Presidential Nomination Process

July 10, 1987

Report Outline
Special Focus


When Sen. John F. Kennedy set his sights on Pennsylvania's 81 delegates to the 1960 Democratic convention, there was not much question about how to win their support for the presidential nomination. Rather than setting up an organization in the state, publicly campaigning there or wooing political activists far and wide, Kennedy and his advisers simply went to the state's powerful Democratic leader, Gov. David L. Lawrence. After intensive personal negotiations, Kennedy won Lawrence's backing, and the legendary political boss delivered 64 convention votes to the Massachusetts senator.

Those were the old days of American politics, and they are long gone. While Kennedy sought support among big-city Democratic machines and union locals, today's candidates for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations are haunting the living rooms of a few thousand party activists in Iowa and New Hampshire, the sites of the crucial first contests in the nomination struggle. While Kennedy wooed backers with the customary blandishments of politics—federal patronage and support for other candidates on the party ticket—the 1988 hopefuls are lining up allies by voicing interest-group concerns and striking up personal relationships with activists in the two early states, where the rewards of victory are modest in terms of delegates but immense in terms of momentum and publicity.

The jump from Los Angeles' Biltmore Hotel, where Kennedy cemented his alliance with Lawrence, to the coffee klatches of Iowa symbolizes the dramatic changes that have reshaped the nation's system for selecting major-party presidential nominees in the past two decades. In short, the nomination system has been opened up in a way that Lawrence and others of his time might scarcely have imagined. It has been transformed from a process in which a handful of leaders exercised a dominant voice, if not outright control, over their party's nomination choice, to one in which thousands of party workers and millions of primary voters decide the outcome.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Presidential Candidates and Campaigns
Jan. 15, 2021  The Biden Presidency Updated
Jan. 31, 2020  Presidential Primaries
Nov. 16, 2018  The Presidency
Jan. 06, 2017  Trump Presidency
Mar. 06, 2015  Presidential Power
Feb. 03, 2012  Presidential Election
Jan. 30, 2009  The Obama Presidency
Aug. 08, 2008  Political Conventions
Jul. 18, 2008  Race and Politics
Apr. 20, 2007  Electing the President
Dec. 30, 1988  Promises vs. Problems
Jul. 10, 1987  Presidential Nomination Process
Feb. 03, 1984  Choosing Presidential Nominees
Jun. 06, 1980  Choosing Presidential Candidates
Apr. 09, 1976  Presidential Campaign Coverage
Feb. 23, 1972  Political Conventions
May 27, 1964  Foreign Policy Issues in Election Campaigns
Sep. 21, 1960  Voting in 1960
Jan. 06, 1960  Presidential Primaries, 1960
Jan. 04, 1956  Campaign Smearing
Nov. 30, 1955  Presidential Possibilities, 1956
May 09, 1952  Open Conventions
Jan. 16, 1952  Presidential Primaries, 1952
Oct. 12, 1949  Modernization of the Presidential Election
Jan. 14, 1948  Presidential Primaries
May 01, 1944  Foreign Policy in National Elections
Jan. 01, 1944  Choice of Candidates for the Presidency
Apr. 08, 1940  Republican Candidates for the Presidency, 1940
Apr. 01, 1940  Democratic Candidates for the Presidency, 1940
Jun. 19, 1939  Selection of Nominees for the Presidency
Aug. 19, 1938  Nomination by Primary
Mar. 11, 1936  Voting in Presidential Elections
Feb. 18, 1936  Presidential Candidates, 1936
Mar. 03, 1932  Decline of the Presidential Primary
Aug. 25, 1931  Presidential Candidates, 1932
May 05, 1928  National Nominating Conventions
Sep. 03, 1927  Presidential Candidates—1928
Jun. 14, 1927  Patronage Influence in Nominating Conventions
Sep. 11, 1926  The Future of the Direct Primary
Jul. 02, 1924  Proposed Reforms of Presidential Nominating Methods
Jun. 04, 1924  The Machinery of the Political Conventions
Mar. 15, 1924  Presidential Candidates and the Issues
Sep. 05, 1923  The Passing of the Second Term
Campaigns and Elections
Journalism and the News