Time Capsule: Sen. Paul Simon Joins 1988 Democratic Derby

Paul Simon of Illinois, the rumble-voiced, bow-tie wearing former newspaperman who unseated longtime Republican Sen. Charles H. Percy only three years earlier, announced his candidacy for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination on this day twenty-five years ago.

“I seek the Presidency with a firm sense of who I am, what I stand for and what I can and will do to advance the cause of this great nation, and the cause of peace stability on this fragile planet,” declared the freshman Illinois senator in a speech at Southern Illinois University.

A former small-town newspaper publisher — he purchased the Troy Tribune when he was only 19 — and author of eleven books, the 58-year-old Simon was an unabashed liberal.  Among other things, his platform included a proposal mirrored after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), guaranteeing a job for every American who wanted one.

“We shall spend money either to create more jobs or more jails,” said Simon, ‘“and I seek an America with more jobs.”

A former state legislator and ex-lieutenant governor, Simon had served ten years in the U.S. House of Representatives before narrowly defeating the three-term Percy in 1984 to become the state’s junior senator.

In joining the crowded Democratic field in 1988, Simon urged party activists not to forsake their party’s rich heritage.

“Some advise us to adjust our sails to the prevailing winds, however they may be blowing,” he said.  “I do not join those who want the Democratic Party to forget its heritage in order to become more acceptable to the wealthy and powerful.  If we do that we will lose our soul and do a great disservice to the nation.  I’m glad there is a Republican Party, but one Republican Party is enough.”

Winning only in his home state’s March 15 primary — a contest in which he fended off a spirited challenge from the Rev. Jesse Jackson — Simon suspended his bid for the Democratic nomination three weeks later.  He had accumulated 166 delegates, including 47 yet-to-be-selected at-large delegates from Illinois, at the time of his withdrawal.

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