Bill Clinton presidential campaign, 1992

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Bill Clinton presidential campaign, 1992
Bill Clinton.jpg
Campaign U.S. presidential election, 1992
Candidate Bill Clinton
Governor of Arkansas 1979–1981, 1983–1992
Al Gore
United States Senator from Tennessee 1985-1993
Affiliation Democratic Party
Status Won election, November 3, 1992
Slogan For people for change, Putting People First, It's the economy stupid.

Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign for President of the United States was a critical turning point for the Democratic Party, which had controlled the White House for only four of the previous twenty-four years. Initially viewed as an unlikely prospect to win his party's nomination, Clinton did so and went on to defeat incumbent President George H. W. Bush, who had been viewed as politically invincible just a year earlier.

Candidate background[edit]

Clinton was the governor of a traditionally conservative Southern state, Arkansas. He had been viewed as a viable presidential candidate before his actual bid in 1992. During the 1988 Presidential Primaries, where George H. W. Bush, the incumbent Vice-President, seemed all but inevitable as the president, many turned to Clinton as the next Southern leader of the party. Bill Clinton was seen as a potential candidate as he was a popular Democratic Governor in a state that had voted for Republicans in four of the last five presidential elections.

Timeline[edit]

Primaries[edit]

The candidates in 1992 were considered one of the weakest starting grids the Democrats had ever chosen. Most of this was due to President George H.W. Bush's sky-high approval ratings in the wake of Operation Desert Storm. The press anointed front-runners for 1992 included Bill Bradley, then a New Jersey Senator, Jesse Jackson, who finished second in 1988, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, and Jay Rockefeller, a Senator from West Virginia. But each bowed out early. Neither Bradley nor Rockefeller considered themselves ready to run, Gephardt seemed to accept Bush's re-election as a sure thing, and Gore had opted to spend more time with his family in the wake of a tragic accident that threatened the life of his young son. The most notable front-runner Mario Cuomo, decided not to run on December 20, 1991, the final day to apply to run in the New Hampshire primary.

When the early straw polls were finished, Bill Clinton was the candidate on the rise. The other primary contenders were Douglas Wilder, Bob Kerrey, Tom Harkin, Paul Tsongas, and Jerry Brown. Clinton's victory in the Florida straw poll over Harkin made him the early front-runner in the post-Cuomo vacuum.

In the recent past, the Iowa caucus had been the launching pad for candidacies. But since Harkin was himself an Iowa Senator, attention turned to New Hampshire. In January 1992, Clinton led Tsongas by a solid 16 points with nobody else even close. But Clinton was undone by two damaging stories that cut against his credibility. The first was the allegation that he had a twelve year extra-martial affair with Gennifer Flowers, a former night club singer and television reporter from Little Rock, Arkansas.[1] Clinton blunted this story with an interview on 60 Minutes at the conclusion of Super Bowl XXVI, where he flatly denied having had this affair; however, he did later testify during the Paula Jones lawsuit that he did have a sexual encounter with Flowers in 1977.[2] The story that caused Clinton greater damage, however, was the notion that he had 'dodged the draft' in order to avoid military service in the Vietnam War. The draft story put Clinton in what pollster Stan Greenberg called 'meltdown.' Clinton lost nearly twenty points in less than a week. But the formation of the War Room helped Clinton overcome his troubles and finished second behind Tsongas. Clinton was even able to write off Tsongas' win by claiming that Tsongas' home in Lowell, Massachusetts actually meant Tsongas should have won. Newsweek magazine captured the press coverage of the 1992 New Hampshire primary by printing a cartoon with Clinton and Pat Buchanan, the runner-up who gave George H. W. Bush a scare on the Republican side, with second place medals on top of a victory stand while Bush and Tsongas stood with gold medals off to the side pouting.

There was actually a third accusation of Clinton smoking marijuana while in college in England. His response was "I only tried it once and never actually inhaled."

Bob Kerrey then emerged as the survivor of the Harkin-Kerrey Midwest elimination by winning the South Dakota caucus. Clinton then took the lead in the primary season by winning Georgia. Clinton then won most of the rest of the primaries facing eliminated or diminished competition. Clinton's advisors felt he won the nomination when Jerry Brown upset Tsongas in the Maryland primary. Brown later upset Clinton in the Connecticut primary, but Clinton's road was relatively easy after the March 3, 1992 win in Georgia.

Arsenio Hall Show appearance[edit]

Clinton was a guest on The Arsenio Hall Show on June 3, 1992, the day after he secured the Democratic party nomination.[3][4][5] He played "Heartbreak Hotel" on the saxophone.[6] The appearance is often considered an important moment in Clinton's political career, helping build his popularity among minority and young voters.[4] Clinton's appearance on the show and subsequent media coverage of it catapulted Clinton ahead of Bush in the polls.[4]

Running mate selection[edit]

In June and July 1992, speculation grew about who Clinton was going to pick as his running mate. Possible candidates included Kerrey, Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, Missouri congressman Richard Gephardt, Tennessee Senator Al Gore, New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, Florida Senator Bob Graham and Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford. On July 10, 1992, Clinton selected Gore as his running mate in the State Mansion at Little Rock.

The Convention[edit]

During the '92 Democratic Convention, the convention hall was plagued by the fact that independent candidate Ross Perot was tied with or beating Clinton in opinion research polls. This caused a moderate turn of events at the convention to win back Perot Voters from the Perot Campaign. This led to the selection of such speakers such as Representative Barbara Jordan from Texas to deliver a bipartisan keynote address to the convention delegates. Also speaking was the Vice-Presidential nominee Al Gore who appealed to the center as he was, at the time, a Southern Moderate Democrat from Tennessee.

However on the last day the convention convened on July 16, 1992, Ross Perot dropped out of the presidential race and left a gap for both Bush and Clinton to scramble for newly undecided voters. This greatly led to the advantage of Bill Clinton who gave his nomination acceptance speech that night.

Election Night 1992[edit]

Throughout election night, Clinton over performed in rural areas of the country such as in the mountain west, winning Montana, Colorado, and New Mexico (16 Electoral Votes). Clinton also won rural voters in the south and mid-west, carrying states such as Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, and Iowa (57 Electoral Votes).

In addition, in a number of crucial states independent Ross Perot, running as a Fiscal Conservative, target many of the same voters as George H. W. Bush. This has led to the speculation that Perot acted a Presidential Spoiler by detracting votes from Bush/Quayle allowing Clinton/Gore victories in Conservative strongholds such as Kentucky and Montana. Also, Bush/Quayle underperformed in states such as Vice-Presidential Nominee Dan Quayle's home state of Indiana (12 Electoral Votes) allowing Clinton/Gore to come within striking distance on election night.

Campaign strategy[edit]

The Southern lock[edit]

A source of frustration for Democrats through the years was the increasing Republican lock on the electoral votes of the Southern United States. Clinton's home of Arkansas gave Democrats hope that they could carry some Southern states and ultimately win the election. Clinton then made what even his opponents acknowledged was a master stroke by choosing Al Gore, a Senator from Tennessee, as his running mate. This choice blunted a major strategy of the Bush campaign to paint Clinton and Gore as 'Northern liberals' in the mold of previous candidates George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and, to a lesser extent, Hubert Humphrey. Additionally, Gore's prior military record removed a lot of the criticism Clinton had received earlier.

Besides Gore, several names were rumored to be in contention for the second spot, including Florida Senator and former Governor of Florida Bob Graham, Indiana Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, Nebraska Senator and former Governor Bob Kerrey, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, and newly elected Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford.

President Bush's approval ratings[edit]

For most of 1991, the incumbent president, George Bush, was extremely popular after the Persian Gulf War. His approval rating was above 90 percent at one point that year because his war had helped erase the Vietnam Syndrome America had felt since the 1960s, and into the post-Vietnam War 1980s when many Vietnam veterans were just starting to get recognition. But because of a growing public perception of an economic downturn, Bush's popularity began falling throughout late 1991, and by January 1992, his approvals fell below 50%. Bush's approvals would stay low for the rest of the campaign season.[7]

Reasons for victory[edit]

Presidential candidate Bill Clinton in front of Rackham School at the University of Michigan on October 19, 1992, flanked by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and Michigan Senator Donald W. Riegle, Jr.

Clinton's charisma combined with an impressive campaign staff to achieve victory. Organizational theorists have proposed that his campaign structure adopted an effective blend of informality with clear goal definition, which allowed for structured creativity. The exploitation of key strategic blunders by the Bush campaign, including violating a no new tax promise, also allowed for impressive gains.

References[edit]

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