Three primaries, three winners, no major consensus on who’s the party should nominate to run against an incumbent president. A fractured party based upon social issues, marital infidelity, wealth redistribution, economic inequality, and a growing deficit saw a series of different victories in early primary states. Such was the dilemma facing the Democrat Party in 1992.
Four major candidates emerged from the field, all providing a different niche to the party. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, ran a populist campaign based on the needs of the working class (cough-the 99%-cough) with the backing of labor unions. Senator Paul Tsongas from Massachusetts who had some party support was viewed too conservative for activist Democrats, due to his major concerns for deficit spending. Many on the left called him a Reagan-Democrat, partly due to the fact he believed Democrats should focus their attention on economic growth over wealth redistribution; ironically he had the backing of then businessman Mitt Romney. Governor Jerry Brown of California ran a populist grassroots campaign even though he was dismissed by most in the media and in his party. Brown dubbed Washington “the bipartisan Incumbent Party”, and campaigned on issues of a living wage, opposing NAFTA, and a flat tax. Due to a limited budget, Brown got his message across by the means of alternative media. The other major candidate, Bill Clinton, campaigned on theme, “I still believe in a place called Hope.” Clinton was the native son of the south who dealt with a series of controversies due to his use of marijuana, dodging the draft, and extramarital affairs; no word yet on his opinion of the idea of an open-marriage.
Early on in the campaign there was no clear winner. Harkin won Iowa; Tsongas took New Hampshire (though Clinton’s surprise 2nd place finish dubbed him “the comeback kid“); Brown was victorious in Maine; Robert Kerrey, a minor candidate, won South Dakota; and Brown won again in Colorado. It wasn’t until the election was taken to his native South that Bill Clinton was able to regain his footing and win his first primary, Georgia, and by a huge margin 57% to Brown’s 24%.
However, this did not seal the deal for Clinton, Brown would go on to win four of the next six primaries, the other two would go to Harkin and Clinton.
Clinton swept the once solid Democratic south, winning Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Okalahoma, Tennessee and Texas. Tsongas and Brown took several states in the Northeast and Alaska. Many thought that Clinton was not politically appealing outside the old Confederacy.