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Front Page - Friday, February 28, 2020

Rogers column: Not just any ole Joe can ascend to presidency

This isn’t an endorsement, necessarily, but have you ever noticed we’ve never had a president named Joe?

As it happens, there’s a guy named Joe running for president now. You can have a say in his chances by voting in Tennessee’s Democratic presidential primary March 3.

Could be your, and his, last chance. Joe, contrary to some early expectations, isn’t exactly setting the political world on fire. Maybe it’s some kind of Joe curse.

Though our culture is full of Joe references, not many are complimentary. There’s Joe Blow, which the Urban Dictionary describes as: “The ‘man on the street,’ so to speak. Sometimes lengthened to ‘Joe Blow from Kokomo.’”

Kokomo, Indiana, is an actual place, by the way. But no one is from there.

Other variations on the theme include Joe Six-Pack, which suggests a blue-collar worker, playing on the notion of beer as the drink of the working class.

Joe Lunchbucket or Lunchpail is another iteration; Joe Schmo yet another. And, of course, the Average Joe. I’ve always contended that there is no such thing as an “average” Joe. We are like the children of Lake Wobegon.

Despite these Joes all around us, still no President Joe.

We’ve never been even close to one, in fact. I checked a list of all the major candidates who have been on the presidential ballot, and found just one: Joseph F. Maloney, a machinist from Haverhill, Massachusetts, who was the Socialist Labor candidate in 1900.

He got 0.29% of the vote.

The Joe running for president now, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., is not a newcomer to the process. He ran for the 1988 nomination and didn’t even make it to the caucuses in Iowa. He ran again in 2008, made it to Iowa, finished fifth and quit. He rebounded and became vice president.

He is sometimes accused of foot-in-mouth disease. He is, however, generally conceded to be sane, which is a step in the right direction.

You can have a say in his chances this time because Tennessee is one of 14 states offering presidential primaries March 3 in what is known as Super Tuesday. Some 1,357 delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be selected that day, more than one-third of the total. Tennessee is allotted 64 pledged delegates, to be awarded proportionally.

Any registered Tennessee voter can take part in that primary, or in the Republican one the same day. If you favor voting for a Democrat, I submit to you that voting in the primary is more important than voting in the general election in November.

Why, you might ask.

I will tell you: A vote in Tennessee for a Democrat in November will be meaningless, other than as a virtue signal, because the incumbent president is going to handily carry the state and thus all its 11 electoral votes.

I’m not a political sage, but it isn’t necessary to be a political sage to make that prediction.

The coming primary, however, offers the chance to have a say in whom the president faces on the ballot. So a vote in it can have real meaning because some of the Democratic candidates are, not to put too fine a point on it, electoral disasters waiting to happen. It would be helpful to avoid that.

The primaries also offer a chance for Tennesseans to demonstrate their desire to be an active part of the political process. The fact is, the state perennially ranks at or near the bottom both in voter registration and in turnout. That doesn’t reflect too well upon us. It might, however, explain some of the folks who get elected.

Oh, one other thing: We have also never had a President Bernie, Elizabeth, Amy, Pete or Mike.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com