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1988 Presidential Elections - History

1988 Presidential Elections - History

1988 Elections Bush vs Dukakais

Vice President George H. W. Bush faced challenges from both Senator Dole and Reverend Pat Robertson. While Bush finished an embarrassing third place in Iowa, he recovered. Bush forced his opponents to withdraw after he won most of the contests on Super Tuesday. Thus, Bush was unopposed at the Republican convention in New Orleans. The only matter of contention at the 1988 Republican convention was Bushís decision to select Senator Quayle to be his running mate. This decision was widely criticized. Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts quickly became the Democratic front-runner. Gary Hart withdrew due to allegations of sexual improprieties, and Mario Cuomo, of New York, refused to run. One by one, Dukakis' opponents withdrew. When the convention took place in Atlanta, only Jesse Jackson remained. Dukakis won on the first ballot, after receiving 2,876 votes, compared to Jacksonís 1,218. Dukakis chose Senator Lloyd Benson of Texas as his vice-presidential running mate.

When the campaign began, Governor Dukakis held a clear lead over Vice President Bush. Then, the Republicans successfully attacked Dukakis in several ways. One of the most notable criticisms was an attack on Dukakis surrounding the furlough release of Willie Horton, an African American convicted of murder. Horton was released on a weekend furlough from prison while Dukakis was governor. Bush stated: "Don't let murders out on vacation to terrorize innocent people... Dukakis owes the people an explanation of why he supported this outrageous program".

The Republicans then went on to sponsor a series of television ads with pictures of Horton and the related crime scenes, claiming it was Dukakis who had let that happen. The fact that Dukakis' Republican predecessor started the program, and that while President Reagan had been governor of California it had been instituted there as well, was not mentioned. This and other attack ads were very effective. Governor Dukakis was not a very effective campaigner. He hurt his campaign badly when, at a debate, Dukakis stated he would not advocate the death penalty for someone who had raped and murdered his wife. Consequently, George Bush won by a large margin.

State results in 1988

Electoral Results in 1988

AlabamaGeorge Bush815,57659.2Michael Dukakais549,50639.9
AlaskaGeorge Bush119,25159.6Michael Dukakais72,58436.3
ArizonaGeorge Bush702,54160.0Michael Dukakais454,02938.7
ArkansasGeorge Bush466,57856.4Michael Dukakais349,23742.2
CaliforniaGeorge Bush5,054,91751.1Michael Dukakais4,702,23347.6
ColoradoGeorge Bush728,17753.1Michael Dukakais621,45345.3
ConnecticutGeorge Bush750,24152.0Michael Dukakais676,58446.9
DelawareGeorge Bush139,63955.9Michael Dukakais108,64743.5
FloridaGeorge Bush2,618,88560.9Michael Dukakais1,656,70138.5
GeorgiaGeorge Bush1,081,33159.8Michael Dukakais714,79239.5
HawaiiGeorge Bush158,62544.8Michael Dukakais192,36454.3
IdahoGeorge Bush253,88162.1Michael Dukakais147,27236.0
IllinoisGeorge Bush2,310,93950.7Michael Dukakais2,215,94048.6
IndianaGeorge Bush1,297,76359.8Michael Dukakais860,64339.7
IowaGeorge Bush545,35544.5Michael Dukakais670,55754.7
KansasGeorge Bush554,04955.8Michael Dukakais422,63642.6
KentuckyGeorge Bush734,28155.5Michael Dukakais580,36843.9
LouisianaGeorge Bush883,70254.3Michael Dukakais717,46044.1
MaineGeorge Bush307,13155.3Michael Dukakais243,56943.9
MarylandGeorge Bush876,16751.1Michael Dukakais826,30448.2
MassachusettsGeorge Bush1,194,63545.4Michael Dukakais1,401,41553.2
MichiganGeorge Bush1,965,48653.6Michael Dukakais1,675,78345.7
MinnesotaGeorge Bush962,33745.9Michael Dukakais1,109,47152.9
MississippiGeorge Bush557,89059.9Michael Dukakais363,92139.1
MissouriGeorge Bush1,084,95351.8Michael Dukakais1,001,61947.8
MontanaGeorge Bush190,41252.1Michael Dukakais168,93646.2
NebraskaGeorge Bush397,95660.2Michael Dukakais259,23539.2
NevadaGeorge Bush206,04058.9Michael Dukakais132,73837.9
Now HampshireGeorge Bush281,53762.4Michael Dukakais163,69636.3
New JerseyGeorge Bush1,743,19256.2Michael Dukakais1,320,35242.6
Now MexicoGeorge Bush270,34151.9Michael Dukakais244,49746.9
New YorkGeorge Bush3,081,87147.5Michael Dukakais3,347,88251.6
North CarolinaGeorge Bush1,237,25858.0Michael Dukakais890,16741.7
North DakotaGeorge Bush166,55956.0Michael Dukakais127,73943.0
OhioGeorge Bush2,416,54955.0Michael Dukakais1,939,62944.1
OklahomaGeorge Bush678,36757.9Michael Dukakais483,42341.3
OregonGeorge Bush560,12646.6Michael Dukakais616,20651.3
PennsylvaniaGeorge Bush2,300,08750.7Michael Dukakais2,194,94448.4
Rhode IslandGeorge Bush177,76143.9Michael Dukakais225,12355.6
South CarolinaGeorge Bush606,44361.5Michael Dukakais370,55437.6
South DakotaGeorge Bush165,41552.8Michael Dukakais145,56046.5
TennesseeGeorge Bush947,23357.9Michael Dukakais679,79441.5
TexasGeorge Bush3,036,82956.0Michael Dukakais2,352,74843.3
UtahGeorge Bush428,44266.2Michael Dukakais207,34332.0
VermontGeorge Bush124,33151.1Michael Dukakais115,77547.6
VirginiaGeorge Bush1,309,16259.7Michael Dukakais859,79939.2
WashingtonGeorge Bush903,83548.5Michael Dukakais933,51650.0
West VirginiaGeorge Bush310,06547.5Michael Dukakais341,01652.2
WisconsinGeorge Bush1,047,49947.8Michael Dukakais1,126,79451.4
WyomingGeorge Bush106,86760.5Michael Dukakais67,11338.0
Dist. of Col.George Bush27,59014.3Michael Dukakais159,40782.6


1988 United States elections

The 1988 United States elections were held on November 8 and elected the members of the 101st United States Congress. The Republican Party retained the presidency, while the Democratic Party retained control of Congress.

In the 1988 presidential election, Republican Vice President George H. W. Bush defeated Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. [1] Bush won the popular vote by just under eight points, and won 426 of the 538 electoral votes. Bush won the Republican nomination over Kansas Senator Bob Dole and televangelist Pat Robertson of Virginia. Dukakis won the Democratic nomination over Reverend Jesse Jackson of Illinois, Tennessee Senator Al Gore, and Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt. Bush's victory remains the only time since Harry S. Truman's victory in the 1948 presidential election in which either party won more than two consecutive presidential elections.

Neither the Senate nor the House saw any significant partisan change, and the Democratic Party retained control of both chambers. In the gubernatorial elections, the Democratic Party picked up one governorship.

1988 United States presidential election in New York

The 1988 United States presidential election in New York took place on November 8, 1988, as part of the 1988 United States presidential election. Voters chose 36 representatives, or electors to the Electoral College, who voted for president and vice president.

New York was won by Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts with 51.62% of the popular vote over Republican Vice President George H. W. Bush of Texas, who took 47.52%, a victory margin of 4.10%. [1]

1988 would mark the end of an era in New York's political history. Since the 1940s, New York had been a Democratic-leaning swing state, usually voting Democratic in close elections, but often by small margins. Republicans would dominate much of upstate New York and populated suburban counties like Nassau County, Suffolk County, and Westchester County. However, they would be narrowly outvoted statewide by the fiercely Democratic and massively populated New York City area, along with some upstate cities like Buffalo, Albany, and the college town of Ithaca. This pattern would endure in 1988 for the final time, allowing Bush to keep the race fairly close, only losing the state to Dukakis by 4%. As a result, 1988 was the last time in the state's history that New York was considered both a swing state, and decided by a single digit margin.

Dukakis’ statewide victory is largely attributable to winning four of five boroughs of New York City overall with 66.2% of the vote. However even though losing the city in a landslide, Bush's 32.8% of the vote was a relatively respectable showing for a Republican in NYC, particularly in retrospect. In the 6 elections that have followed 1988, Republican presidential candidates have received only 17 to 24% of the vote in New York City.

This was the last election in which a Republican presidential nominee won heavily populated Nassau and Westchester Counties, as well as Monroe, Onondaga, and Ulster Counties, [2] and also the last election in which New York was decided by a single-digit margin. Beginning in 1992, the Democrats would make substantial inroads in the suburbs around New York City as well as parts of upstate, making New York a solid blue state that has gone Democratic by double-digit margins in every election since.

1988 Presidential Elections - History

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  • In West Virginia, One Dukakis Elector cast her vote for Lloyd Bensten (President) and Michael Dukakis (Vice President).
  • Electoral Vote Map Note: there is no implied geographical significance as to the location of the shaded areas for West Virginia's split electoral votes.

© Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Elections, LLC 2019 All Rights Reserved

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Republican Party Candidates:

  • Ronald Reagan, President of the United States from California.
  • George H. W. Bush, Vice President of the United States from Texas.
  • Bob Dole, United States Senator from Kansas.

Toward the end of 1987, Reagan had announced his plans for a third term. However, there were many doubts, both about his age and the fact no one had run for a third term since FDR.  Vice President George Bush had been planning to run, and he and Senator Bob Dole had many supporters among moderates who considered Reagan to be a far-right extremist. After Reagan announced his candidacy, Bush had resigned from the ticket to run against Reagan in the primaries.  The primaries were long and harsh, as Reagan argued that he would lead the country to more greatness, as the Cold War was winding down and the economy was booming, while Bush argued that presidents should only be limited to two terms and Reagan was too much of a radical.  In the end, Reagan was helped by the economy and the dying Cold War and won every single state except Texas and Bob Dole's home state of Kansas. He chose Senator Phil Gramm of Texas to be his new running mate.

Democratic Party Candidates:

  • Ted Kennedy, United States Senator from Massachusetts
  • Michael Dukakis, Governor of Massachusetts
  • Jesse Jackson, Reverend and Civil Rights leader from South Carolina
  • Mario Cuomo, Governor of New York
  • Jerry Brown, former Governor of California
  • Al Gore, United States Senator from Tennessee
  • Joe Biden, United States Senator from Delaware
  • Lyndon LaRouche, activist from Virginia

After losing in a massive landslide in the 1984 presidential election, the Democratic Party leaders were becoming desperate to find a candidate who could beat Reagan.  They still controlled both houses of Congress, and were determined to use this control to win the presidency. From the beginning of the primaries the favorite was Massachusetts Senator, brother of deceased president John Kennedy, and 1980 Democratic candidate, Ted Kennedy.  He, like Walter Mondale, advertised traditional New Deal-Great Society ideals and principles.  His main opponent was another man from Massachusetts, Governor Michael Dukakis. Dukakis argued that the old New Deal-Great Society ideas had lost them the last election and they needed to provide a new image of the Democrats to the public. His campaign, however, suffered from many miscues, and Ted Kennedy's popularity as John F. Kennedy's brother won him the nomination in 35 out of 50 states.  He chose fellow candidate Jerry Brown to be his running mate.

Thank you!

The then-44-year-old Senator was great at giving inspiring speeches and people were attracted to his youthful energy, but he could also come off like a “hothead,” as he did in his “angry” questioning of Secretary of State George Shultz when the Senate heard testimony about South Africa in 1986. His position in the Senate offered him a chance to show his skill. In particular, as Biden chaired the Judiciary Committee, he hoped to gained more national attention during the uproar over polarizing conservative Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Biden, in charge of the confirmation hearings, oversaw what was seen as potentially “the culminating ideological showdown of the Reagan era,” as TIME put it back then. “For Chairman Biden, the hearings could provide a spark for his presidential campaign by giving him a chance to show his mettle in front of a national television audience.”

But Biden didn’t get a chance to shine during the Bork hearings in the way he had hoped.

A few days before they began, video surfaced that spliced together footage of U.K. Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock giving a speech and Biden clearly quoting Kinnock at the Iowa State Fair without attribution. More examples of misattribution came to light, and the plagiarism scandal became more memorable than his leadership during the Bork confirmation hearing. His mouth &mdash or rather, what he failed to say &mdash got him in trouble again.

Here’s how TIME described why the fallout was so intense:

[T]he Biden brouhaha illustrates the six deadly requirements for a crippling political scandal.

1) A Pre-Existing Subtext. “The basic rap against Biden,” explains Democratic Pollster Geoff Garin, “is that he’s a candidate of style, not substance.”

2) An Awkward Revelation. The Kinnock kleptomania was particularly damaging to Biden since it underscored the prior concerns that he was a shallow vessel for other people’s ideas.

3) A Maladroit Response. Top Aide Tom Donilon claimed that Biden failed to credit Kinnock because “he didn’t know what he was saying. He was on autopilot.”

4) The Press Piles On. Once textual fidelity became an issue, reporters found earlier cases in which Biden had failed to give proper citation to Humphrey and Robert Kennedy. By themselves these transgressions would not have been worth noting.

5) The Discovery of Youthful Folly. During his first months at Syracuse University Law School, in 1965, Biden failed a course because he wrote a paper that used five pages from a published law-review article without quotation marks or a proper footnote. Since Biden was allowed to make up the course, the revelation was front-page news only because it kept the copycat contretemps alive.

6) An Overwrought Press Conference. With a rambling and disjointed opening statement, Biden failed to reap the benefits of public confession, even though he called himself “stupid” and his actions “a mistake.” Part of the problem is that he contradicted himself by also insisting that it was “ludicrous” to attribute every political idea.

The “final blow” for the campaign came when Newsweek unearthed C-SPAN footage of Biden rattling off his academic accomplishments, including saying that he graduated in the top half of his law school, when in fact, he ranked 76th out of 85.

Biden announced he was dropping out of the race on Sept. 24, 1987. (To make things even, Biden later jokingly gave Kinnock some of his speeches to use “with or without attribution” during a January 1988 trip to Europe.) About twenty years later, in his 2008 memoir Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, he wrote that the plagiarism scandal was his own fault. “When I stopped trying to explain to everybody and thought it through, the blame fell totally on me,” he wrote. “Maybe the reporters traveling with me had seen me credit Kinnock over and over, but it was Joe Biden who forgot to credit Kinnock at the State Fair debate.”

Barrett helped break the news that the Kinnock attack video had come from the campaign of one of Biden’s main opponents, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Paul Tully, a top aide to Dukakis, denied, on the record, that the video had come from the campaign, and Barrett says Tully expressed disbelief that the story would run anyway when they saw each other in Iowa. “I told you we were doing this story,” Barrett recalls telling Tully. “He looked at me as if I had done something awful.” Dukakis at first denied the story when the magazine hit newsstands, but hours later took back his denial. It was a particular embarrassment for the man known as the “straight arrow” candidate because of his “positive campaigning” tactics. Two of his aides stepped down: John Sasso, who leaked the video, and Tully, for lying to TIME.

The public was equally outraged.

Letters to the editor published in TIME offer a glimpse at the public reaction, finding neither Biden nor Dukakis to be honest or trustworthy. “Biden lied in situations in which it was not necessary or relevant,” wrote a Los Angeles reader. “I am alarmed that neither candidate viewed these acts as immoral and representative of his character.” Another reader was alarmed about a year later when Dukakis rehired Sasso after his campaign started to “tank,” literally &mdash a goofy photo of him posing in a military tank was turned into an ad that painted Dukakis as not taking national security issues seriously enough. When the election rolled around, Republican George H.W. Bush won. “Dukakis might have been spared some of [his] mistakes had Sasso been at his elbow,” Barrett recalls many thinking.

Biden’s short-lived 1988 campaign would end up having long-lasting effect on future political campaigns and political journalism, with Walter Shapiro arguing in a December 1987 TIME essay that it had helped turn political reporters into “character cops” who trade in “paparazzi politics and pop psychology.”

And for Biden, there was a silver lining to being driven out of the race: It saved his life. In February of 1988, he had a headache that turned out to be a brain aneurysm. He had surgery, and he had to have surgery again in the spring when a second smaller aneurysm formed. “There is no doubt &mdash the doctors have no doubt &mdash that had I remained in the race, I’d be dead,” he told TIME later that fall, at his first event since the aneurysms. He also joked that “The good news is that I can do anything I did before. The bad news is that I can’t do anything better.”

When he’d had announced his candidacy back in 1987, TIME reported that he had asked his then-teenage son Hunter if he should run. “You should,” Hunter said. “If you don’t do it now, I couldn’t see you doing it some other time.”

Hunter Biden, of course, was wrong.

Biden ran for the Democratic nomination again in 2008. He didn’t secure the nomination, but went on to serve as Vice President of the United States under Barack Obama. In his eight years in the office, he built up a foreign policy portfolio that included the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal. Now he hopes his policy portfolios and his high poll numbers, not his past runs for the White House, will define his candidacy.

“The huge difference between now and 1988 is that Biden has much more of a cause now,” says Barrett. “In 󈨜 he couldn&rsquot really formulate why he was running. He didn’t have an ideological cause the way Reagan had a cause. Now we know why he&rsquos running. He thinks he&rsquos the guy who can defeat Trump.”

1988 Presidential election

Strangely, a man not even running for President received an electoral vote Lloyd Bentsen (Democratic Vice President Nominee) received one electoral vote from the state of West Virginia. Bush's victory was also a victory for the Republican Party, but the Democrats received a similar victory in that they retained control of both the House and the Senate. The presidential election as a whole was a negative race, with an abundance of personal attacks (mainly instigated by Bush). The election of Bush in 1988 confirmed the Republican domination of presidential politics for another four years. The Republican Primary was a race between Vice President George Bush and Senator Bob Dole because President Reagan had reached his term limit and could not run again.

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John Glenn, while not as popular as the previous president Robert Byrd, did not face any substantial criticism or primary challenges within his party. His term endeared many moderates and economically conservative independents to him, but alienated some members of the more liberal wing of the party. Operation Just Cause in particular was seen as a risky blow to his popularity in the party, with his vice president Jesse Jackson vocally stating his opposition to the decision.

Two unknown factors about the primary race were Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Governor Mario Cuomo of New York. Both potential candidates were publicly critical of the Glenn administration's slow response to combatting the influence of Wall Street brokers in the wake of Black Monday. Kennedy especially was very open about his consideration of a primary challenge. Notoriously, when asked about it, vice president Jackson didn't explicitly oppose such a primary. Although neither ended up running against Glenn, the fact that it was even considered put Glenn's re-election prospects into brief but severe doubt.

Former Mexican President Reveals ’88 Presidential Election Was Rigged

President Miguel de la Madrid governed Mexico for most of the 1980s, through one of its most painful economic crises, a devastating earthquake and a period of diplomatic tensions with the United States. But perhaps the most widely scrutinized act of his presidency came on the night in 1988 that his successor, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was elected.

In an autobiography that began circulating in Mexico this week, de la Madrid sheds more light on that dark night in Mexico’s history. What he reveals is not new, political analysts said. But in 850 pages, de la Madrid’s memoirs give the firmest confirmation to date of one of this country’s biggest open secrets: the presidential elections of 1988 were rigged.

Political analysts and historians have described that election as one of the most egregious examples of the fraud that allowed the Institutional Revolutionary Party to control this country for more than seven decades, and the beginning of the end of its authoritarian rule.

Initial results from areas around the capital showed that Salinas was losing badly to the opposition leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. “I felt like a bucket of ice water had fallen on me,” de la Madrid recalled. “I became afraid that the results were similar across the country and that the PRI would lose the presidency.”

Thus began the frantic staging of a fraudulent victory. In his writing of the event, the all-powerful former president chooses his words carefully and describes himself more like a supporting actor than the lead strategist. If he did anything wrong, it was on the advice of his staff, and for the stability of the nation.

On election night 1988, de la Madrid said, the secretary of the interior advised him that the initial results were running heavily against the PRI. The public demanded returns, de la Madrid wrote. And rather than giving them, the government lied and said that the computer system tabulating the votes had crashed.

This was the advice to de la Madrid from the president of the PRI: “You have to proclaim the triumph of the PRI. It is a tradition that we cannot break without causing great alarm among the citizens.”

The campaign

The 1988 campaign featured an open contest on both the Republican and Democratic sides, as Republican Pres. Ronald Reagan was entering the last year of his second term. Numerous contenders on the Democratic side entered the race. Commentators referred derisively to them as “The Seven Dwarfs.” They included former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, and Illinois Sen. Paul Simon. Three candidates who were somewhat more inspiring had decided not to run: former senator Gary Hart of Colorado, who dropped out because of a sex scandal, reentered the race and then dropped out for good New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who simply declined to run.

The Republicans, seeking a candidate who could match the stature and electability of Reagan, were similarly at a loss. The nominal front-runner, George Bush, suffered from a reputation as a “wimp” who in 22 years of public life—as a former representative, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and, for more than seven years, Reagan’s vice president—had failed to distinguish himself as anything more than a docile instrument of someone else’s policy. There were three interesting Republican alternatives: Bob Dole of Kansas, the Senate minority leader, who was respected for his wit and intelligence though considered by some to be overly acerbic former New York representative Jack Kemp, revered among many conservatives as Reagan’s true ideological heir and the Rev. Pat Robertson, a popular televangelist. None of the three, however, made it through the primary season.

Biden retired from the race after he was caught quoting, without credit, from the speeches of Neil Kinnock, the British Labour Party leader. Among the other Democrats, Babbitt, Simon, and Gephardt all dropped out along the way after failing to string together enough primary victories—or raise enough money—to continue. Babbitt, though he gained attention with a courageous promise to raise taxes to help reduce the swollen U.S. budget deficit, did not come across well on television. Simon’s characteristic bow tie and old-fashioned big-government approach to domestic problems failed to attract enough support. Gephardt managed to win the crucial Iowa caucuses, but his basic theme—trade protectionism—did not play well outside the Midwest.

That left Gore, Jackson, and Dukakis. Young, attractive, and Southern, with a reputation as a centrist, Gore appeared to have momentum after he won five Southern primaries on a single day, "Super Tuesday," March 8. Yet his campaign fizzled in New York, where he had unwisely accepted the backing of New York City’s controversial mayor, Ed Koch. When the votes were counted for the April 19 New York primary, Dukakis had finished first, providing a major impetus to his campaign. Dukakis, who was born and raised in Brookline, Mass., the son of Greek immigrants, went on to become the first Greek American nominated for the presidency. Jackson, who by then had the second highest delegate count and was the first African American to mount a serious presidential campaign, decided to continue running through the final four primaries, California, Montana, New Jersey, and New Mexico, on June 7.

When the Democrats convened in Atlanta in July to crown Dukakis as their nominee, Jackson made a behind-the-scenes effort to claim the vice presidency but soon relented, fearful of splitting the party along racial lines, and contented himself with winning a few planks favourable to minorities in the party platform. Dukakis instead chose Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen to be his running mate. The convention ended on a note of uncharacteristic harmony for the Democrats, whose ticket was soon as far as 17 percentage points ahead of the Republicans in opinion polls.

That lead did not last long. Bush, who had gotten off to a poor start in the primaries, finishing third in Iowa behind Robertson and Dole, made an impressive comeback. He outpolled Dole and Kemp in the February 16 New Hampshire vote and did well on Super Tuesday. On March 29, after Bush won the Illinois primary with 55 percent of the vote (Kemp had by then dropped out), Dole withdrew from the race, and Bush became the Republicans’ de facto nominee. That role was made official in August at the party’s convention in New Orleans, where Bush surprised many politicians by picking Dan Quayle, a young and relatively undistinguished Indiana senator, as his running mate.

Bush’s success in winning the nomination was more due to the strength of his organization than due to his ability to project a clear vision of what a Bush presidency would be like—a deficiency that the candidate himself referred to as "the vision thing." Trailing his Democratic opponent in the polls late in the summer, the vice president made a risky decision instead of stressing his qualifications for the job and his plans for the country, Bush would campaign against his opponent’s weaknesses. Accordingly, Bush’s speeches and campaign advertising focused on such ostensibly trivial issues as a Massachusetts prison furlough plan, Dukakis’s veto of a state law requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and Dukakis’s alleged failure to deal with pollution in Boston Harbor. More pressing national concerns—the federal deficit and a host of domestic and foreign policy questions—went largely unaddressed.

Though many commentators criticized the Bush approach as negative and trivial, it worked. (The most controversial ad of the campaign, the so-called Willie Horton ad featuring a felon who was let out on a weekend furlough in Massachusetts and subsequently assaulted and raped a woman, was considered racist by many but was actually run by an independent group rather than the Bush campaign.) By mid-August Bush had taken the lead in opinion polls. He never lost it, though Dukakis enjoyed a minor rebound after his vigorous performance in the first of two televised presidential debates. Much of Bush’s ultimate success could be traced to the relatively inept performance of the Dukakis camp, which was slow to respond to Bush’s attacks. As a result, the vice president was able to depict his opponent as a dangerous liberal. That was an unaccustomed accusation for Dukakis, whose three terms as governor had marked him as a moderate. Dukakis himself proved to be a passionless campaigner at crucial points in the race. One such moment came in the second debate, when he was asked by moderator Bernard Shaw whether he would still oppose capital punishment if his wife were raped and murdered. Instead of responding to that provocative question with outrage or earnestness, Dukakis delivered a cool, academic brief against the death penalty without once mentioning his wife’s name. A few days later the governor was as far as 17 points behind in one opinion poll.

The Dukakis effort finally caught fire in the last two weeks of the campaign. Embracing the "liberal" label and making a fiercely populist appeal, the governor began drawing huge, enthusiastic crowds. He even edged closer to Bush in the polls. By then, however, it was too late. On election day, November 8, Bush won 54 percent of the vote to Dukakis’s 46 percent. The vice president carried all but 10 states and the District of Columbia. That gave him a 426–112 margin in the electoral college. When the electoral college met in December, however, Dukakis received only l11 votes. Apparently in protest against the electoral college system, an elector from West Virginia, a state that Dukakis had won, chose Bentsen for president and Dukakis for vice president.

"The people have spoken," Bush said shortly after learning he had won. Nevertheless, in the minds of many Americans—and especially the Democrats, who retained control of Congress—Bush’s negative campaign had left a sour impression. Perhaps sensing those doubts, he attempted in his victory address to deal with "the vision thing" and reach out to those who had voted against him. "When I said I wanted a kinder and gentler nation, I meant it—and I mean it," he said. "My hand is out to you, and I want to be your president, too."

For the results of the previous election, see United States presidential election of 1984. For the results of the subsequent election, see United States presidential election of 1992.

Watch the video: The American Presidential Election of 1988 (January 2022).