The Power of a 'Comeback'

Her own husband, Bill Clinton, was dubbed “the comeback kid” after suffering apparently fatal primary defeats and still managing his unlikely rise to the White House in 1992. John McCain has now secured the Republican nomination after his surprising comeback in the New Hampshire primary. Hillary Clinton already has dodged disaster in this election cycle after placing third in Iowa (a campaign in which the media originally said victory would be inevitable). Is it the candidate or the power of the comeback/momentum that propels a failing campaign?

Can Hillary come back from a twelve-state losing streak and if she can, what does that say about Obama’s inability to suppress her?

There are instances in American political history that set a “comeback” precedent. While no contest is exactly like any other, in many historically close races or “comebacks” it is the candidate that established an early lead or probable victory early on that ultimately takes the nomination.

Walter F. Mondale’s campaign against Gary Hart in the 1984 Democrat primaries looks a lot like that of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s. (So much so, in fact, that the “red phone” commercial that Hillary is running against Obama is almost identical to the one Mondale used against Hart). Mondale, like Hillary, was the better-known candidate and was assured victory early on, Hart like Obama was the candidate of new ideas or “change.”

Like Obama, Hart surprisingly swept the Super Tuesday states and after the primaries and caucuses concluded Mondale and Hart had won roughly the same amount of pledged delegates. In the end Mondale took the nomination because of superdelegates that had pledged early on and stuck to their commitments. The race carried on all the way until the Democrat National Convention.

Although Mondale pulled it off, in contrast — even with Hillary winning in Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas — Obama’s super delegate count is stronger than Hart’s was in 84’ and could still keep him in control of the race.

Much earlier, Hillary should have taken a cue from Mondale’s campaign — mimicking his jab at Hart during a televised debate in which Mondale asked Hart “Where’s the Beef?” mocking his “new ideas” platform. Some say that Hart (who was caught off guard) never recovered from Mondale’s comment — Hillary should have focused more on Obama’s inexperience and unsubstantiated rhetoric of “hope” and “change” in the same ways that Mondale did, rather than her recent negative attacks and emotional episodes.

Soon-to-be president Ronald Reagan perhaps made the most historic comeback in the 1976 Republican primaries against the then incumbent president Gerald Ford when he shocked pundits and won North Carolina. Although Reagan didn’t win the nomination after he swept the delegate-rich states of Texas and California, had he not become the front runner in 1976 it’s probable that we would never have had a Reagan presidency.

Just last week Hillary was flat lining, her campaign stood by her side with defibrillators shouting “clear!” After winning Ohio and Texas last night — we just may hear the faint heartbeat of Hillary Clinton’s campaign with another comeback.

After Super Tuesday II, Hillary has gained momentum and more importantly stopped Obama’s. Hillary still faces an uphill battle as MSNBC pointed out this Sunday on Meet the Press that “even if Senator Clinton wins Ohio and Texas say 52-48, she’d have to win 70% of the vote in each of those states in order to get enough delegates to surpass Obama among selected delegates.”

If the race is close enough neither candidate may be able to achieve the 2025 delegates needed to secure the nomination and the DCCC may have to put Michigan and Florida — states that were stripped of their delegates after moving the date of their primaries — back into play. Hillary won big in both these states. Despite Obama’s momentum Hillary could still prove the Mondale model true.