Presidential campaign not just about 2004
By Michelle Hall
The way this fall's presidential election plays out will not just reflect what happens between now and November. Joseph Unekis, professor of political science at Kansas State University, said the framework for this election goes back many years.
Unekis recently finished teaching a summer course, in which he looked at all the factors that go into the election. He lists three main points that denote the larger view of the process and how this campaign fits in: the electoral college, political parties and money.
To understand campaign 2004, Unekis said, voters need to go back to 1968, when Republican Richard Nixon was running against Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat. Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson had just surprised the nation by choosing not to run again. At the time, the Democrats had been in control of the White House for years, while the Republicans had been shut out time and time again.
"The Democrats were riding high," Unekis said.
However, during the 1968 election, a rift began to form in the Democratic party. The established members of the party backed Humphrey, while an "insurgent wing," Unekis said, favored Robert Kennedy.
"However, the insurgents were leaderless after Kennedy's death," Unekis said. "Riots over Vietnam tore the Democrats apart." Nixon won the election.
After this, the Democratic party attempted to fix the "insurgent" problem by changing the rules of their convention to get more people involved. In 1972, they chose George McGovern as their candidate. McGovern carried only one state that year -- Massachusetts. Since this new formula didn't seem to be working for them, the Democrats began to get away from the convention, where the party faithful choose a candidate, back to primaries, where, Unekis said, "the average citizen has a voice."
In the current election, the Republicans knew from the start who their candidate was, and the Democrats worked quickly to choose theirs in the primaries. So although the Democrats know John Kerry is who they will be backing come November, they still have to make it official at the Democratic National Convention in late July. In the meantime, the Republicans can keep spending money until the race officially starts and the public money is doled out.
"Money has played a much bigger role in the last 20 to 30 years," Unekis said. "Television is expensive and Kerry needs to raise money."
What this means for this campaign and for the future is not clear.
"Will the ability to raise money wipe out the public funding?" Unekis said. "Is this system broken again?" He speculates the Internet will continue to play an increasingly important role in election fundraising.
"With the Internet, it doesn't cost a lot to raise a lot," he said.