1992 Presidential Election Essay, Research Paper
1992 Presidential Election
As the voting began in the New Hampshire primary, there were only five serious contenders for the Democratic nomination. The list included Paul Tsongas (Mass.), Bill Clinton (Ark.), Tom Harkin, Jerry Brown (California), and Bob Kerrey (Neb.). Clinton s strategy was to present himself as a candidate of substance by offering specific proposals that addressed most of the major problems facing the U.S. He positioned himself as a visionary leader by proposing bold programs for change. This played well to middle class Americans worried about the economy and their jobs. Clinton proposed middle class tax cuts, health insurance for all Americans, education and welfare reform, tax credits for capital investments in plant and equipment, and a 100 billion cut in military spending. Although some of the candidates made similar proposals, they often sounded vague and uncommitted. None provided the details that made Clinton sound so confident and his programs so believable. Without clear programs of their own, Clinton s primary opponents were reduced to focusing on the politics of morality and to attacking his personal character. In particular Paul Tsongas, the candidate of pain, attacked both Clinton’s proposed tax cuts and his character. He accused Clinton of lying to the American public with promises of quick fixes to the economy. He believed the economy would only improve with time and sacrifice. Bob Kerrey attacked the tax neutrality of Clinton’s universal health insurance. Kerrey claimed that it could only work with additional tax money.
By the time of the New Hampshire, primary the national press and television had anointed Bill Clinton as the Democratic front runner. The press believed the only way the Democrats could win in November was to chose a candidate moderate enough to win back the middle-class voters, especially Southern whites. Given the other Democratic candidates, Clinton became the media s choice by default. Clinton virtually unknown nationally, benefited from the additional attention he was given by the press.
Compared to his opponents Clinton’s primary campaign was well organized and well funded. While the others struggled to find funding, Clinton s nearly four million-dollar war chest allowed him to outspend the others on advertising and support staff. He had received two million after the New Hampshire primary, in addition to a million in federal matching funds.
Tsangas won Feb. 18th New Hampshire primary (33%), with Clinton coming in a strong second (25%). On Super Tuesday, March 10th Clinton swept seven of the eleven Southern and border states. This made him a clear leader with a delegate count of 763. Clinton was then surprised by Brown s victory in Connecticut on March 24. In April Clinton went on to claim victories in New New York, Wisconsin and Kansas bringing his total delegate count to 1,273. Finally, Clinton eliminated Brown by beating him 48% to 40% in his home state of California. Clinton would go to the convention with a total of 2,511 delegates, far more than the 2,145 needed to cinch the nomination.
Clinton s choice of a running mate on the baby boomer ticket was Al Gore (Tenn.). An important factor was Clinton s personal and political comfort level with Gore. Politically both were self-confident moderates with new ideas for change. Personally both had a blue ribbon education, both were Southern Baptists, who married strong assertive wives, and both were young (middle forties). With Gore on the ticket, several of Clinton’s voids would be filled. Tipper Gores crusade against obscene music lyrics helped to quiet continuing questions about Clinton’s character. As the democratic leader on environmental issues, Gore appealed to the West Coast voters. As the son of a wealthy and influential family (his father was a three term senator) he would appeal to affluent suburbanites. This would balance Clinton’s image as a candidate from a poor and rural state (Ark.).
After the Democratic nomination, Clinton s platform shifted more to the political center. It was clear from his convention speech that he intended to win back the alienated and forgotten white middle class by repudiating tax and spend, something for nothing policies and stressing economic growth and job creation through investment. He had now shifted his emphasis from middle class tax cuts to economic investment. He would be an agent of change, the only alternative to the do nothing status quo of Bush. He planned to use the media to help rebuild his public image. Free television appearances on talk shows ranging from the Today show to Larry King helped his recovery. Personal appearances with his wife helped to dispel rumors of his marital problems. To build public empathy for a candidate unfairly accused; his team developed biographical info and a film describing his common beginnings.
Clinton pushed for early presidential debates as an opportunity to focus the public on the issues and to divert the public attention from the personnel attacks on his morals. Bush on the other hand tried to avoid or delay the debate. Clinton was a polished orator and his performance was up to the challenge. He crammed for the debate and his team ran him through a number of practice sessions using questions from live audiences. As a result, he was dignified and well informed, had his points well organized and managed to sound and look presidential. Though Perot s witticisms clearly won the first debate, Clinton was clearly the winner of the second. By the third and final debate, Bush finally found some focus and intensity he lacked in the first two, while Clinton played it safe and avoided any controversial statements that might threaten his lead in the polls.
Public support for Clinton roller coastered throughout his 1992 presidential campaign. Starting at 5% in November of 1991, to 23% in January after the New Hampshire primary, to 43% in April, and back down to 25% in June due to a damaged public image and the entry of Perot into the race. Then back up by November as the polls showed Clinton ahead of Bush by a two-digit margin.
Clinton had a broad but fragile coalition of support from many special interest groups. He was able to attract black voters without alienating blue-collar whites. He was popular among women, union members, and the unemployed, both North and South. He talked tough on welfare without turning criticizing the poor and supports the death penalty without turning off liberals. The unions traditional democrats, wanted to support the obvious winner in 92. Women liked his pro-choice stance. Teachers supported him because of his educational reform. Clinton had a wide list of proposals and he knew how to shift the emphasis to please each interest group.
Once Clinton won the party nomination, he got the full and public endorsement of the democratic leaders. In addition, they provided the support of their organizations (labor), contacts, networks and ran local fundraisers on his behalf as he campaigned against Bush in each of their states and districts. About half of Clinton’s funding came from individual contributions, the next largest source was from public fund for the general election, and funding from the national democratic convention as well as other smaller democratic committees that had raised money.
The results of the November election had 370 electoral votes cast for Clinton with only 168 for Bush. A count of the popular vote had Clinton at 44,908,254 and Bush at 39,102,343. Clinton won because he was a strong willed candidate, who sensed early that economics would dominate the race. His campaign was more focused and organized than the Bush camp. Clinton pushed to do more: more speeches, more interviews, more TV talk shows, and contact with the crowds. Bush out of touch with the voters and slow to focus on domestic issues: came up with too little too late.