A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bill Clinton’s Road to the White House


Q: When did Bill Clinton clinch the Democratic nomination in 1992?

A: He had cleared the field of serious rivals by March.

FULL QUESTION

When did Bill Clinton cinch the Democratic nomination? Was the primary timetable the same as it is today? (When did the primaries begin? I heard that New Hampshire and Iowa actually held their primaries in March.)

FULL ANSWER

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton cite 1992 as a reason why she should fight on for the 2008 nomination:

Hillary Clinton, March 6, 2008: I think people have short memories. Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn’t wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June, also in California. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual.

Bill Clinton, March 28, 2008: I didn’t get enough votes to be nominated until June the 2nd, 1992.

They’re both technically correct. Bill Clinton hadn’t secured a majority of delegates until winning the California primary June 2, 1992. But the practical fact is that he had no serious rivals for the nomination after March 20, and he was regularly being called the "presumptive nominee" by journalists in April and May.

The New York Times declared on March 20, 1992, that Clinton had a "clear path to the nomination" with the withdrawal of his last serious rival:

New York Times, March 20, 1992: Former Senator Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts withdrew from the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination today, a decision that many in his party said all but insured the selection of Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

At that time the only remaining candidate was former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. of California, but Clinton already had won nearly half the delegates needed to secure the nomination. And he had seven times more than Brown. On April 8, after Clinton had padded his lead by winning primaries in New York, Wisconsin and Kansas, a former national chairman of the party flatly told National Public Radio that "Bill Clinton’s going to be the nominee."

Former party chair John White, April 8, 1992: It’s now clear to most political leaders that I’m familiar with that Bill Clinton is going to be the nominee of the party. He doesn’t have the numbers yet, but he is – he is very close. Certainly nobody else is within range of him. There’s not going to be a brokered convention. There’s not going to be anybody get in late. And Bill Clinton’s going to be the nominee.

Another problem with the 1992 analogy is that primaries and caucuses were held weeks later than they are now.

  • This year the Iowa caucuses were held Jan. 3, and in 1992 they took place Feb. 10.
  • This year the New Hampshire primary was held Jan. 8, while in 1992 it took place Feb. 18.
  • This year "Super Tuesday" took place Feb. 5, with 22 states holding democratic primaries or caucuses. In 1992 it was held on March 10 and included only eleven states.
  • This year the California primary was held Feb. 5 as part of the "Super Tuesday" event. In 1992, as we noted, it was held June 2.

Hillary Clinton is correct to say that Bill Clinton didn’t officially clinch the nomination until June of 1992. But he had it in the bag months before, despite the fact that primaries and caucuses were held weeks later than at present.
 

– D’Angelo Gore

Sources

"Interview with Clinton: One Day at a Time." Time.com, 6 March 2008.

Transcript, "All Things Considered." National Public Radio, 8 April 1992.

Tapper, Jake. "Did the 1992 Race Really Go Until June Like Bill Clinton Say?" ABCNews.com, 28 March 2008, accessed 27 May 2008.

Tumulty, Karen. "Hillary’s Bizzare RFK Comment." Time magazine, 23 May 2008

Rutenberg, Jim. "The Trouble with June 1992 as a Case for Pressing On." New York Times, 27 May 2008.

Moss, J. Jennings. "The small field got smaller very quickly." Washington Times, 12 July 1992.

Toner, Robin. "Tsongas abandons campaign, leaving Clinton a clear path toward showdown with Bush." New York Times, 20 March 1992

Ayres Jr., B. Drummond. "Virginia; Caucuses to Provide a Gauge of Clinton’s Support." New York Times, 11 April 2008

"Results: California." CNN.com, 14 Feb. 2008, accessed 28 May 2008.

Sanner, Anne. "Fact Check: Clinton and the 1992 Campaign." Associated Press, 27 May 2008.