Are you tired of the media and the Republican establishment proclaiming Mitt Romney the "front runner" for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination? If history means anything — and it means little to many these days — it tells us that the person leading the field at this point is rarely the eventual nominee, especially when that candidate's lead is as anemic as is Mitt Romney's.
Let's take a trip down political memory lane to see who led in June of the year prior to recent presidential elections. In June of 1971, for the Democrats, it was Ed Muskie, followed by Hubert Humphrey, Ted Kennedy, John Lindsay, and finally the eventual nominee, George McGovern, whose name was known by so few people at that point that he garnered a mere 5 percent in the polls.
Going into the 1976 election season, the Dems again had no clue who they would nominate. Their favorite candidates, in order, in June 1975 were as follows: George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Ed Muskie, George McGovern, John Glenn, Julian Bond, Lloyd Bentsen, Adlai Stevenson III, Morris Udall, John Lindsay, and an obscure one-term governor and peanut farmer from Georgia named Jimmy Carter, who tipped the pollster's scales with an unimpressive one percentage point.
In June 1975, Gerald Ford was the accidental president, but as the incumbent, he was the front runner for his party's nomination. As the Republican standard bearer in the 1976 election, he went on to lose to the worst president of modern times (if you don't count the current occupant of the Oval Office).
Four years later, in June 1979, after "Jimmy Who?" had become "Jimmy Why?", the Democrat front runner in all the polls — by more than 20 points — was Ted Kennedy, who was challenging his own incumbent president. On the Republican side, Ronald Reagan defied the historical odds by polling as the solid front runner in June, where he stayed until the convention a little more than a year later.
From June 1983, until the 1984 general election, it was very much Reagan vs. Mondale all the way to a 49-state romp for the Gipper. And in 1988, riding the long, popular coattails of his boss, incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush was the odds-on favorite from the early polling. But the Democrat polling in June '87 was as muddled as ever. It was Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson and the eventual nominee, Michael Dukakis, who was pulling a pathetic 7.5 percent at the time.
By 1992, the Democrats were desperate to recapture the White House, but in June of '91, with Bush's post-Gulf War approval ratings in the stratosphere, it was hard to see who could pull it off. In fact, here is the somewhat whimsical list of the Democrat "front runners" in descending order that summer: Mario Cuomo; Al Gore; Lloyd Bentsen; Jesse Jackson; Dick Gephart; George McGovern; Sam Nunn; Bill Bradley; Ann Richards; Douglas Wilder; Tom Harkin; George Mitchell and — with less than 2 percent — Bill Clinton.
Al Gore and George W. Bush led in their respective polls from June 1999 on, and out of it came the closest election in modern presidential election history. But in June 2003, the "front-running" Dem lined up to challenge Bush was Gore's 2000 running mate, Joe Lieberman, who was leading the man who would be their nominee the following year, John Kerry.
And finally, there were the polls of June 2007, wherein Sen. Hillary Clinton held a double-digit lead over Sen. Barack Obama, and America's Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, held a solid advantage over Sen. John McCain.
So don't let anyone tell you that Mitt Romney is the "front runner" in June of 2011. With all the candidates not yet even in the race, his "lead" means nothing. Even if he is slightly ahead in these early polls, he is a weak candidate who would probably lose the general election.
© 2011 by Doug Patton
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself much more often than not. Now working as a freelance writer, his weekly columns of sage political analysis are published the world over by legions of discerning bloggers, courageous webmasters and open-minded newspaper editors.