|Three Way Race||Time For A Change||Clinton Sworn In As Gore Looks On|
1992: The Economy, Stupid!
George Bush's poll numbers were through the roof
after the Gulf War. At about this time, the Democratic Party was searching
for a candidate that would even venture out to challenge the sitting President.
After party heavyweights stepped aside, an unexpected chain of events left the
weak Democratic field in position to unseat the incumbent. Bush's approval
ratings took a steep downturn. The economy went into a recession, and
several highly publicized gaffes on the President's part opened the door for a
Bill Clinton entered the Democratic nomination process with realistic goals. He wanted to lay the groundwork for a more legitimate shot at winning in 1996. He was a little known Governor from a small southern state. Although he had tremendous political ambition, his lack of national name recognition made him a long shot. Clinton was probably not expecting the amount of media attention that he would garner, but when the attention of the press turned the spotlight on him, he and his advisors where more than prepared.
In February of 1992, Gennifer Flowers alleged that she had been in an extramarital relationship with Clinton. The exclusive interview with A Current Affair immediately brought about questions of the Governor's character by the media. Reporters dogged Clinton over the incident and began to dig into his past for more scandalous material. The politically perceptive Clinton faced the charges head on. He and his wife, Hillary, went on 60 Minutes to assure the public that even though they had experience problems in the past, they were perfectly happy at that point in their marriage. The tremendous media exposure, although negative at first, had been overcome by Clinton's ability to battle adversity. After the candid interview, the Governor returned to New Hampshire and launched a vigorous campaign to use the media's attention to his advantage. With cameras following, Bill Clinton stormed across the state. He was tireless in his efforts to win a personal connection with as many voters as possible. When the primary results came in, Clinton had finished second. Although he was not the top vote getter, the media portrayed Clinton as the real winner. Despite the damaging allegations from Flowers, he had amazed a press that had written him off. Clinton seized the momentum in New Hampshire. From that point forward, the field of candidates gradually withered away leaving Clinton to face Bush.
While Clinton was steadily winning national support, George Bush made the crucial mistake of underestimating the public's concern over the economy. Nagging news stories of the recession were broadcast into homes across the country on a nightly basis. To this, Bush seemed indifferent and out of touch. Sensing the public's dismay over economic troubles, Clinton found the major theme of his campaign. "It's the economy, stupid," became the rallying cry from the growing group of Clinton supporters. The media caught on to the popularity of the simplistic strategy, and before long, the previously dormant Bush was compelled to go on the offensive.
Four years prior, with the help of the media, George Bush had sharply attacked his opponent. In 1992, the press was not as willing to provide the hatchet as they were before. Bush brought into play more allegations of Clinton's questionable character. He attacked Clinton's patriotism because of the Governor's opposition to the Vietnam War and subsequent draft evasion techniques. Although the press did follow up on the charges made by Bush, they eventually turned on the President in protest of the same style of campaigning as used in 1988. While Bush began to complain about the "fairness" of press coverage, Bill Clinton was using the media to his advantage.
The Democratic nominee scored big while making numerous television appearances. On The Arsenio Hall Show, he donned dark sunglasses and played the saxophone. He waged a powerful ad campaign that was a good mixture of veiled attacks and feel-good biographical spots. Most ads presented a message of new leadership and ideas from a "New Democrat." In one of his ads, there was a photo of a young Bill Clinton shaking hands with President John Kennedy. Although the Clinton camp used the media to advance a positive image, they also understood and respected the press' ability to tear down a candidate. Clinton advisor James Carville referred to the media as "The Beast." With this mindset, the Governor's staff was able to use technological advancements to keep tabs on the media at all times. This allowed for early reaction to negative stories on Clinton and minimal damage. While the Democratic nominee's camp excelled at media politics, George Bush was increasingly criticized on every front by the press.
With a floundering Bush and a questionable Clinton as the only choices, a new contender entered the race. Ross Perot brought a "no nonsense" style to the campaign. He had organized a new coalition of disgruntled voter's. In a grass-roots effort, Perot founded the Reform Party. His substantial financial resources gained him instant credibility and allowed him to wage an expensive media campaign. He also made a memorable appearance on Larry King Live. Perot hurt his chances by dropping out of the race in July after becoming offended by the media's attacking style. The Texas businessman returned to the fray in October and regained some stature when he fought his way into the debates.
By November, all three candidates had been beaten and batter by the media and the debates had not put forth a clear front-runner. When the voters finally cast their ballots, Bill Clinton won with only forty-three percent of the popular vote. George Bush received a disappointing thirty-eight percent, and Ross Perot shocked the nation with nineteen percent. In analyzing the results, this election was clearly about the American public's rejection of George Bush. Although he did not receive a resounding endorsement, Bill Clinton was able to achieve the difficult task of defeating a sitting President. In addition, Ross Perot's vote tally was huge for a third party candidate and supported the view that voters were not satisfied with the current administration.
In the end, Bill Clinton's ability to successfully handle the media opened the doors to the White House. He contained the negative story lines and used the media attention to get his own message out. Clinton's media skills allowed him to gain just enough support to capitalize on Bush's poor public perception.