There is a roomful of Democrats today, all of whom wish to be President of the United States. They have their eyes on the November 2020 election, in the hope that she or he will be the individual eventually to send Donald Trump packing. That prospect, of course, is separate from the thought of what the Bob Mueller investigation might do to Trump and his cabal before November 2020. For now, it is a crowded field of Democrats, much like the mob that sought the Republican nomination in 2016, which one needs to study. The surprise is not that there are so many Democrats who think they can be President. It is in the fact that for the first time in American history, so many women --- most of them senators --- have come forth into the contest.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has just launched her campaign for the nomination. In the days prior to her announcement, other senators, notably Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, made it known as well that they too were interested in being President. Of course, there is a man in the group, Senator Cory Booker. Another senator, Sherrod Brown, is exploring his own chances of being the Democratic nominee and being President. As we mull these happy happenings, rumours are afloat of Barack Obama’s vice president Joe Biden throwing his hat into the ring. The leftwing Bernie Sanders too might come in once again. And, yes, whispers abound of Hillary Clinton considering a third run for the presidency. There may well be others waiting in the wings, ready to convince themselves that they can be President. Remember Jimmy Carter? In the early 1970s, as he was later to relate, he met men like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and Edward Kennedy and persuaded himself that if they could be President or aspire to the presidency, he could do it too. He beat the hapless Gerald Ford in 1976, but went down to a bad mauling at Reagan’s hands four years later.
Amy Klobuchar’s candidacy is in many ways a reminder of how her state, Minnesota, has been something of an integral part in American presidential politics. In 1960, Senator Hubert Humphrey was a powerful contender for the Democratic nomination beside Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy and Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. With Kennedy showing all the signs of graduating to being a front runner, Humphrey pinned his hopes on the West Virginia primary. If he won there, Kennedy’s candidacy would be over. For Kennedy, it was an uphill task, not least because he happened to be a Roman Catholic --- and no one from his congregation had ever won the presidency --- campaigning for support in West Virginia. In the event, Kennedy won. The nomination was then his for the asking. He nominated Johnson as his running mate and both of them went on to beat the Republican team of Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge at the election in November 1960. Humphrey resumed his place in the Senate.
The presidency was to elude Humphrey despite his rise to the vice presidency under Lyndon Johnson at the election of November 1964. It was Humphrey’s misfortune that his position did not permit him to disagree with Johnson over Vietnam. He declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in 1968 once Johnson had abandoned all dreams of a second term in the White House, for reasons of Vietnam, but until late in the campaign against a resurgent Nixon, Humphrey was unable to stake out a clear position on Vietnam. It was too little too late. Nixon squeaked to a narrow victory and was inaugurated President in January 1969. Humphrey went for a senatorial contest again in 1971 and served as a senator till his death from cancer in 1978.
The state of Minnesota is also the ground where the poet-politician Eugene McCarthy rose to national prominence through his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in early 1968. It was unusual for politicians to challenge a sitting President from their own party, but Senator McCarthy, cerebrally opposed to President Johnson’s conduct of the Vietnam War, entered the race and demonstrated his powerful appeal at the New Hampshire primaries through garnering forty four per cent of the vote to Johnson’s forty eight. The results were enough to convince Johnson that a second term might not be there for him. He made it known that he would not seek and would not accept the nomination of his party for another term as President. If McCarthy thought the path was clear for him to come by the nomination, he was soon proved wrong. Senator Robert Kennedy leapt into the ring, followed soon after by Vice President Humphrey. Kennedy’s assassination in June 1968 turned the nomination contest into one between these two Minnesota men, Humphrey and McCarthy. The Vice President walked off with the prize.
In the years after 1968, Eugene McCarthy tried his fortunes in seeking the presidency again, but by then his resources and energy had been depleted and other candidates far outpaced him in the race. McCarthy then focused on his poetry --- and it was good poetry --- a vocation he remained attached to till the end of his life.
Hubert Humphrey aspired to being the presidential nominee of his party in 1960. He came close to being President in the final days of the campaign against Richard Nixon in 1968.
Eugene McCarthy’s chances for the Democratic nomination were scuppered by the carpetbagger candidacy of Robert Kennedy, a blow from which he would not recover.
The onus will now be on Amy Klobuchar to convince Americans that she can be her party’s nominee and then go on to be elected President of the United States. It will be a tough calling.