One aspect of the Clinton campaign’s post-Indiana/North Carolina spin involves the suggestion that it would be perfectly normal, from a historical perspective, for them to carry on their fight through the remaining primaries in June.
“I will remind everyone that Bill Clinton didn’t win the nomination until June in 1992,” Terry McAuliffe just said on MSNBC, “and we all came together and had a great Democratic victory then.”
Eh, not really. It’s technically true that Bill Clinton secured the nomination in early June 1992 – the final batch of primaries on June 2 in New Jersey, Alabama, Ohio, Montana, New Mexico and California pushed Clinton past the 2,145 delegate threshold for a first-ballot nomination – but that triumph was a mere formality. For all intents and purposes, Clinton won the nomination on April 7 of that year, when he beat Jerry Brown and Paul Tsongas (who had officially suspended his campaign but promised to restart it had Clinton lost) in New York.
The New York contest followed Clinton’s stunning loss to Brown in Connecticut on March 24 and was treated as a referendum on Clinton’s nomination. If Clinton lost in New York, Tsongas would again have been a viable candidate and a new “white knight” (like Bill Bradley or Mario Cuomo) might have emerged. But in victory, Clinton effectively sealed the nomination and interest in the race quickly dissipated.
After New York, Tsongas retreated permanently to the sidelines and Brown was regarded by the press – when they regarded him at all – as a sideshow curiosity. Clinton’s lopsided victories over Brown in the remaining primaries received little notice. (Much more attention was paid to grumbling from top Democrats that Clinton would be a weak candidate in the fall.)