Convention keynotes in 1974 had White House futures

Sometimes, the study of history can lead to unexpected discoveries. Tonight, I was looking back to South Dakota newspapers from 1974, to clarify a point about that year’s Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

In doing so, I came across this incredible headline from the July 7, 1974 Rapid City Journal, and I’ll admit I did a double take when I read it:


Yes, it was really THAT Biden – Joseph R. Biden of Delaware – and THAT Bush – George H. W. Bush of Texas. At that time, Biden was a fresh new face in the Democratic Party – a 31-year-old, first-term U.S. Senator. And Bush, who had just turned 50, was a former congressman and UN Ambassador who was serving a stint as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The South Dakota State Republican Convention and the State Democratic Convention both took place that year in Rapid City, on back-to-back weekends in July 1974. That was a dark time in American politics, as the Watergate scandal embroiled the Nixon administration, leading to President Nixon’s resignation in early August.

But South Dakota’s political parties were looking boldly to the future, featuring two future Presidents of the United States as their keynote speakers.

I haven’t done the research, but it seems very likely this is the only time in South Dakota history that this happened.

South Dakota’s convention organizers also deserve plaudits for political prognostication. Although Bush and Biden certainly had presidential aspirations in 1974, neither would have seemed to be particularly likely future presidents.

In 1974, Bush was still 14 years away from his election as the 41st President in 1988. In the years that followed, he served as Chief Liaison to China and as CIA Director, before a failed presidential bid in 1980 led to his election as Vice President on a ticket with Ronald Reagan.

Biden’s career path was even longer, as his 1974 stop in South Dakota came a remarkable 46 years prior to his election as the 46th President in 2020, a reminder of the historic length of Biden’s public career. (As this blog noted when Biden was elected, his pre-presidential career was, by far, the longest in presidential history.) Biden continued to serve in the U.S. Senate for another 34 years, eventually chairing both the Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees. He ran for president in 1988 and in 2008, in the latter case winning a place on the Democratic ticket with Barack Obama, serving eight years as Vice President.

Perhaps, as current Republican Chairman Dan Lederman and Democratic Chairman Randy Seiler plan their 2022 convention programs, they should inform prospective keynoters about the 1974 precedent. It could be a stepping stone for two more future Presidents.