would be favored in the South, if you look at the polls and how they’ve moved, the seven Dwarfs have done very well in the last six months and to a man that’s been vice president, Mr. Harris in his poll last week had both Gov. Dukakis and Congressman Gephardt beating George Bush, and while they were a little behind in the South, they were catching up, so I think this is going to be a very competitive race in the South. Show me somebody, a Democrat, that can win in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and I’ll show you a Democrat that can win in North Carolina and Arkansas.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Gov. Robb, how would you change Super Tuesday the next time around?

GOV. CHUCK ROBB: Next time around I think it’s clear that we’ll probably have some changes in the individual participation. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Northwestern states clearly felt a little bit left out. I was with Tom Foley today and I’ve talked to some representatives and… they’re looking at it. It may be Hawaii will want to drop out, it may be that Maryland and Alabama, who felt somewhat neglected in this process, may want to opt out. Massachusetts and Rhode Island may want to opt out. All I want to see is a representative group of states that’s too big to manipulate because of it’s small size and predictability, something that forces the candidates to deal with the kinds of issues and the kinds of concepts that they’re going to confront in a general election. I know the candidates were frustrated by what they had to do to prepare for Super Tuesday, but one of the tests is to see how they respond to those kinds of pressures and to see how they do, because all the candidates are essentially subjected to the same kinds of pressure.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Would a smaller…

GOV. DON FOWLER: Robin, may I make a comment please?


GOV. DON FOWLER: As I indicated earlier, I have been involved in the Democratic Party’s efforts to bring some order to this since 1972, and I can tell you with some degree of experience and some number of wounds that it’s almost impossible for a party to bring order and structure to this because any time a state wants to jump outside a window, except itself from a given pattern and the candidates go there and the media follows, that the party is helpless in doing anything about that. If there is going to be order and rationality, I think that the congress is going to have to do something about that. If there is going to be order and rationality, I think that the Congress is going to have to do something about that. I’m sorry to say that, but I’ve had a number of problems in that area and it seems that way.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Well, that’s a subject for another program.

GOV. DON FOWLER: Yes, it is.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Gov. Don Fowler, Gov. Robb, David Gergen, Mark Shields, thank you all.