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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 Housemarker 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

Clinton was the southern governor of a traditionally red state, Arkansasmarker. 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. However, Clinton declined and remained Governor of Arkansas.

During the onset of the 1992 Primaries, Bill Clinton was seen as a potential candidate as he was the popular Democratic governor of Republican territory.

Timeline

Primaries

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 Virginiamarker. 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 Hampshiremarker. 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 revelation of his affair by Gennifer Flowers, a former night club singer and television reporter from Little Rock, Arkansasmarker. Clinton blunted this story with an interview on 60 Minutes at the conclusion of Super Bowl XXVI, where he flatly denied (which was subsequently revealed to be untrue when Clinton testified during the Paula Jones law suit) having had this affair. 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 finish second behind Tsongas. Clinton was even able to write off Tsongas' win by claiming that Tsongas' home in Lowell, Massachusettsmarker actually meant Tsongas should have won. Newsweek brilliantly 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 Dakotamarker caucus. Clinton then took the lead in the primary season by winning Georgiamarker. 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 Connecticutmarker primary, but Clinton's road was relatively easy after the March 3, 1992 win in Georgiamarker.

The Convention

See 1992 Democratic National ConventionDuring the '92 Democratic Convention, the convention hall 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 Texasmarker 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 Tennesseemarker.

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 presidential acceptance speech that night.

Election Night 1992

Throughout election night, Clinton over performed in rural areas of the country such as in the mountain west, winning Montanamarker, Coloradomarker, and New Mexicomarker (16 Electoral Votes). Clinton also won rural voters in the south and mid-west, carrying states such as Missourimarker, Arkansasmarker, Tennesseemarker, Kentuckymarker, West Virginiamarker, Louisianamarker, Georgiamarker, and Iowamarker (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 Kentuckymarker and Montanamarker. Also, Bush/Quayle underperformed in states such as Vice-Presidential Nominee Dan Quayle's home state of Indianamarker (12 Electoral Votes) allowing Clinton/Gore to come within striking distance on election night.

Campaign Strategy

The Southern lock

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 Arkansasmarker 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 Floridamarker Senator and former Governor of Florida Bob Graham, Indianamarker Congressman Lee Hamilton, Nebraskamarker Senator and former Governor Bob Kerrey, Iowamarker Senator Tom Harkin, and newly-elected Pennsylvaniamarker Senator Harris Wofford.

President Bush's approval ratings

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. 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.

Reasons for victory

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

  1. http://webapps.ropercenter.uconn.edu/CFIDE/roper/presidential/webroot/presidential_rating_detail.cfm?allRate=True&presidentName=Bush%20(G.H.W.)
  2. http://www.scogrowth.com/resources/network-governance.php "Hybrid Network Governance - Ideal Political Structure?"


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