So even a casual observer of American primary elections understands that it's rare for a sitting American president to face any kind of challenge in election primary season, in recent history at least.

Nevertheless, as I understand it, the elections do take place and the president does have to renew his candidacy.

The 2004 republican primaries were of course won by sitting president George Bush. Details of this "one horse race" campaign are to be found in Wikipedia.

Can anyone explain to an outsider a few things?

  • How is it a challenger named as "Bill Wyatt" can get three second places (including 10% in Oklahoma) and yet be such a complete unknown as to not even have a Wikipedia entry?

  • If Bill Wyatt is from Californina, as the page says, and assuming that no-hopers only do well in their own state where they've got half a chance of some media coverage (or in New Hampshire or Iowa where it's worth making a special effort), then what's he doing achieving meaningful results in Louisiana and Oklahoma?

  • When George Bush gets 95% in Tennesee and no other candidate is scored at all where do the other 5% of votes go? If "spoilt votes" or "write ins" then how is it feasible that Bush managed a full 100% in California with not a single spoilt vote?

  • If the sitting president won every primary and every challenger scored 0 delegates, then how come the pages says he won only 1608 of the total 2509 delegates?

  • The Wikipedia page has incomplete information for the other candidates. Bill wyatt's page was deleted in 2008. He ran for mayor of Los Angelos. The Wyatt's are an old political family, but not very influential. Bush only won 168 superdelegates?!
    – Razie Mah
    Mar 11, 2014 at 0:18
  • Here are a couple of old links for William "Bill" Wyatt (formerly William Tsangares): ourcampaigns.com/CandidateDetail.html?CandidateID=23198 and laweekly.com/2002-10-10/columns/sweet-smell-of-secession The name change probably hinders searches, and perhaps he has changed names again. Mar 11, 2014 at 1:41
  • As an Okie myself, my suspicion is that most of that 10% in my state was people confusing the guy with local media personality/promoter "Cowboy" Bill Watts
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 11, 2014 at 21:54

2 Answers 2


Regarding the delegates Since about 1980, all states use the "unit system." When a candidate wins a primary or caucus, they are not awarded all the delegates, but only the proportion of the delegates of their popular vote total, which is awarded at each precinct level. My personal experience is that small vote totals are not always reported to the mainstream media, which is often receiving its information from the major candidates' press office and/or media services, therefore this data is not readily available and simply missing from the Wikipedia chart.

Upon further review, its very apparent that Wikipedia's commentary on Bush's super delegate total is horribly erroneous! There was one abstention by the Republican super delegates, not 482/650, which would be a very bad showing indeed and incongruent with his overwhelming win of the popular vote. So in other words, Bush was in fact well supported by his party.

Recent Presidential Primary Challenges It would be incorrect to assume that recent presidents have not faced primary challenges. Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George Bush Senior had significant pressure. The president now has about $80 billion in discretionary funds. Jimmy Carter used these funds extensively to win over (bribe) political allies.

The Quandary of Bill Wyatts Bill Wyatts has never held a political position, has no advanced degrees, has no impressive military or business accomplishments. He is a graphics designer of T-shirts who says his reason for running for governor of California was, "boredom." In other words, he's not very qualified to be president, although he is great self-promoter and rather entertaining. So what is he doing as the runner-up in a presidential primary is a very, very good question.

Each state and state party set the other rules regarding primaries and these can vary considerably. Some states have open primaries-anyone can vote in them-or completely closed to only registered party members. Some states may make it very difficult for candidates to be placed on the ballot, requiring large numbers of signatures and large fees, or there may be almost no requirements. Many third party candidates argue that the ballot requirements have become stricter in recent years. Stricter ballot requirements obviously keep out more candidates from running.

Primaries have become more expensive in recent years, as well. The unit system made primaries much more expensive by causing candidates to need to campaign everywhere to gain votes. Money used by a party during a primary is not used during the general election, so it benefits the party not to fight amongst itself. Wyatts is sort of an outsider. He is a Democrat cross-over and not a career politician, so he may not be following the party "playbook," but this is merely my assertion.

Computer models are used to decide which states candidates should spend the most time campaigning in. These are usually the split ticket or swing voter states. The traditional early and large caucuses will also always get a lot of attention. Campaigns pour money in those areas. Wyatts is doing well in his home state and states that are not these "battle ground states." I think that should be expected, since he would have less competition in those areas.


There are always challengers. Most never even make it to the primaries as they fail to get enough money together to fund a campaign that's almost doomed from the start.
"No other candidate scores at all" means nothing. There would have been other candidates but their results would have been so low as to be statistically insignificant and not listed (less than 1% each for example), and there's always people whose votes are invalid and therefore not counted (but in the system are shown in the total that could have been cast). And of course people voting blank are counted as not voting for any candidate.

Overall your "question" seems more of an anti-Bush rant rather than a real question.
"why did Wyatt get votes outside his home state" is a clear indication of how ill informed you are (or how bigotted). OF COURSE people get votes during the primaries outside their own state. They'd have won the right to enter into the primaries by winning enough support in their state, but that doesn't mean nobody outside their state likes them.
That's how Bush won the primaries in the first place, by getting the support of people outside his own state of Texas.

And as to there never being any real challenge to the sitting president: In the 1980s Democratic primaries Carter had a hell of a fight on his hand, in the end getting only about 60% of the vote, with the runner up getting over 30%. Carter of course was rather unpopular (in no small part because of his fumbling of the Iranian revolution and the Tehran embassy hostage situation which was hot news at the time), inside the party and in the nation as a whole, and lost the 1980 presidential elections to Ronald Reagan.
And then there's 1992, Bush vs. Buchanan. Won by Bush with 53 vs 37%. And that despite Bush having just the year before won the Gulf War and being rather popular as a result.
And that's just 2 examples.

  • 1
    I'm not sure that I read @tea Drinker's question as quite that "rant"ish. (to coin a word). I was impressed that a foreigner had a sufficiently strong grasp of the US electoral system to ask a question I couldn't answer off the cuff.
    – MCW
    Mar 11, 2014 at 16:09
  • thanks for the answer but I'm not anti-Bush. for the record i came to the question listening to an old podcast (from the BBC) from the 2000s about sitting presidents in the US getting an easy ride in primaries. the podcast mentioned that it hadn't always been the case which is why i also intro'd my question saying "in recent history". i picked a random party and a random (recent) year to look up in Wikipedia but it could just as easily have been Clinton in 1996. then, seeing that wikipedia page gave rise to my questions. not anti-anything. Mar 11, 2014 at 17:56
  • @TeaDrinker ah, ok. It's a typical anti-Bush idea that "he got it handed to him", with the suggested undertone of fraud. As to "recent", that's to be expected. Before the massive televised primary events, I seriously doubt there was much coverage of the primaries at all except maybe in the cities they were held and the home regions of the candidates (and then mostly just reporting the results), leading to quite different dynamics.
    – jwenting
    Mar 12, 2014 at 7:50
  • and another random downvote by someone who can't stand to see his political ideas discredited...
    – jwenting
    Oct 14, 2014 at 8:19

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