Biden joins a handful of other major party candidates since 1972 who were undeterred after two failed White House bids
Joe Biden’s unsurprising announcement last week that he would make a third bid to win the presidency is hardly unprecedented in the modern primary era.
But the large 32-year span between his first and third runs is unusual, as is the lack of success he enjoyed during his initial two campaigns.
Biden’s debut run in 1988 lasted only 107 days and ended in September 1987 – several months before the primary season began. In 2008, Biden exited after the Iowa Caucuses on January 3rd following a distant fifth place showing of 0.9 percent.
Unlike Biden, most of the other three-time presidential candidates since 1972 carried at least one state during the primaries – or at least turned in a double-digit performance somewhere (although Biden did emerge from his ’08 campaign with a vice-presidential nomination to impressively pad his resume).
Democrat Jerry Brown’s three presidential bids spanned a total of 16 years.
In 1976, Brown was a late entry to the race, launching his campaign on March 12th, but won primaries in Maryland on May 18th, in Nevada a week later, and in his home state of California on June 8th.
The governor remained in the race until the convention, which netted him a third-place finish with 301 delegates.
During the 1980 cycle, Brown announced his campaign much earlier, on November 8, 1979, but it lasted only 146 days – exiting April 1st.
Brown only reached double-digit support in Wisconsin on April 1st (third place, 11.8 percent) and in Michigan on May 20th after his exit (29.4 percent, with unpledged delegates totaling nearly half of the vote).
After completing his second gubernatorial term and a failed U.S. Senate bid, Brown ran for president a third and final time in 1992.
Brown announced his campaign on October 21, 1991 and stayed in the race through the convention the following July after winning primaries in Colorado and Connecticut and caucuses in Maine, Nevada, and Vermont.
But Brown lost his home state to Bill Clinton by 7.3 points in June and finished with 596 delegates and the silver medal at the party’s convention in New York City.
Bob Dole’s three presidential runs also spanned 16 years. His debut presidential bid in 1980 was an abysmal failure – ending in mid-March but never winning even one percent of the vote in any primary.
In 1988, Dole got out of the gate fast winning the Iowa caucuses (and subsequent caucuses in Kansas, Minnesota, and Wyoming).
But the Kansas U.S. Senator only won one state primary (South Dakota) and came within single digits of victory in just three others (Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma) before exiting the race on March 29th.
Eight years later, Dole would finally triumph by carrying all but a handful of states on his path to securing the 1996 Republican nomination and winning 19 states and 159 Electoral College votes that November.
Pat Buchanan sought the Republican nomination in three consecutive cycles – 1992, 1996, and 2000.
In 1992, Buchanan technically stayed into the race until the August convention, although he never carried a single state during the primaries. Buchanan’s strongest showing was early in the nation’s first primary – New Hampshire (37 percent) – and also reached the 30 percent mark in Colorado, Georgia, Florida, and Rhode Island.
In his 1996 campaign, Buchanan narrowly defeated Dole for a victory in New Hampshire. That would prove to be the high point of his campaign, but Buchanan still won more than 30 percent of the primary vote in Louisiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin and a quarter of the vote in Arizona, South Dakota, South Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
Buchanan left the GOP during his 2000 campaign – never appearing on a primary ballot – but successfully captured the Reform Party nomination.
Alan Keyes also ran for the GOP nomination in three cycles: 1996, 2000, and 2008.
In 1996, Keyes’ campaign lasted just shy of a year, ending March 6th with electoral highlights of reaching five percent of the primary vote in Delaware (5.3 percent), his home state of Maryland (5.4 percent), Pennsylvania (5.8 percent), Idaho (5.0 percent), and New Jersey (6.7 percent) – the latter three after he had dropped out of the race.
In 2000, Keyes’ campaign started out with a respectable, though distant, third place finish in the Iowa caucuses (14.2 percent).
Keyes officially stayed in the race until the convention in July and ended up claiming more than five percent of the primary vote in 21 states (although several after John McCain had dropped out of the race leaving few alternatives for those voters not supporting George W. Bush): New Hampshire, Maryland, Missouri, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Nebraska, Oregon, Arkansas, Idaho, Alabama, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.
Keyes’ 2008 campaign, however, failed to gain any traction. Even though he appeared on the GOP primary ballot in more than 20 states and participated in a few early debates, he only reached one percent of the vote in three states (Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia).
Keyes then abandoned his GOP bid and sought the Constitutional Party nomination.
A few other major party candidates could technically be mentioned alongside the names mentioned above – although on balance their candidacies were taken less seriously.
Former Republican Minnesota governor and perennial candidate Harold Stassen ran for president four times during the modern primary era among his nine White House campaigns dating back to 1948.
Stassen’s best GOP primary showings each cycle were:
- 1980: District of Columbia (2.7 percent), West Virginia (2.2 percent), Rhode Island (2.0 percent), New Jersey (1.6 percent), New Mexico (1.6 percent), Kentucky (1.3 percent), and South Dakota (1.1 percent)
- 1984: West Virginia (8.2 percent), New Hampshire (2.0 percent)
- 1988: West Virginia (1.1 percent), Kentucky (0.7 percent)
- 1992: Minnesota (3.1 percent), Wisconsin (0.8 percent)
Controversial Democrat Lyndon LaRouche also appeared on several primary ballots in multiple cycles during this period (1980 through 2004) and received hundreds of thousands of votes collectively. His endorsements would occasionally spell trouble for the establishment in state political races at the peak of his influence in the 1980s.
LaRouche’s best primary performances each cycle came in:
- 1980: Michigan (11.4 percent), New Mexico (3.0 percent), Ohio (3.0 percent), Rhode Island (3.0 percent), Connecticut (2.7 percent), New Jersey (2.5 percent), New Hampshire (2.1 percent)
- 1984: North Dakota (12.0 percent), South Dakota (2.6 percent), Idaho (2.2 percent), West Virginia (2.0 percent)
- 1988: California (0.8 percent), Arkansas (0.5 percent), Texas (0.5 percent)
- 1992: North Dakota (21.4 percent), Idaho (3.6 percent), Arkansas (2.9 percent), New Jersey (2.0 percent)
- 1996: North Dakota (34.7 percent), West Virginia (13.5 percent), Oklahoma (12.7 percent), Louisiana (11.7 percent), Colorado (11.0 percent), Nebraska (10.9 percent), Delaware (9.7 percent), Ohio (8.2 percent), Pennsylvania (8.0 percent), Mississippi (7.5 percent), Kentucky (7.4 percent), North Carolina (7.2 percent), California (6.9 percent), Arkansas (6.6 percent)
- 2000: Michigan (29.4 percent), Arkansas (21.5 percent), Oregon (10.9 percent), Idaho (8.2 percent), Oklahoma (5.8 percent), Alabama (5.6 percent), New Jersey (5.1 percent)
- 2004: Arkansas (5.1 percent), South Dakota (3.5 percent), Alabama (3.3 percent), Oregon (2.3 percent), Pennsylvania (2.2 percent), New Jersey (2.1 percent)
Ron Paul also launched three presidential campaigns although only two of them (2008, 2012) were with a major party – previously winning the Libertarian nomination in 1988.
Likewise, former Minnesota U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy launched Democratic bids in 1972 and 1992 and an independent bid in 1976.
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