As anyone with a calculator or a newspaper knows, there are 17 candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. On the Democratic side, it’s a much more manageable number. Five are in the race to be their party’s standard bearer. (Six, if Vice President Joe Biden, who is said to be contemplating a race, gets in.) In any case, the number works for one debate stage.
But why so few Democrats?
Perhaps, with Hillary Clinton seen as an overwhelming favorite for the nomination, many potential candidates decided that running this time would be a fool’s errand.
But what looks to be the case in August may not necessarily be true when the voters have their say.
Just go back 24 years. At this time in 1991, the number of Democrats who had declared for president was a whopping … one. Paul Tsongas, the former senator from Massachusetts, was it. President George H.W. Bush, who successfully removed Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, had stratospheric polling numbers and was seen as unbeatable. Leading Democrats, such as Al Gore and Dick Gephardt, stayed out.
Tsongas may have had the field to himself in August of 1991 but he didn’t have much else going for him – just a Speedo and a war chest of some $500,000. (Compare that to the $10 million Michael Dukakis had at this point in 1987).
But, despite Bush’s lead in the polls and the lateness in the calendar, no one is ever going to win a presidential nomination uncontested. And so other Democrats came to join the contest. One of them was a guy from Arkansas named Bill Clinton.
He, like the other Democrats, knew that whatever was going on in August might not continue into the following winter. They were right. It didn’t.
Tsongas had the field to himself at this time in 1991. He was the only candidate shaking voters’ hands in New Hampshire. Similarly, Donald Trump is the only candidate hogging the headlines, at least as of this August.
But we know this is only August. The New Hampshire primary is six months away. Just a hunch, but I suspect a lot will change before then. As we’ve seen before.