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Opinion

May 10, 2014

Column: History offers clues to upcoming campaigns

Though it’s 21 months until the Iowa caucuses and six months to the 2014 mid-term elections, the 2016 Republican presidential race is well underway, featuring an ideological cross-section of hopefuls including two Texans.

There’s no way now to know how the contest will turn out. But it’s not too soon to list some underlying factors that recur every four years because, based on past results, history often does repeat itself.

Here are some:

-- Early coverage has focused largely on the efforts by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky to gain traction among the religious conservatives who comprise the largest portion of Iowa caucus voters. But at least one-third of past electorates have backed more moderate candidates and their favorite -- be it former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or someone else -- will be a big factor, especially if a large group of hopefuls splits the conservative vote.

-- Notice to Cruz: It’s been 50 years since the most outspokenly conservative candidate won the GOP nomination. And Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater (1964) got less than 40 percent in the general election and carried just six states. Similarly, the last time Democrats nominated the most liberal candidate was in 1972, when South Dakota Sen. George McGovern carried but one state.

-- Winning in Iowa gets early publicity but not necessarily the nomination. Since the first contested Republican caucuses in 1980, only two of the six winners -- Kansas Sen. Bob Dole (1996) and Texas Gov. George W. Bush (2000) -- went on to win the GOP nomination. And losing badly can wreck your chances; just ask such well-known also-rans as former Sens. John Glenn of Ohio (1984) and Phil Gramm of Texas (1996).

-- On the other hand, winning in New Hampshire is very important, as is winning in South Carolina. Five of the last seven New Hampshire winners won the GOP nomination, as did six of seven South Carolina winners, a streak not broken until 2012, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of neighboring Georgia defeated ultimate nominee Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Geographical proximity helps. Counting both parties, four candidates from neighboring Massachusetts and one from Maine have won the New Hampshire primary. And Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 was the fifth from the region to win Iowa. Potential 2016 beneficiaries: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan, or South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune.

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