With the Democratic presidential candidates battling it out for a chance to be creamed by George W. Bush, reading the newspapers these days feels very much like 1972. The Democrats are moving left, the incumbent president is popular, and it looks like the Democrats may be out of power for decades. After 1972, the Democrats were bailed out by Watergate. This time, they'll need an act of God.
The parallels between 1972 and 2003 for the Democrats are striking. Even their candidates look the same.
Immediately following the 1968 election, the strongest Democrat was Teddy Kennedy. Then, Kennedy drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, drowning Mary Jo Kopechne. This juicy scandal forced Kennedy to abandon his presidential ambitions, opening the door for a slew of candidates to jump into the nomination fray.
Immediately after the 2000 election, Al Gore seemed like the sure bet for 2004. But then the word came down from on high: Gore had to go. And go he did, announcing his intention to drop out of the presidential race and opening the door for a slew of lesser-known candidates.
Leading up to the 1972 Democratic primaries, 1968 vice presidential candidate Edmund Muskie of Maine looked like the new Democratic front-runner. Standing tall at 6 foot 4, with craggy good looks, the former U.S. Navy lieutenant cultivated an image as a strong, stoic politician. Political analysts called him "Lincolnesque."
Leading up to the 2004 Democratic primaries, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has taken the early lead in public opinion polls. Tall and handsome, Kerry is perceived as the most solid Democratic candidate.
Muskie's main challenger for the 1972 nomination was Sen. George McGovern. McGovern separated himself from the other Democratic candidates with his strongly antiwar stance. If Muskie made any blunder, McGovern would seize control of the Democratic nomination.
Kerry's main challenger for the 2004 nomination is Howard Dean. Dean has made a name for himself among Democratic loyalists by coming out against the war in Iraq. His statements on defense policy have endeared him to the extremists in the party. If Kerry makes any missteps, Dean will win the nomination.
In 1972, Henry "Scoop" Jackson was the conscience of the Democratic Party. Solid on defense but colorless, Jackson was particularly strong on Israel and Jewish issues. Jackson would have been a decent presidential candidate, but the party activists didn't want anyone as mainstream as Jackson.