Super Tuesday

by D. Jason Berggren

Georgia Southwestern State University

© Mini-Tuesday 2004 / Dustin M. Ramsey, 2008 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.5

Blue denotes Democratic-only contests (4) and Purple represents states holding elections for both parties (3). © Mini-Tuesday 2004 / Dustin M. Ramsey, 2008 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.5

On July 29, 2004, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry formally accepted the Democratic Party nomination for president. However, he had all but secured the nomination much earlier when he dominated the primaries on Super Tuesday, March 2, 2004. On that night he became the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. His principal opponent North Carolina Senator John Edwards quit the race the following day. Compared to previous Democratic contests, 2004 “ended unusually early.”1 As James Ceaser and Andrew Busch explained, by winning so decisively on Super Tuesday and his main challenger, Edwards, dropping out, “Kerry became the nominee before he ever had the chance to be declared the front-runner.”2 From the Iowa Caucus to Super Tuesday, the Democratic primary election season effectively lasted for 44 days.

Super Tuesday originated in 1980. At the time, it involved three southern states voting on March 11: Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.3 To provide President Jimmy Carter a regional firewall against an intraparty challenge from Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, Carter supporters in these three states decided to schedule their primaries on the same day.4 In 1984, on March 13, five states voted on the same day; the three original southern states plus Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In 1988, in an effort to produce more moderate-to-conservative Democratic nominees who could win a general election, ten southern states created in effect a regional primary on the second Tuesday in March.5 This was “the South’s day to shine.”6  The border states of Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma also participated. By 2004, most southern states were no longer voting together. Instead, they were scattered about from February to June.

In 2004, nine states held primaries on Super Tuesday: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont. One state, Minnesota, held a caucus. These states combined promised more than 1,100 delegates to the victors.

By Super Tuesday 2004, more than half of the major Democratic candidates had left the race. Senator Bob Graham quit in October 2003. Senator Carol Moseley Braun departed the race on January 15, just days prior to the Iowa Caucus; Congressman Richard Gephardt departed the day after Iowa. After finishing in a distant second in the Delaware primary on February 3, almost forty points behind Kerry, Senator Joe Lieberman, the party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2000, announced his exit. General Wesley Clark withdrew following the February 10 primaries. A week later, after a third-place finish in the Wisconsin primary held on February 17, former Vermont governor Howard Dean ended his candidacy. This left only Kerry, Edwards, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich in the race.

Polls predicted a big triumph for Kerry on Super Tuesday, and they proved right.7 From coast to coast, he won impressively over his remaining opponents. As promoted in his campaign material, Kerry was “the Real Deal.” He won in the Northeast, prevailing in New York with 61 percent, Connecticut with 58 percent, Rhode Island with 71 percent, and his home state of Massachusetts with 72 percent.  He won Maryland with 60 percent of the vote.  In the battleground state of Ohio, he defeated Edwards, 52 to 34 percent. Kerry won the Minnesota Caucus with 51 percent, over Edwards with 27 percent and Dennis Kucinich with 17 percent. Out west, in California, Kerry won with a decisive 64 percent. Kerry’s lone loss of the night was in Vermont where Dean won his home state with 54%, despite the fact that he had already exited the race.

According to exit polls, as reported by CNN, Kerry won among both men and women. He won across age cohorts. He won over white voters, black voters, Hispanic voters, and Asian voters.  He won among the different religious, income, and education groups. He won with union voters and non-union voters. According to Super Tuesday voters, Kerry’s particular strengths as a candidate were that he possessed the “right experience” to be president and that he “can beat Bush.”

The Georgia primary offered the only closely contested event on Super Tuesday. Edwards needed a win there to justify staying in the race. His strongest asset as the potential Democratic presidential nominee, he claimed, was that as a southerner he could challenge and beat President George W. Bush in any part of the country, including the South. However, up until Super Tuesday, Edwards had only one win: he won his native state of South Carolina, where on February 3 he had earned 45 percent of the vote, to Kerry’s 30 percent. Despite his claims to advantage in the South, Edwards had already suffered losses in the February 10 primaries in Tennessee and Virginia.

While Kerry was winning by large double-digit margins elsewhere, he defeated Edwards only by six in Georgia, 47 to 41 percent. Sharpton pulled in 6 percent. Exit polls in Georgia showed some marked differences from the other Super Tuesday trends, especially in matters of race. For instance, Kerry won the support of African Americans as he had in other states, 61 to 25 percent. Sharpton won 10 percent. However, Kerry was soundly beaten by Edwards among whites, losing 59 to 32. In fact, he lost among white men and white women equally. Kerry also lost in rural Georgia, north Georgia, and in the Atlanta suburbs. He compensated for this by winning Atlanta and the state’s largest county, Fulton County, decisively.

Still, the loss in Georgia signified for Edwards that his candidacy was over even in the South. There was no point for him continuing on to the following week’s primaries in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The next day, from Raleigh, North Carolina, Edwards officially withdrew from the presidential race. 

In his victory speech from Washington, DC, Kerry thanked his supporters for the electoral successes that “truly made this a Super Tuesday.”8 He recognized that he had essentially won the nomination, and he turned his remarks toward the general election fight. He charged President Bush with having “the most inept, reckless, arrogant and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country,” and he pledged to “reverse that course.” Continuing, Kerry said, “This president has said again and again that he wants to run on national security. Well, if George Bush wants to make national security the central issue of the campaign of 2004, I have three words for him that I know he understands: Bring it on.”

1John Kenneth White, “Choosing the Candidates,” in Winning the White House 2004: Region by Region, Vote by Vote, edited by Kevin J. McMahon, David M. Rankin, Donald W. Beachler, and John Kenneth White (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 3.

2James W. Ceaser and Andrew E. Busch, Red Over Blue: The 2004 Elections and American Politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), 70.

3Rhodes Cook, The Presidential Nominating Process: A Place for Us? (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004), 63.

4Barbara Norrander, “The Best-Laid Plans…: Super Tuesday 1988,” in Nominating the President, edited by Emmett H. Buell, Jr. and Lee Sigelman (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1991), 73; Barbara Norrander, Super Tuesday: Regional Politics and Presidential Primaries (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992), 25.

5Norrander, Super Tuesday: Regional Politics and Presidential Primaries, 1-2.

6Cook, The Presidential Nominating Process, 65.

7David W. Moore, “Pre-Election Polls for Super Tuesday Mostly ‘Accurate’,” Gallup Poll News Service, March 9, 2004.

8John Kerry, “Remarks on Super Tuesday to Supporters in Washington, DC,” March 2, 2004,