Compared to Other Candidates, Kerry did Well, Can 2006 Dems Top Him?

Hopefully the answer will be yes. If The Republicans keeps us crazy stuff like say, not even reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act, I’ll be very optimistic. But all too often it comes down to numbers. 1952 was the first election where the suburbs played a big part, so I recently look at Kerry’s percent of the vote totals in all regions of the country compared to all post-1948 Democrat nominees. I excluded Lyndon Johnson because I knew that in almost every state (outside a few Deep South states) no Democrat nominee topped LBJ for percent of vote totals in any region, state, or the nation at large. Still, a comparison of election 1952-2004 (excluding 1964) was most instructive.

The Regional breakdown:

In the Northeast, Kerry won 55.8% of the vote, slightly higher than Clinton’s 55.5% in 1996. Only Gore’s 56.4% was better than Kerry post-1948. In the West, Kerry beat Bush 49.9% to 48.7%-no Democrat post-1948 has done as well as Kerry did in the West.

Bush narrowly defeated Kerry 50.9% to 48.2% in the Midwest. Only two candidates barely did better in the Midwest popular vote than Kerry: Carter 1976 (48.6%), Clinton 1996 (48.5%).

While Kerry did poorly in the South, (57.3% to 42.0%) Kerry follows in a long tradition here. Since the Civil Rights activism of the Kennedy and Johnson years, only one Democrat has won the southern popular vote: Carter in 1976. Post-1960, only LBJ and Carter in 1976 have won so much as 46% of the southern popular vote.

But what of the battleground states? How does Kerry compare to others there? My advice to those running for Congress in these states: outdo Kerry’s total’s and in most cases you’ll be just fine.

In each of the following state no Democrat has gotten as high a percentage as Kerry did (though some were close:

California (54.3%), Washington (52.8%), New Hampshire (50.2%), Colorado (47.0%), Illinois (54.8%), Oregon (tied with Dukakis 51.3%). In several states Kerry ran a close second: Nevada (JFK 51.2% to JK 47.9%), Maine (Humphrey 55.3% to JK 53.6%), Pennsylvania (JFK 51.1%, Kerry 50.9%), and Wisconsin (Dukakis 51.4% JK, 49.7%). In Ohio Kerry’s official total of 48.7% virtually tied Carter’s official 1976 total of 48.9%-no other Democrat since 1948 has gotten higher.

Several other states saw Kerry in close third place:

Michigan: Clinton 96,51.7% Gore 51.3% Kerry 51.2%.
New Mexico: JFK 50.1%, Clinton 96 (49.2%) Kerry (officially 49.1%).
Iowa: Dukakis 54.7%, Clinton ’96 (50.3%), Kerry 49.2%.
Minnesota: 55% Carter, 54% Humphrey, 53% Dukakis, 51.1% (Kerry and Clinton 1996)

Two other states saw Kerry join a big clump of Democrats who got between 46% and 49% of the vote: Missouri (46.1%) and Florida (47.1%). Other than Carter in 1976, no other post-1964 Democrat got higher than 48.8% in these states.

Only in West Virginia did Kerry get outperformed by most post-1948 Democrats.

So in 2004 Democrats met or exceeded previous postwar Democrat percentages in many large and/or battleground states. Can Democrats do it again in 2006? Just remember: If we did that in a year where Republicans were in a good position to win, just think about a year wher the GOP is, well, not in a good position.

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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8 Responses to Compared to Other Candidates, Kerry did Well, Can 2006 Dems Top Him?

  1. Indie Liberal says:

    Interesting stats Nick.

    Since there have been rumors of Gore possibly running, how well did he do in the South?

    He lost his homestate (TN), but there are many that feel he, Clark, or a populist governor/candidiate (i.e. Edwards) from the South (i.e. Warner) or Midwest could flip some states.

    Ok. I need to quit listening to armchair people. 🙂

  2. Marjorie Gersten says:

    Kerry’s run was the first Dem with Mehlman’s ground game working as well, the fear campaign, and not to mention aggressive disenfranchisement by machines and the same old, same old methods.

    I have a hard time time believing any of these numbers, analyzing, however methodical and wise Nick is in his approach.

  3. florida dem says:

    And let’s remember….Clinton had help from Ross Perot back in the 90s. Perot took alot of votes away from the repub candidates both times. Plus, Bush I was not liked by many conservatives and military guys who felt he wasn’t tough enough.

  4. cali says:

    I find this type of analysis interesting. Right now, I’m reading “Being Right Isn’t Enough” by Paul Waldman. Haven’t gotten too far yet but what I’ve read so far makes sense. We need to change the electoral system.

  5. Nick says:


    For our purposes here the South is Oklahoma, Kentucky, and the 11 Old Confederacy states. Bush won the electoral vote of all 13 states. He beat Gore in the southern popular vote 54.4% to 43.4%. Gore’s 43.4% is better than Kerry’s total of 42.0% and Clinton’s 41.0% in 1992. Clinton won 45.9% of the southern vote in 1996 (Dole won 46.1% and Perot 7.3%).
    An interesting note about Tennessee is how consistent it was throughout the 90s. Clinton won 47.1% there in 1992 and 48.0% in 1996. Gore won 47.3% in Tenn. in 2000.
    Racial breakdown- Southern blacks: Gore 92%-7%, Kerry 90%-9%. Both men got a greater percent of the southern black vote than Clinton.
    Southern whites: Bush 66%-31% over Gore, 70%-29% in 2004. No Democrat (save Carter in 1976 with 47%) has won even 37% of the southern white vote since the early 1960s.
    I wish Harold Ford all the best and would vote for him if I were in Tennessee. Still, after looking at these stats you can see why I’m not optimistic.

  6. Darth Malice says:

    Nick,in 04 Kerry should have gone with Gehpardt.Edwards did not move the southern numbers one bit.Gehpardt could have moved Ohio and Missouri into the blue state galaxy…….Besides Edwards did not do well against Cheney in their debate.

  7. Nick says:


    I like Gephardt, but frankly I don’t think he would’ve helped in Missouri. I have relatives in the 3rd Missouri district which is made up of St. Louis City and more wroking class suburbs. Honestly, I don’t think Gephardt would’ve helped much in Missouri given the rivalry between rural and suburban/urban Missouri and how popular Bush was in rural Missouri.

    As for Ohio, your guess is as good as mine. In fairness Kerry won 40% of the rural vote, more than Gore, and only 4% less than Clinton 1996 (and Dukakis 1988). Edwards was not the sole reason for this improvement in rural areas, but I gotta think he had something to do with it.

  8. battlebob says:

    Great stuff as always.
    Does this mean the Clinton advantage with minority voters is more hype then reality?