Over the last dozen election cycles, only one candidate who was the last to enter the race won the Democratic or Republican Party nomination

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick had long been a rumored 2020 presidential candidate, but he waited until November 14, 2019 to launch a campaign – nearly a year after stating he would not run for the White House in December 2018.

Patrick’s delayed entrance into the race will not only make it difficult for him to qualify for the upcoming Democratic debates, but it also puts him on an unusual track to win his party’s nomination.

The last time a presidential candidate ventured into a race this late in the cycle was Pat Buchanan’s first bid for the office during the 1992 cycle.

The populist conservative launched his GOP challenge against President George H.W. Bush on December 10, 1991. Buchanan’s candidacy forced Bush to spend resources during many contested primaries, but he never won any contests.

Only a couple of other candidates since the 1980 cycle have ventured into the race as late as Governor Patrick:

  • 1980: Mississippi Democrat Cliff Finch (December 24, 1979)
  • 1988: Ohio Democrats James Traficant (November 15, 1987) and Doug Applegate (November 27, 1987)

Finch’s candidacy lasted only 101 days and registered more than one percent in just three primaries: Louisiana (3.1 percent), Arkansas (4.3 percent), and New Mexico (2.8 percent) – each taking place after he had dropped out of the race in early April.

Applegate ran a favorite son campaign in Ohio, where he received 1.8 percent of the primary vote while Traficant only appeared on the Ohio (2.2 percent) and West Virginia (0.3 percent) ballots during his 171-day campaign.

It is not a certainty that Patrick will be the last Democrat to enter the race, though history suggests whoever receives that designation will have a difficult road ahead to advance to the general election next November.

Since 1972, only one non-incumbent who was the last to enter the presidential race won his or her party’s nomination – Ronald Reagan in 1980 (November 13, 1979).

All other candidates across these last dozen cycles failed:

  • 1972: North Carolina Democrat Terry Sanford (March 8, 1972)
  • 1972: Ohio Republican John Ashbrook (December 29, 1971)
  • 1976: Idaho Democrat Frank Church (March 18, 1976)
  • 1976: California Republican Ronald Reagan (November 20, 1975)
  • 1980: Mississippi Democrat Cliff Finch (December 24, 1979)
  • 1984: Illinois Democrat Jesse Jackson (November 3, 1983)
  • 1988: Kansas Republican Bob Dole (November 9, 1987)
  • 1988: Ohio Democrat Doug Applegate (November 27, 1987)
  • 1992: California Democrat Jerry Brown (October 21, 1991)
  • 1992: Virginia Republican Pat Buchanan (December 10, 1991)
  • 1996: New York Republican Steve Forbes (September 22, 1995)
  • 2000: Arizona Republican John McCain (September 27, 1999)
  • 2000: New Jersey Democrat Bill Bradley (September 8, 1999)
  • 2004: Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich (October 13, 2003)
  • 2008: Maryland Republican Alan Keyes (September 14, 2007)
  • 2008: New Mexico Democrat Bill Richardson (May 21, 2007)
  • 2012: Texas Republican Rick Perry (August 13, 2011)
  • 2016: Virginia Republican Jim Gilmore (July 30, 2015)
  • 2016: Virginia Democrat Jim Webb (July 2, 2015)

Reagan, Jackson, and Brown did achieve some success during those aforementioned cycles – tallying hundreds of convention delegates – but all fell short of winning the nomination.

It could be argued, however, that Patrick’s bid is not to win the presidential nomination, but to raise his national profile so he becomes a serious contender for the eventual nominee’s running-mate.

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  1. Nikoli Orr on November 21, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    1. “…serious contender for the eventual nominee’s running-mate.” A certainty of the 2020 election is that Patrick will not be joining the ticket of Elizabeth Ann Herring Warren, the junior senator from the Bay State – though it would have been rather interesting to witness both the ‘billionaire tears’ and ‘Bain Capital’ wings of the party be represented on the national stage. [Twelfth Amendment: “…one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves…”]

    2. A far more noteworthy facet of the belated bid by Patrick is that he is but the latest in the long line of presidential aspirants who have some connection to MA (residence, birth, post-high school education). This continues to be the case even after it ceased to be one of the 10 largest states following the 1980 Census. Aside from Patrick and Senator Warren, W F “Bill” Weld, Representative Seth Moulton, Willard “Mitt” Romney, BHO/”44″, John Forbes Kerry, Al Gore, Paul Tsongas, Michael Dukakis, and even Bush “43” all are now seeking or have sought the office since the mid-1980s (not certain that the list is definitive). That is quite a bit of hyper-ambitious political talent pool tied to a single medium-sized state!

    • John Chessant on November 22, 2019 at 4:19 pm

      Perhaps the ‘post-secondary education’ criterion is too inclusive, as the presence of Harvard alone allows Massachusetts to claim as its own: Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Sestak (from this cycle alone), along with Obama, Gore, Bush 43, Ted Cruz, and Frank Church, who each has no connection to the state otherwise. Attending other schools in the state were Hillary Clinton (Wellesley), Bill Richardson (Tufts), and Carly Fiorina (MIT).

  2. Nikoli Orr on November 21, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    3. Warren is the SENIOR senator (was briefly in 2013 its junior senator).

    4. Patrick seems a plausible ‘veep’ pick only for Senator Sanders, if even him.

    • John Chessant on November 22, 2019 at 4:45 pm

      3. Warren was the junior senator for less than one month, which would have been a record going back for some time were it not for Brian Schatz, who was junior senator for Hawaii for the last eight days of the 112th Congress [incidentally the only Congress since 1947 not to include a member of the Kennedy family, which produced perhaps the three most prominent members of the class of Massachusetts presidential candidates mentioned above]. The record was reset for good when Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally took office concurrently earlier this year, with Sinema becoming senior senator immediately.

      Although, it should be mentioned that the current junior senator from Massachusetts is Ed Markey, the dean of the state’s congressional delegation, having been a member of Congress since 1976.

      We shall see if this remains true past 2021, and also if, post-defeat, his primary challenger becomes the first in his illustrious family to become governor of a state. This is not from lack of effort by some of the lesser-known Kennedys. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (daughter of RFK) was the lieutenant governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003 and the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2002, and Chris Kennedy (son of RFK) placed third in the Democratic primary for governor of Illinois in 2018. However, two Kennedy ex-in-laws have managed to become governor, namely Arnold Schwarzenegger and Andrew Cuomo.

      4. If one wants to relax the criteria for ‘Massachusetts presidential candidates’ even more, then the Brooklyn-born, New York City and Chicago-educated, junior senator from Vermont might qualify as he was a political science lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for one year in 1989.

  3. Nikoli Orr on November 21, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    5. Bush “41” (elder) is the MA native; “43” is a native of CT.

  4. Nikoli Orr on November 26, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    6. Lo and behold, yet another aspirant with MA connection(s) is in the presidential nomination derby, Brighton native Michael Rubens Bloomberg; even if one were to exclude the “post-high school education” criterion, the Bay State, for its population, seems to steadily generate aspirants for POTUS – though only Bush “41”, “Jack” Kennedy, and J C “Silent Cal” Coolidge have actually won and served.

    In a sense, Warren is indeed junior to Edward John “Ed” Markey, if one were to determine seniority in terms of TOTAL Congressional tenure.

    Sinema is senior to the retired USAF colonel strictly due to the former Green Party member’s longer length of service in the House of Representatives. However, had M E McSally been sworn in even one day prior, she would be the ‘senior’ senator, a la Senator Schatz (perhaps had Governor Douglas Anthony “Doug” Ducey chosen to appoint someone other than the 2018 nominee, e.g. Kirk Adams or Eileen Klein, that would-be appointee would be the ‘senior’ senator, for Ducey then would not have had to appear to be mindful of the “will of the people” boilerplate).

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