The history of Super Tuesday

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KNOXVILLE (WVLT) -- Depending on who you talk to, the term “Super Tuesday” dates back to either 1984 or 1988.

Before that, primaries were stretched out over several months with one or two being held at a time.

In 1984 there were actually three Super Tuesdays, though they were much smaller than today's.

Four years later, nine southern states, including Tennessee, held their primaries on the same day in March, beginning a trend that may lead to a national primary.

Dr. Michael Fitzgerald is a senior fellow at the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy.

For the last four decades he's also been a political science professor, including 30 years at UT.

"The idea of Super Tuesday came about because of the growing importance of primary elections on the actual selection of presidential candidates," he said.

"To truly understand Super Tuesday, you have to think back to what the political environment was like in the 1980's.

It was 1988 when Michael Dukakis won the democratic nomination, in spite of the best efforts of many southern democrats to stop him.

Like Walter Mondale in 1984, Dukakis lost the general election, due in large part to the so-called “Regan Democrats” of the south who crossed party lines to support the GOP.

“There was a national concern that the kind of candidates that were winning primaries that were spread out through the winter/spring campaign season had a bias that was excessively liberal for success in the general election," said Dr. Fitzgerald.

Though Super Tuesday did not work as southern Democrats had hoped in 1988, in 1992 they got exactly what they had been looking for."

"Bill Clinton in particular took a tremendous opportunity to use the Super Tuesday primaries to strengthen his notion of the vital middle,” said Dr. Fitzgerald, “and it appealed very well."

Democrats aren’t the only ones who have benefited from or contributed to the growth of Super Tuesday.

Bob Dole was a big winner in 1996 and others are trying to ride that same wave to a nomination.
"The republicans have now taken advantage of this and used the Super Tuesday as a testing ground for the kind of candidate who will be conservative, but still appeal to independents and the crossover democrats,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “It's taken on a flavor of moderating national candidacies."

Dr. Fitzgerald thinks we may be headed toward a national primary, with all or most voters in the country going to the polls on the same day, but he doubts it will happen by 2012.



 
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