Here’s the headline I expected to see: Joe Biden Wins Big in St. Patrick’s Day Democratic Primaries. The former vice-president had convincing victories in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois, Florida, and Arizona will hold Democratic presidential primaries on St. Patrick’s Day, a rare political event now overshadowed by the global health crisis. Ohio, which also had a scheduled March 17 primary, has postponed until June 2.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who frequently boasts of his Irish heritage, is poised to gather more delegates in his march to the nomination. The remainder of the primary schedule, and both party’s national conventions this summer, now seem in jeopardy.
U.S. elections are held on Tuesdays based on 19th century reasoning to avoid the Sunday sabbath and Wednesday agricultural market days. The party primary system was created shortly before World War I. In presidential election years since then, St. Patrick’s Day first fell on a Tuesday in 1936, but there was no primary. Republicans and Democrats took a break between the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary earlier in March, and the Wisconsin primary in April.
The same happened in 1964, the next time St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Tuesday of a presidential election cycle. Four years earlier, Irish-American U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts won the New Hampshire primary on March 8, 1960, with 85 percent of the vote, the balance split among three fringe or protest candidates. In the Republican primary, then-Vice President Richard Nixon won nearly 90 percent of the vote, with 3 percent writing in Kennedy’s name. The next primary was April 5, 1960, in Wisconsin.
Eight days after Kennedy’s New Hampshire victory, the Associated Press released a St. Patrick’s Day photo of him widely published in U.S. newspapers. JFK was not the first Irish American Catholic to run for the nation’s highest office, (Al Smith, 1928), but he became the first to win.
The first and only previous St. Patrick’s Day presidential primary was in 1992, when Illinois and Michigan each held nominating contests. President George H.W. Bush carried two thirds of the GOP vote in both states over former Nixon speech writer Pat Buchanan. For the Democrats, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton won slim majorities in a crowded field in both contests.
Clinton defeated the incumbent Bush in November 1992. The new president become a great friend of Ireland, contributing to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement during his second term.
Chicago magazine tells the story of the 1970 Illinois primary that forced bars and pubs to close on St. Patrick’s Day because of an early 20th century law–since repealed–designed to keep politicians from buying votes.