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UVa Center’s Blog Puts Presidential Race in Historical Context

When voters in 10 states participate in primary elections or caucuses for Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday, some pundits will try to place the winners’ victories in context by looking ahead to the campaign’s shrinking schedule. But bloggers at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs will do the opposite—by looking at the events of campaigns past to offer insights on the day’s contests.

Their new blog, Riding the Tiger: The Presidential Election in Context, draws on a trove of material to “apply the lessons of history to the election today to put it in a broader perspective,” says Anne Carter Mulligan, the center’s coordinator for academic programs.

The blog takes its name from a passage in President Harry S. Truman’s memoirs:Within the first few months I discovered that being a president is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”

One recent post addressed the news media’s speculation about the possibility of a brokered Republican National Convention. The entry included a video clip of President Gerald Ford’s acceptance speech at his party’s convention in 1976, the last time Republicans had a tough primary fight. Another entry took on Newt Gingrich’s recent moon-colony pledge, using a recorded 1962 conversation between President John F. Kennedy and the director of NASA to illustrate the history of lunar ambitions in the White House.

Some of the UVa center’s multimedia nuggets are even older, says the library specialist Sheila Blackford, including audio recordings from the administration of President Warren G. Harding.

The log began in January, before the Iowa caucuses. For Tuesday’s contests, it will publish a discussion between President Lyndon B. Johnson and a newspaper editor in which they talk about the importance of Tennessee’s primary. Another post will trace the historical development of Super Tuesday.

As the primary cycle winds down, Ms. Mulligan acknowledges that the blog might find it harder to sustain its pace. If so, the center plans to publish entries about presidential anniversaries and material from its many years of holding public forums, she says.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by MCS@Flickr]

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