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Dean McSweeney, "The Front-Runner Falls: The Failure of Howard Dean," Party Politics, 13 (January 2007), 109-126.

First Paragraph:
Reforms transformed presidential nominations after the 1960s. Party organizations lost control over the delegate selection process, and primaries and pledged delegates proliferated. The earliest post-reform nominations differed markedly from those of the past, but also from each other. In the 1972 Democratic contest the pre-contest favourite, Senator Edmund Muskie, was strongly supported by party and election officials, but his campaign quickly floundered. Senator George McGovern won the nomination after capturing grassroots support of the liberal-left. However, McGovern proved unacceptable to many of the party's general supporters in the electorate and suffered a landslide defeat. Four years later, ex-Governor Jimmy Carter, a moderate southerner, emerged from obscurity, won the nomination and reassembled enough of the party's New Deal electoral coalition to win the presidency. In the first post-reform Republican contest, President Nixon was opposed in primaries by two members of the House of Representatives, although they were comfortably defeated. But in 1976 President Ford only narrowly avoided defeat after a prolonged primary contest against former Governor Ronald Reagan, who appealed to grassroots conservatives. In this new era, outcomes were unpredictable, but some of the safer generalizations were that to start as the front-runner and to be favoured by the party establishment were sources of potential vulnerability (Banfield, 1980; Ceasar, 1979; Kirkpatrick, 1976; Lengle, 1981; Polsby, 1983).

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Front-runners and nomination outcomes, 1980-2004
Table 2. Public's knowledge and opinion of front-runners prior to contested nominations, 1980-2004
Table 3. Front-runners' support and lead in final pre-contest poll, contested nominations, 1980-2004
Table 4. Front-runners' change in support and their lead in polls after early setbacks, contested nominations, 1980-2004
Table 5. Democratic front-runners' vote in primaries nominations, 1992-2004
Table 6. Electability and candidate choice in democratic primaries, 2004
Table 7. Democratic primary voters deciding in choice, 2004

First Paragraph of Conclusion:
The 2004 race demonstrated that nomination contests contain sufficient uncertainties to be unpredictable. Increasing the uncertainties are those influences that vary across nominations. The lack of a dominant frontrunner in 2004 created the potential for a winner to emerge aided by early momentum. The breadth and intensity of Democrat opposition to the Bush administration heightened electability in the priorities of primary voters. More voters than usual were undecided or willing to change their preferences at short notice.

last updated February 2007