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.
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.