Arkansas gubernatorial election, 1980

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Arkansas gubernatorial election, 1980
← 1978 November 4, 1980 1982 →
  Frank D. White 1995.jpg Bill Clinton.jpg
Nominee Frank D. White Bill Clinton
Party Republican Democratic
Popular vote 435,684 403,241
Percentage 51.93% 48.07%

Election results by county

Governor before election

Bill Clinton

Elected Governor

Frank D. White

The Arkansas gubernatorial election of 1980 was only that state's third election since Reconstruction when a Republican candidate won the governorship, and the first in which an incumbent was defeated.

One-term Democratic Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton was narrowly defeated by Republican Frank D. White, which made him, as he joked, "the youngest ex-governor in the nation." He ran again two years later and regained the governorship, continuing to serve until he was elected President of the United States in 1992. Both the Democratic and Republican primaries were held on May 27.

Democratic primary[edit]



Democratic primary results[1](p38)[2]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Bill Clinton 306,736 68.87
Democratic Monroe Schwarzlose 138,670 31.13
Total votes 445,395 100.00

Republican primary[edit]



Republican primary results[1](p43)
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Frank D. White 5,867 71.75
Republican Marshall Chrisman 2,310 28.25
Total votes 8,177 100.00


Schwarzlose's unexpected strong challenge in primaries and his 31 percent of the primary vote foreshadowed that Clinton could be in trouble for the upcoming general election.[2]

Clinton's increase in the cost of automobile registration tags was also unpopular. He was also hurt by President Jimmy Carter's decision to send thousands of Cuban refugees, some unruly, to a detention camp at Fort Chaffee, outside Fort Smith in Sebastian County in western Arkansas.[2][3] (See Mariel boatlift.)

1980 general election was marked by decisive Republican victories—the GOP won the White House, a majority in United States Senate and 34 seats in the United States House of Representatives. Clinton's narrow loss was viewed as part of Reagan's coattails.


Frank White narrowly won the election.[1](p48)[2]

Arkansas gubernatorial election, 1980[1](p48)
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Frank D. White 435,684 51.93
Democratic Bill Clinton 403,241 48.07
Total votes 838,925 100.00

Clinton’s defeat in 1980 was a turning point in his career as the loss allowed him to uncover what had set up his loss but also how to aim himself right for another run at the governor position. Clinton himself said, “I spent a whole lot of time trying to figure out where I messed up. How did I turn people off? What did I do wrong? What decisions could I have made differently? How could I have maintained a stronger level of support for change?"(Kolbert). Elizabeth Kolbert of the New York Times wrote about Clinton in 1992 during his run for president and Clinton seemed to understand what had brought him down as she writes: “The young Governor had discovered the dangers of pushing through an agenda ahead of public opinion and the risks of fighting the state's business establishment. As a result, he became much more sensitive to the vagaries of public opinion and much more adept in the art of accommodation” (Kolbert). This supports his New Democrat philosophy which becomes a colossal part of Clinton’s politics especially during his presidential runs in the 1990’s. Although he was distraught by his defeat, he seemed optimistic even though Clinton publicly would not acknowledge if he would pursue the governor seat. As Clinton embraced his loss and worked to move from it, he joined his good friend Bruce R. Lindsey at Lindsey’s law firm called Wright, Lindsey, and Jennings. Jennings, had always been a Clinton ally and served as one of his advisors during his presidency (Ifill). Clinton dissected the factors which set up his loss in 1980 which included the controversial motor vehicle tax which was widely unpopular and the Cuban refugee crisis where President Carter had asked Governor Clinton at the time if he could settle 20,000 refugees in his state (Clinton House Museum). Had Clinton decided while he was working with Bruce Lindsey that he probably was not going to pursue the governor’s seat again, his name was brought up in discussions to be the next chair of the DNC because he illustrated everything the Democrats wanted in order to combat the resurgent Republicans. Clinton was young, exciting, and branded himself as a “New Democrat” where he felt he could negotiate and bargain with Republicans compared to Democrats who supported President Carter. With Jimmy Carter’s defeat in the 1980 Presidential Election, the New Democrats began to grain traction among prominent political movements as an answer to combat Reagan and the Republicans. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Bill Clinton takes this route and becomes head of the Democratic National Committee in 1981 or 1982, sometime after Jimmy Carter’s landslide defeat in 1980. One could presume Clinton and the Democrats has he been in charge of the DNC would have enacted a “New Democrat” platform for the Democratic Party to try and bring in more voters from the South and rural areas which align more with Republican demographics. One could also infer the Democrats also would be more involved in attracting young people as Clinton’s numbers with young people had always been good taking into his account his governor and presidential numbers. Many Democrats from the left even supported Clinton as he was seen a new voice in the party who was willing to compromise yet unwilling to compromise his own ideals which provided the basis of Democratic policy, moderate leftism.


  1. ^ a b c d "1980 Arkansas Elections" (PDF). Arkansas Secretary of State. January 1982. Retrieved October 29, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Frank Durward White (1933–2003)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2016-02-24. 
  3. ^ "Bill Clinton (1946–)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2016-02-24.