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United States presidential election, 1988

The United States presidential election of 1988 featured an open primary for both major parties. Ronald Reagan, the incumbent President, was vacating the position after serving the maximum two terms allowed by the Twenty-second Amendment. Reagan's Vice President, George H.W. Bush, won the Republican nomination, while the Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis, Governor of Massachusetts. Bush capitalized on Reagan's popularity while Dukakis's campaign suffered from several miscues; the result was a third consecutive lopsided Republican presidential election victory.

Nominations

Democratic Party nomination

In the 1984 presidential election the Democrats had nominated Walter Mondale, a traditional New Deal-type liberal as their candidate. When Mondale was defeated in a landslide, party leaders became eager to find a new approach to win the presidency. After Reagan's image was tarnished in the Iran-Contra scandal, and after the Democrats won back control of the Senate in the 1986 congressional elections, the party's leaders felt more optimistic about winning the Presidency in 1988.

One goal of the party was to find a new, fresh candidate who could move beyond the traditional New Deal-Great Society ideas of the past and offer a new image of the Democrats to the public. To this end party leaders tried to recruit the New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, to be a candidate. Cuomo had impressed many Democrats with his stirring keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention, and they believed that he would be a strong candidate. However, Cuomo chose not to run. As a result, the Democratic frontrunner for most of 1987 was former Colorado Senator Gary Hart. He had made a strong showing in the 1984 presidential election, and after Mondale's defeat had positioned himself as the moderate centrist many Democrats felt their party would need to win.

However, questions and rumors about possible extramarital affairs dogged Hart's campaign. One of the great myths is that Senator Hart challenged the media to 'put a tail' on him. In fact, Hart had told reporters from The New York Times who questioned him about these rumors that, if they followed him around, they would "be bored". However, in a separate investigation, the Miami Herald had received an anonymous tip from a friend of Donna Rice's that Rice was involved with Hart. It was only after Hart had been discovered that the Herald reporters found Hart's quote in a copy of the New York Times magazine. After the Herald's findings were publicized, many other media outlets picked up the story and Hart's ratings in the polls plummeted. On May 8, 1987, a week after the Donna Rice story broke, Hart dropped out of the race. In December 1987, Hart surprised many political pundits by resuming his presidential campaign. However, the allegations of adultery had delivered a fatal blow to his candidacy, and he did poorly in the primaries before dropping out again.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts had been considered a potential candidate, but he ruled himself out of the 1988 campaign in the fall of 1985. Two other politicians mentioned as possible candidates, both from Arkansas, didn't join the race: Senator Dale Bumpers and Governor (and future President) Bill Clinton (Clinton said in 2007 he changed his mind the day before he was to announce a run, he felt that he wasn't ready for the Presidency in 1988, and that he would wait until 1992 or 1996 before trying). Among the field of candidates were the following:

Joseph Biden's campaign also ended in controversy after the Delaware Senator was accused of plagiarizing a speech by Neil Kinnock, then-leader of the British Labour Party. Though Biden had correctly credited the original author in all speeches but one, the one where he failed to make mention of the originator was caught on video and parlayed into a political hit piece by the Dukakis campaign. In the video Biden is filmed repeating a stump speech by Kinnock, with only minor modifications. This would lead him to drop out of the race. Dukakis later revealed that his campaign was responsible for leaking the tape, and two members of his staff resigned. The Delaware Supreme Court's Board on Professional Responsibility would later clear Biden of the law school plagiarism charges.

Primaries

After Hart withdrew from the race, no clear frontrunner emerged before the primaries and caucuses began. In the Iowa caucuses, Richard Gephardt, the House Majority Leader, came in first place; that had been expected since he came from next-door Missouri. However, Illinois Senator Paul M. Simon finished a surprising second, and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis finished third. In the New Hampshire primary, Dukakis came in first place, Gephardt fell to second, and Simon came in third. In an effort to weaken Gephardt's candidacy, both Dukakis and Tennessee Senator Al Gore ran negative television ads against Gephardt. The ads convinced the United Auto Workers, which had endorsed Gephardt, to withdraw their endorsement; this crippled Gephardt, as he relied heavily on the support of labor unions.

In the Super Tuesday races, Dukakis won six primaries, to Gore's five, Jesse Jackson five and Gephardt one, with Gore and Jackson splitting the Southern states. The next week, Simon won Illinois with Jesse Jackson finishing second. 1988 remains the race with the most candidates winning primaries since the McGovern reforms of 1971. Jackson captured 6.9 million votes and won 11 contests; seven primaries (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Virginia) and four caucuses (Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont). Jackson also scored March victories in Alaska's caucuses and Texas's local conventions, despite losing the Texas primary. Briefly, after he won 55% of the vote in the Michigan Democratic caucus, he was considered the frontrunner for the nomination, as he surpassed all the other candidates in total number of pledged delegates.

However, Jackson's campaign suffered a significant setback less than two weeks later when he was defeated handily in the Wisconsin primary by Michael Dukakis. Jackson's showing among white voters in Wisconsin was significantly higher than in his 1984 run, but was also noticeably lower than pre-primary polling had indicated it would be. The discrepancy has been cited as an example of the so-called "Bradley effect". Dukakis' win in New York and then in Pennsylvania effectively ended Jackson's hopes for the nomination.

Notable endorsements
Michael Dukakis

Jesse Jackson

Dick Gephardt'

Al Gore

Democratic Convention

The Democratic Party Convention was held in Atlanta, Georgia from July 18 - 21. In his first major national speech, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton placed Dukakis' name in nomination. The speech lasted for so long that some delegates began booing to get him to finish.

The most memorable speech given at the Democratic Convention was by Texas State Treasurer Ann Richards, who two years later was elected the state governor. Richards uttered the famous line: "Poor George [H.W. Bush], he can't help it, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Six years later, Bush's son and future President George W. Bush would defeat Richards in her re-election campaign for Texas Governor.

With only Jackson remaining as an active candidate to oppose Dukakis, the tally for president was:

The Balloting
Presidential Ballot Vice Presidential Ballot
Michael S. Dukakis 2,876.25 Lloyd M. Bentsen 4,162
Jesse L. Jackson 1,218.5
Richard H. Stallings 3
Joe Biden 2
Richard A. Gephardt 2
Gary W. Hart 1
Lloyd M. Bentsen 1

Jesse Jackson's advisors said that since their candidate had finished in second place, he was entitled to the vice presidential spot. Dukakis refused, and instead selected Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. Bentsen's selection led many in the media to dub the ticket as the "Boston-Austin" axis, and to compare it to the more famous pairing of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960 presidential campaign. Like Dukakis and Bentsen, Kennedy had been from Massachusetts and Johnson from Texas.

Bentsen was selected in large part to help win the large electoral vote of the state of Texas. Because of Bentsen's status as an elder statesman, more experienced in elected politics, some Democrats believed that Dukakis' selection of Bentsen as his running mate was a mistake; they noted that Bentsen, although only the vice-presidential candidate, appeared more "presidential" than did Dukakis. During the vice-presidential debate, Republican candidate and Senator Dan Quayle ignored a head-on confrontation with Bentsen (aside from the "Jack Kennedy" comparison) and spent his time attacking Dukakis.

Republican Party nomination

Vice President George H. W. Bush had the support of President Ronald Reagan, and pledged to continue Reagan's policies, but also pledged a "kinder and gentler nation" in an attempt to win over some more moderate voters.

Here are the candidates for the Republican nomination of 1988:

Bush unexpectedly came in third in the Iowa caucus, which he had won in 1980, behind Dole and Robertson. Dole was also leading in the polls of the New Hampshire primary, and the Bush camp responded by running television commercials portraying Dole as a tax raiser, while Governor John H. Sununu campaigned for Bush. Bush won, gaining crucial momentum. Dole was bitter about his defeat in New Hampshire, going on TV to tell Bush to "stop lying about my record.

Once the multiple-state primaries such as Super Tuesday began, Bush's organizational strength and fund raising lead were impossible for the other candidates to match, and the nomination was his. The Republican party convention was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bush was nominated unanimously. Bush selected U.S. Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana as his running mate.

In his acceptance speech, Bush made an energetic pledge, "Read my lips: No new taxes", a comment that would come to haunt him in the 1992 elections.

Notable endorsements

George H. W. Bush

Bob Dole

Jack Kemp

Other nominations

General election

Campaign

During the election, the Bush campaign sought to portray Governor Dukakis as a "Massachusetts liberal" who was unreasonably left-wing. Dukakis was attacked for such positions as opposing mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, and being a "card carrying member of the ACLU" (a statement Dukakis made himself early in the primary campaign). Dukakis responded by saying that he was a "proud liberal" and that the phrase should not be a bad word in America. The Dukakis camp tried to tie Bush to some of the recent scandals of the Reagan Administration, such as Iran-Contra, and argued that Republicans were too hawkish on foreign policy.

Governor Dukakis attempted to quell criticism that he was ignorant on military matters by staging a photo op in which he rode in an M1 Abrams tank outside a General Dynamics plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The move ended up being a massive public relations blunder, with many mocking Dukakis's appearance as he stuck his smiling, helmeted head out one of the tank's hatches to wave to the crowd. Footage of Dukakis was used by the Bush campaign as evidence he would not make a good commander-in-chief, and "Dukakis in the tank"--or the "Snoopy Incident"--remains shorthand for backfired public relations outings.

One reason for Bush's choice of running mate, Senator Dan Quayle, was to appeal to a younger generation of Americans. Quayle's good looks were praised by Senator John McCain: "I can't believe a guy that handsome wouldn't have some impact. Quayle was not a seasoned politician, however, and made a number of embarrassing statements. The Dukakis team attacked Quayle's credentials, saying he was dangerously inexperienced to be first-in-line to the presidency.

During the Vice Presidential debate, Quayle attempted to dispel such allegations by comparing his experience with that of former Senator John F. Kennedy, who had also been a young political rookie when running for the presidency. During the Vice Presidential debate, Quayle said, "I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency." (Kennedy had served fourteen years in Congress to Quayle's twelve). Dukakis' running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, responded, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

Quayle responded, "That was really uncalled for, Senator," to which Bentsen said, "You are the one that was making the comparison, Senator, and I'm one who knew him well. And frankly I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well-taken."

Quayle's reaction to Bentsen's comment was played and replayed by the Democrats in subsequent television ads as an announcer intoned: "Quayle: just a heartbeat away." Despite much press about the Kennedy comments, this did not reduce the Bush-Quayle lead in the polls. Quayle had sought to use the debate to criticize Dukakis as too liberal rather than go point for point with the more seasoned Bentsen. Bentsen's attempts to defend Dukakis received little recognition, with greater attention on the Kennedy comparison.

Dukakis' campaign suffered a setback when staff member Donna Brazile resigned after she spread rumors that Bush was having an extramarital affair with Jennifer Fitzgerald, who had been his secretary throughout the 1970s (the relationship of George H.W. Bush and Jennifer Fitzgerald would be briefly rehashed during the 1992 campaign).

Dukakis was badly hurt by the Republican "Willie Horton", "Revolving Door" and " Boston Harbor" campaign ads, which attacked the governor's failure to clean up environmental pollution in the harbor. Dukakis was a supporter of a state prison furlough program, which had begun before he was governor. The program had resulted in the release (furlough) of convicted murderer Willie Horton, who then committed a rape and assault in Maryland. As Governor, Dukakis had vetoed a 1976 plan to bar inmates convicted of first-degree murder from the furlough program. The program was abolished by the state legislature in April 1988 after public outcry over the Willie Horton case.

A number of false rumors were reported in the media about Dukakis, including the claim by Idaho Republican Senator Steve Symms that Dukakis's wife Kitty had burned an American flag to protest the Vietnam War, as well as the claim that Dukakis himself had been treated for a mental illness. Lee Atwater was accused of having floated these rumors.

Although Dukakis did well in the first presidential debate, Bush seemed to score a triumph in the second debate, with a Gallup Poll giving him a 49-43 lead. Before the second debate, Dukakis had been suffering from the flu and spent quite a bit of the day in bed. His performance was poor and played to his reputation as being intellectually cold. The most memorable moment came when reporter Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis whether he would support the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered. Dukakis's answer discussed the statistical ineffectiveness of capital punishment. Several commentators thought the question itself was unfair, in that it injected an irrelevant emotional element into the discussion of a policy issue, but many observers felt Dukakis' answer lacked the normal emotions one would expect of a person asked about a loved one's rape and death. Tom Brokaw of NBC reported on his October 14 newscast: "The consensus tonight is that Vice President George Bush won last night's debate and made it all the harder for Governor Michael Dukakis to catch and pass him in the 25 days remaining. In all of the Friday morning quarterbacking, there was common agreement that Dukakis failed to seize the debate and make it his night."

Results

The election on November 8, 1988 was a majority for Bush in the popular vote and a lopsided majority (40 states) in the Electoral College.

Bush performed very strongly among suburban voters, perhaps owing to his campaign themes of law and order, punctuated by his criticisms of the Massachusetts furlough program. This was a boon in several swing states. In Illinois, Bush won 69% in DuPage County and 63% out of Lake County, suburban areas which adjoin Chicago's Cook County. In Pennsylvania, Bush swept the group of suburban counties that surround Philadelphia, including Bucks, Delaware, Chester, and Montgomery. Bush also won most of the counties in Maryland, perhaps fallout from the fact that Willie Horton committed his infamous criminal acts there. New Jersey, known at the time for its many suburban voters and its moderate Republicanism, went easily for Bush; Bush also gained victory for attacking Dukakis' furlough program he had while he was Governor of Massachusetts , though Dukakis still maintained popularity in Massachusetts.

Contrary to the suburbs was the decrease among rural counties, easily falling below the support they gave Reagan in 1980 and 1984. In Illinois, Bush lost a number of downstate counties that previously went for Reagan. He lost the state of Iowa by a surprisingly wide margin, losing counties all across the state even in traditionally Republican areas. The rural state of West Virginia remained handily in the Democratic column. Bush also performed weaker in the northern counties of Missouri, making the state a close win. Three typically solid Republican states, Kansas, South Dakota, and Montana, came much closer than usual. The farm states had fared poorly during farm recession of the 1980s. It is not surprising that the Democrat Dukakis was the beneficiary of these farm problems in America's heartland.

Bush's greatest area of strength was in the south, winning most states by wide margins. He also performed very well in the northeast, winning Maine (where he had a residence), New Hampshire (at the time a Republican stronghold), Vermont (at the time a bastion of moderate Republicanism), and Connecticut (where his father had been a senator). Bush lost New York by a margin of just over 4 percent. He also won Delaware, at the time a swing state. Despite the presence of Lloyd Bentsen on the Democratic ticket (and other Texans getting prominent roles at the Democratic convention), Bush won the Lone Star State by a convincing margin. He lost the Pacific northwestern states but kept California in the Republican column for the sixth straight time, albeit very narrowly.

Although his victory was not a landslide in the popular vote (though it was substantial), Bush in 1988 was the last Republican to carry certain states which have since gained a reputation as "blue states" that favor the Democratic Party in presidential elections. These states are California, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan. New Mexico used to be in this category, but George W. Bush won it in 2004, making him the first Republican to carry it since 1988. His victory percentage--53.4%--has not (as of 2008) been surpassed by any subsequent election, and he was the last to secure an absolute majority(>50.0%) win at all until his son's 2004 victory. This may have been because the election of 1988 was the last one not to feature a consequential third party candidate until 2004.

Overall, Bush's relatively big win (at least in the electoral college) can be attributed to general satisfaction with the status quo in the country, giving the Republican Party its third consecutive presidential win. Reagan's popularity and Bush's position as Vice President did more to help his cause than any great dissatisfaction with Dukakis. Bush had essentially no coattails, and he came into office with a Democratic Congress angry and vindictive after the negative campaign he ran against Dukakis. Even though the Democrats lost their presidential bid, they were able to strengthen their majorities in Congress by 2 seats in the House and 1 seat in the Senate.

Statistics

Source (Popular Vote):

Source (Electoral Vote):

(a) West Virginia faithless elector Margaret Leach voted for Bentsen as President and Dukakis as Vice President in order to make a statement against the U.S. Electoral College.
(b) Fulani's running mate varied from state to state. Among the six vice presidential candidates were Joyce Dattner, Harold Moore, and somebody with the last name of "Burke".

Close states

Margin of victory less than 5%

  1. Washington, 1.59%
  2. Illinois, 2.09%
  3. Pennsylvania, 2.31%
  4. Maryland, 2.91%
  5. Vermont, 3.52%
  6. California, 3.57%
  7. Wisconsin, 3.61%
  8. Missouri, 3.98%
  9. New York, 4.10%
  10. Oregon, 4.67%
  11. West Virginia, 4.74%
  12. New Mexico, 4.96%

Margin of victory more than 5% but less than 10%

  1. Connecticut, 5.11%
  2. Montana, 5.87%
  3. South Dakota, 6.34%
  4. Minnesota, 7.01%
  5. Colorado, 7.78%
  6. Massachusetts, 7.85%
  7. Michigan, 7.90%

References

  • James B. Lemert, William R. Elliott, James M. Bernstein, William L. Rosenberg, Karl J. Nestvold; News Verdicts, the Debates, and Presidential Campaigns Praeger Publishers, 1991
  • Laurence W. Moreland, Robert P. Steed, Tod A. Baker; The 1988 Presidential Election in the South: Continuity Amidst Change in Southern Party Politics Praeger Publishers, 1991
  • David R. Runkel; Campaign for President: The Managers Look at '88 Auburn House, 1989
  • Guido H. Stempel III and John W. Windhauser; The Media in the 1984 and 1988 Presidential Campaigns Greenwood Press, 1991

See also

Notes

External links

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