Tuesday, June 14, 2011
For a relatively small state on the Canadian border, my home state of Minnesota has produced a disproportionately large number of presidential candidates, though all were unsuccessful at winning the White House: Harold Stassen (who sought the Republican nomination eight times between 1948 and 1992 and seriously contended for the nomination in 1948 and 1952), Eugene McCarthy (a former Benedictine novice who came close to winning the Democratic nomination in 1968 and ran again in 1972 and 1976), Hubert Humphrey (the "Happy Warrior" who sought the Democratic nomination in 1952 and 1956, almost defeated John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination in 1960, and narrowly lost the general election to Richard Nixon in 1968), and Walter Mondale (who won the Democratic nomination in 1984 but lost the general election to Ronald Reagan in a landslide). There are two Minnesotans now seeking the 2012 Republican nomination: former two-term Governor Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. Compare those six candidates from Minnesota to California's five over that period: Ronald Reagan (1976, 1980, 1984), Richard Nixon (1960, 1968, and 1972), Jerry Brown (1976, 1980, 1992), Alan Cranston (1984), and Pete Wilson (1996).
During last night's Republican debate in New Hampshire, Governor Pawlenty declined to attack former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's health care record despite several attempts by the moderator, John King of CNN, to goad Governor Pawlenty into a confrontation. Gene McCarthy was also reluctant to attack Robert Kennedy in the 1968 campaign (though McCarthy was privately disdainful of Kennedy), and Hubert Humphrey distanced himself from President Johnson and the Administration's policy on the Vietnam War only very late in the 1968 general election campaign, which may have cost Humphrey the election against Nixon. Minnesotans' civility and decency are a tonic for a coarsened political culture, but perhaps they have also been our undoing.