Michael Dukakis 1988 presidential campaign

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Dukakis for President
Michael Dukakis presidential campaign, 1988.png
Campaign1988 U.S. presidential election
CandidateMichael Dukakis
AffiliationDemocratic Party
StatusLost election: November 8, 1988
HeadquartersBoston, Massachusetts
Key peopleSusan Estrich (campaign manager)
SloganWe’re on your side
Good jobs at good wages

Because the Best America has yet to Come

The 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis began when he announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party's 1988 presidential nomination on March 16, 1987, in a speech in Boston. After winning the nomination, he was formally crowned the Democratic Party's nominee at the party's convention in Atlanta, Georgia on July 21, 1988.[1][2] He lost the 1988 election to his Republican opponent George H. W. Bush, who was the sitting Vice President at the time. Dukakis won 10 states and the District of Columbia, receiving a total of 111 electoral votes compared to Bush's 426 (Dukakis would have received 112, but one faithless elector who was pledged to him voted for Bentsen for president and Dukakis for vice president instead out of protest). Dukakis received 46% of the popular vote to Bush's 54%.[3] Many commentators blamed Dukakis' loss on the embarrassing photograph of him in a tank taken on September 13, 1988, which subsequently formed the basis of a successful Republican attack ad.[4][5] Much of the blame was also laid on Dukakis' campaign, which was criticized for being poorly managed despite being well funded.[6][7]


Michael Dukakis was the 65th and 67th Governor of Massachusetts, from 1975 to 1979 and 1983 to 1991. His running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, was a senator from Texas and a member of the United States Senate Committee on Finance who had previously ran for the Democratic nomination in 1976.

Initial announcement[edit]

On March 16, 1987, Dukakis, then the Governor of Massachusetts, gave what has become known as the "Marathon Speech" in Boston in which he hinted that he was running for President in next year's election. He formally announced that he would run in a speech given the following month.[1] Previously, he had been urged to consider running for president by Mario Cuomo, who had dropped out the previous month.[8][9] This made him the third declared Democratic candidate for the 1988 election, after Richard A. Gephardt and Bruce Babbitt. Dukakis soon received an outpouring of support from voters throughout the country, which reportedly resulted in him receiving more attention than even he had expected.[10]

Democratic Primaries[edit]

By May 1988, Dukakis had become the Democratic Party's front-runner for their nomination in that year's election, thanks to his victories in the New York and Pennsylvania primaries.[11] On June 7, 1988, Dukakis clinched the Democratic Party's nomination by winning all four of the party's last primaries against Jesse Jackson, the only other remaining Democratic candidate at the time. These victories gave Dukakis significantly more delegates than the 2,081 required to win the nomination.[12]

"Massachusetts Miracle"[edit]

Dukakis' campaign was focused on his experience as Governor of Massachusetts, during which time Massachusetts had emerged from an economic depression and had become a "bastion of prosperity and full employment".[13] Commentators had described this as the "Massachusetts Miracle", a term Bush dismissed as the "Massachusetts mirage".[14]

Running mate selection[edit]

On July 12, 1988, Dukakis announced he had chosen Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate, in the hopes of garnering more support in the South.[15] Dukakis compared his pick to John F. Kennedy's pick of Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate in the 1960 election.[16] As a result, his ticket became known as the "Boston-Austin axis", as Bentsen himself described it.[17][18] Shortly after Dukakis made the pick, a Time cover story dubbed Dukakis and Bentsen "the odd couple", and Richard Stengel noted in 1988 that Bentsen was "...more Bush’s twin than Dukakis’".[19]

Acceptance of the nomination[edit]

After winning the primaries in 30 states against Jesse Jackson and Al Gore, Dukakis accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at the 1988 Democratic National Convention on July 21, 1988, where Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton formally nominated Dukakis.[6]

Television advertising[edit]

During the campaign, Dukakis was the target of several now-infamous attack ads by individuals supporting the Bush campaign, most infamously the "Willie Horton" ad produced by the pro-Bush National Security Political Action Committee. Although the Bush campaign disavowed the ad,[20] it still played a major role in Dukakis' defeat.[21] The Dukakis campaign was mired in confusion during the general election, as exemplified by "the Handlers", a series of unintentionally confusing commercials that the campaign produced and aired at a cost of $3 million. Dukakis also erred in not responding to the Horton attack until late in the campaign.[22]

Donna Brazile resignation[edit]

On October 20, 1988, Donna Brazile resigned from her role as deputy field director for the Dukakis campaign after saying that Bush needed to "fess up" about a rumor that he had had an extramarital affair. Her comments were also disavowed by the campaign, and Dukakis personally apologized to Bush for them at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner that year.[23]


A poll conducted on July 21 and 22 of 1988 found that Dukakis had expanded the size of his lead over Bush to 17 points, with 55% of voters surveyed saying they would prefer Dukakis to win, compared to 38% for Bush.[24] His lead soon began to shrink, however. For example, on July 30, Dukakis criticized the Reagan administration's handling of ethical issues,[25] to which President Reagan himself responded by describing Dukakis as an "invalid", after which his poll numbers dropped by 5 points overnight.[4] By August 11, Dukakis' lead over Bush had shrunk to 7 points,[26] and by August 24, Bush had gained a 4-point lead over Dukakis. Of the dramatic shift in Dukakis' poll numbers, Mervin Field said, "I have never seen anything like this, this kind of swing in favorability ratings, ever since I have seen polls, going back to 1936."[27] Later that year, after the second Bush-Dukakis debate occurred on October 13, Dukakis' numbers dropped by 7 points that night, largely due to his emotionless response to a question about whether he would support the death penalty for someone if they raped and murdered his wife, Kitty Dukakis.[28]


  1. ^ a b "Finding aid for Michael S. Dukakis Presidential Campaign Records". Northeastern University. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  2. ^ Jr, E.J. Dionne; Times, Special to the New York (1988-07-21). "Democrats Acclaim Dukakis and Assert Unity". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  3. ^ "United States presidential election of 1988". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  4. ^ a b Drogin, Bob (1988-11-10). "How Presidential Race Was Won-and Lost: Michael S. Dukakis". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  5. ^ King, Josh (2013-11-17). "Dukakis and the Tank". Politico. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  6. ^ Rheem, Donald L. (1988-10-27). "Michael Dukakis: The precarious politics of `competence'". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  7. ^ Jr., E.J. Dionne; Times, Special to the New York (1987-02-21). "New Democratic Breed Fills Cuomo Void". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  8. ^ White, Mike; Brummer, Alex (1988-11-08). "Road to the White House paved with dirty tricks". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  9. ^ Times, Special to the New York (1987-03-22). "To Wife and State, Dukakis Timing is a Surprise". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  10. ^ Butterfield, Fox (1988-05-08). "Dukakis". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-10-31.
  11. ^ Margolis, Jon (1988-06-08). "Dukakis Clinches Nomination". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2017-10-31.
  12. ^ Coakley, Michael (1987-05-31). "Dukakis Hopes 2nd 'Massachusetts Miracle' Is In The Making". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  13. ^ Gold, Allan R.; Times, Special to the New York (1988-09-30). "Fiscal Experts Give Dukakis More Credit Than Bush Does". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  14. ^ Drogin, Bob (1988-07-13). "Dukakis Chooses Bentsen of Texas as Running Mate". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  15. ^ Times, Robin Toner and Special To the New York (1988-07-13). "DUKAKIS PICKS BENTSEN FOR RUNNING MATE; TEXAN ADDS CONSERVATIVE VOICE TO TICKET; A REGIONAL BALANCE". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  16. ^ Safire, William (1988-07-14). "Boston-Austin 'Axis'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  17. ^ Writer, Washington Post Staff (1988-07-13). "Dukakis Chooses Texas Sen. Bentsen as Running Mate". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-10-31.
  18. ^ Haggin, Patience (2012-08-11). "A History of Vice Presidential Picks, from the Pages of TIME". Time. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  19. ^ Times, Mr Engelberg Special to the New York (1988-11-03). "Bush, His Disavowed Backers And a Very Potent Attack Ad". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-14.
  20. ^ Raphael, TJ (2015-05-18). "How one political ad held back a generation of American inmates". Public Radio International. Retrieved 2017-12-14. ...Horton...became a decisive part of George H.W. Bush's campaign against Democratic contender Michael Dukakis.
  21. ^ "Commercials - 1988". The Living Room Candidate. Retrieved 2017-12-14.
  22. ^ Staff, From; Reports, Wire (1988-10-21). "Dukakis Aide Quits; Remarks Are Disavowed". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
  23. ^ "Dukakis Lead Widens, According to New Poll". The New York Times. 1988-07-26. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  24. ^ Toner, Robin; Times, Special to the New York (1988-07-31). "Dukakis Focuses on Reagan Ethics". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  25. ^ Dillin, John (1988-08-11). "Less oomph in Dukakis `bounce'. His 17-point lead over Bush shrinks to seven in Gallup poll". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 2017-10-31.
  26. ^ Staff, From; Reports, Wire (1988-08-24). "Bush Leads Dukakis, 48% to 44%, in Gallup Poll". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-10-31.
  27. ^ "How Bush Beat Dukakis (Slide 6)". Politico. Retrieved 2017-09-16.