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1996: Chaos

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From the autobiography of Dick Morris -


Colin Powell had just published his memoir. The President was worried. Powell was leading him in the polls, but he was a phantom, presenting nothing that could be attacked.

I was bringing good news, however. Powell was pro-choice, for affirmative action, and favored some gun control. He didn't really have a party. Polls showed him way behind Dole in the race for the Republican nomination. "Congratulations," I told the President, "he can not win the nomination and so he can not run in the general - you've just won re-election."

Of course, I had overlooked a possibility ...

From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

Most agree that Powell had been strongly leaning towards not running for the Presidency, as well as declaring himself as a Republican (this despite the fact that he had voted for Kennedy and Johnson). The role of Alma, his wife, in this was well known.

History changed that terrible day in April. Alma was killed in a car accident. Colin, by all accounts, loved his wife deeply and her death hit him hard. He disappeared from public for a month. When he reappeared, it was obvious he was intent on running for President, all unease about seeking political office had disappeared.

His inclination was still to run as a Republican. It is not certain what changed his mind. What is known is that he had a closed door meeting with several influential Republican Party leaders on June. 12th. What happened there is still unknown. Some speculate that he was insulted personally, or perhaps became convinced that as a black man he couldn't win the Republican nomination. There is no evidence for this however.

It seems more probable that he simply took a look at the information. Polls of him running as a Republican against Clinton had him winning. But polls also had him well behind Dole for the Republican nomination. Advisers also warned him about the Bradley effect. Running as a Democrat would have put him up against a incumbent president, an impossible task in a primary.

The prudent thing might have been to wait until 2000 to run. Perhaps if his wife had not died he would have. But he was intent on running in '96.

From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

By fall of 1995, the race appeared to be taking form. President Clinton looked like he would be unopposed in the Democratic Primary. Bob Dole was a huge favorite in the Republican race, but he would face a large crowd of challengers. Colin Powell was as yet undeclared, but few doubted that he would run as an independent. Ross Perot was nowhere to be seen. The third parties were their usual irrelevant selves.

On October 1st, the first major nationwide poll with the 3 main candidates was published. The results:

Clinton: 32% Dole: 30% Powell: 30% Undecided/Other: 8%

It was a statistical three-way tie. The stage was now set.


Authors note: the above poll is closely based on an actual Gallup poll taken a little while before the date given here. It asked who people would vote for in a a race between Democrat Bill Clinton, Republican Bob Dole, and Independent Colin Powell. Here Powell does slightly better due to being more decisive at entering the campaign as well as a small sympathy bump for his wife dying.

Subsequent polls and voting results will be based actual polling data from the time (when applicable), and the candidates favorability ratings from the time period, of which there is a good breakdown between the different groups in the electorate available for each of the main candidates. All modified to fit the facts of TTL of course.

From the autobiography of Dick Morris -

The President's opinion of me appeared to have dropped as a result of my failure to predict Powell's run as an independent (he hadn't declared, but everyone could now see it coming). Nevertheless, I was still a great asset for him…

Dole had to focus on the Republican primaries; he had even resigned his Senate seat do to so. Powell was still undeclared. With some shrewd media buys and the free press available to an incumbent president, we were able to put out a positive image of the President, especially in what were expected to be crucial states...

The political battle with Congress over the government shutdown also helped. We turned Gingrich into our whipping boy and used him to smear all Republicans with, even Dole who was trying to stay as far away as he could…


From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

Clinton had clearly benefited from his showdown with Congress, and Dole was losing ground in the national polls as his Republican rivals attacked him. By late January, some analysts were even predicting that the Republican race was meaningless and that come November the election would be a two-man race between Clinton and Powell...

Aggregate Presidential Poll 01/31/96

Clinton: 35% Powell: 30% Dole: 26% Undecided/Other: 9%

News Clippings -


Feb. 13rd

Dole Barely Survives Iowa Strong Showings by Buchanan, Alexander

As expected, Bob Dole won the Iowa Caucus yesterday, gathering 24 percent of the vote. This must be regarded as a disappointing showing for Dole, whose air of inevitability has been critically punctured.

Building on his win in the Alaskan Straw Poll, firebrand Patrick Buchanan came in second with 23 percent of the vote. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the strong third-place finish of Lamar Alexander who pulled in 21 percent of the vote. Steve Forbes and Phil Gramm finished in a practical dead heat for fourth with a disappointing 8% each.

The Dole campaign must be concerned as the race now moves to notoriously underdog favoring New Hampshire…


Feb. 21st

Buchanan wins New Hampshire Dole second, Alexander third

Pat Buchanan pulled off a surprise victory in the New Hampshire primary yesterday, winning 30 percent of the vote. Bob Dole barely hung on for second place over Lamar Alexander, 24% to 23%.

With Steve Forbes positioned to win the Delaware primary in three days, one wonders what the future of the Dole campaign is…�


Feb. 25th

Dole Wins Delaware Dejected Forbes to announce withdraw

In a surprise victory that supporters hope will reinvigorate his campaign, Bob Dole won the Delaware primary with 34 percent of the vote to Steve Forbes' 28 percent. The Forbes campaign, which had counted on winning the state, is now expected to announce a withdraw from the race shortly.


Feb. 28th

Banner Day for Dole

Bob Dole swept the three primaries today: Arizona, South Dakota, and North Dakota. His campaign now believes they have rebuilt their air of inevitability that was lost in New Hampshire. This is likely premature however, as Pat Buchanan had strong second place showings in all 3 states. It now appears the Republican nomination has become a two-man race.


March 3rd

Buchanan Wins South Carolina

Just when things were starting to look up for Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan has handed him another setback by wining the South Carolina primary. Rhetoric had heated up between the two, and the state saw the hardest campaigning of the presidential season yet. Buchanan's narrow victory, 37 percent to 35 percent, likely means that the race will now become a protracted one. Republicans had hoped to avoid that, as President Clinton has been unopposed, and Colin Powell looms as well…


March 6th

Super Tuesday a Victory for Dole Buchanan wins Georgia

Bob Dole won seven of the eight states up for grabs yesterday, with Pat Buchanan managing a win only in Georgia. This would seem to all but clinch the nomination for Dole…

From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election - The strong challenge from Buchanan had been unexpected. With Powell looming over the proceedings, it was thought by many in the Republican base that a true social conservative would be needed in the general election, in order to draw a clear distinction from the other two candidates. This seems to have been what fueled Buchanan's rise. It gave Dole no choice but to move to the right during the Republican campaign.

Dole still had the money and the support of the party bosses to win the longer than expected race. It was clear after Super Tuesday that Dole would win the nomination. It was also clear that Buchanan could keep on campaigning and win a state here or there, and perhaps critically wound Dole for the general election. This likely lead to the deal that saw Buchanan surprisingly drop out of the race two days after Super Tuesday, and not so surprisingly, later receive the Republican vice-presidential nomination.

Meanwhile Colin Powell had shrewdly announced his official candidacy shortly after Dole's defeat in New Hampshire, and had received a round of favorable coverage from the press…�

Aggregate Presidential Poll 03/10/96

Powell: 35% Clinton: 33% Dole: 24% Undecided/Other: 8%


From the autobiography of Dick Morris -

I had warned the President that whenever Powell got around to officially declaring his candidacy that he would receive a bump in the polls, but the President was still quite upset. Other of his advisors seized the opportunity to poison the President's mind against me, and forced me out of his inner circle. In effect, I was fired.

It was only natural then that I join Powell's campaign staff…

From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

The time from mid-March until the party conventions in August were relatively uneventful, especial compared to what came later. It was too early for the public to pay that much attention to the race, and they were experiencing news fatigue anyways after the Republican primary and the excitement of Powell's entry. Nevertheless, many important events transpired during this time.

Perhaps the most important of these events was Powell's decision to pick Ohio Governor George Voinovich as his running mate. The campaign had hoped to pick a moderate Democrat for the VP slot, but all of the top choices were uninterested. The search then turned to independent and Republican candidates. Voinovich meet many of the campaign's wish items: he was a moderate (or could be presented as one), had solid economic credentials as the man who had turned around Ohio's economy, hadn't taken any real positions on a variety of national issues which left room for maneuver open, and had government, but non-D.C, experience. Of course, being a popular governor of a key state didn't hurt…�

It appears that it was during this team that Perot was convinced by advisors that with Powell in the race there was no room for another independent candidate…�

Aggregate Presidential Poll 08/01/96

Clinton: 35% Powell: 30% Dole: 26% Undecided/Other: 9%


From the autobiography of Dick Morris -

… Voinovich wasn't a perfect pick of course, there were a few problems. His positions were generally acceptable, but he had taken an anti-abortion stance in the past. We were able to modify this to supporting abortion rights with reasonable restrictions, which of course was the line Powell was taking.

I'm a believer though that the Vive-President pick doesn't matter much as long as he doesn't make any big mistakes. We hoped he could deliver Ohio though…

Powell had dropped in the polls as his honeymoon period ended and the public realized he was a real person and not some sort of political messiah. This was only to be expected, and we launched our "leader with vision and integrity" campaign in hopes of making ground back up.

I was also taking a long look at the electoral map. We really needed to win some big states. Winning the eight largest states (California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan) would get us to 228 electoral votes and almost to the majority. This fit well with our mass-media strength, raising money had been no problem, but local level organization was still lagging. We deiced to focus then on the largest states, California in particular was absolutely critical…

From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

August election news was dominated by the political convention of the Republican and Democratic parties. The Republicans meet first in San Diego, and affirmed the presumptive nominee, Bob Dole. They also announced the worst kept secret in politics, that Pat Buchanan would be the vice president nominee. Strangely, Dole did not experience the bump in the polls that is customary after a convention. Most attribute this to reaction to Buchanan's speech…

The Democrats met two weeks later in Chicago. Although television networks grew impatient with the convention's tendency to run behind schedule, the convention was in general more of a success than the Republican one. President Clinton did experience the customary bump in the polls…

Aggregate Presidential Poll 09/01/96

Clinton: 39% Powell: 26% Dole: 26% Undecided/Other: 9%

From the autobiography of Dick Morris-

August was a tough month for our campaign. The President's post-convention bump came largely at our expense. It put the President in position to run away with the race, and it threatened to put us behind Dole in the polls, something that would likely be fatal to our chances to ever mount a comeback. We badly needed a public relations coup, and the incompetent campaigns of the President and Dole handed one to us on a silver platter…�


From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

The election saw perhaps the most wrangling over debates in modern history. Word leaked on Sept. 6th that the Clinton and Dole campaigns were working on putting a series of debates together, debates which would exclude Powell from participating. The public reacted poorly to this and it helped to reinvigorate Powell's campaign…

The three candidates only managed to get together for a single debate. It was in St. Louis on Oct. 3rd and hosted by PBS' Jim Lehrer. The debate was generally regarded as lackluster, and was highlighted by an argument between Clinton and Powell over who could best implement "sensible" reforms. It wasn't exactly clear what either meant by the term however.

Clinton was generally considered to have won the debate, but it appears that it actually benefited Powell the most. He was able to show that he could hold his own on stage against Clinton, and he came across well in comparison to Dole who seemed a bit enfeebled in comparison…�


Aggregate Presidential Poll 10/07/96

Clinton: 33% Powell: 30% Dole: 25% Undecided/Other: 12%

From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

As October moved on the populace was subjected to an intense barrage of ads from all three of the main candidates. The result was unexpected; the biggest effect of the ads was to raise the percentage of undecided voters...

The shape of the race had pretty much been set. Dole, although not particularly a staunch social conservative himself, was left with social conservatives and loyal Republicans. Powell was strong with independents and Republican moderates. Clinton was strong with liberals and loyal Democrats. The biggest battle seemed to be if Powell could draw a significant number of Democratic moderates away from Clinton…

The Powell campaign had made a sustained outreach to African-American voters, but most were sticking with the President. Polls constantly showed Clinton with a 2-1 lead in black voters over Powell, with Dole barely registering.


Aggregate Presidential Poll 10/18/96

Clinton: 33% Powell: 28% Dole: 24% Undecided/Other: 15%


From the autobiography of Dick Morris-

We were still trailing the President in the polls, and I was growing increasingly alarmed at the electoral college picture. Our internal polling showed not a single state that we could count on for a victory, whereas the President and Dole both had states in the safe category. We were in danger of finishing second in every state.

We did count states worth 178 electoral votes as in play for us and the President, states with 60 votes in play for us and Dole, and states worth 108 electoral votes in play for all three candidates. What this meant was that we had to win nearly every state in which we had a chance.

We badly needed an October surprise. Fortunately, I knew where we could get one…

Editorial -

Should the Lewinsky scandal affect your vote?

The scandal has dominated press coverage over the last week and pundits on all sides have reacted hysterically. Let's take a minute to review the actual facts that we know.

The scandal broke when Linda Tripp released phone recordings of Monica Lewinsky and herself in which Lewinsky admitted to sexual encounters with the President. President Clinton at first refused to comment and then denied the accusations. Lewinsky has refused comment and apparently gone into hiding. Therefore, what we are left with isn't so much a "he said - she said", but a "he said - she was previously recorded as saying."

Personally, I do not doubt the allegations at all, though there is nothing now that could be termed proof. The question however is should our votes be influenced by these revelations. I don't think they should. After all, we all knew that Clinton had these failings; did we not learn anything from his past scandals? If you were going to vote for him, I don't see how this changes anything…�


From the autobiography of Dick Morris-

The scandal had hurt the President, but it likely wasn't enough, the electoral picture still looked bleak…

Then Perot decide to endorse our campaign. We had been working on him for a long time. Many of his trade views were more in line with the positions the Dole campaign had adopted. Our campaign had tried to strike a careful course between free trade and protectionist rhetoric, which was another example of our campaign's attempt to claim the middle ground.

Nevertheless, Perot was worried about the extremism on social issues that the Dole campaign had adopted and he had a bone to pick with the major parties. His endorsement would be a big help…

From the autobiography of Dick Morris-

We set up our result watching party in Sacramento and prepared for a very long night. The latest polls showed us in a dead heat with the President, but we hoped that the undecideds would break our way…�

East coast results started to come in and they were a bit disappointing. Virginia was close, but it looked like we were going to lose it to Dole, which was an unpleasant surprise. We looked good for Vermont and New Hampshire, but Maine and Connecticut were to close to call, and more importantly, so was Florida. Clinton picked up New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, none of which were surprising, but still a bit disappointing.

Our prospects picked up with the next round of projections. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and surprisingly Mississippi would go our way. The President would win Illinois and Louisiana though, and Michigan was too close to call. We then got news we would win the classic bellwether state of Missouri, but it looked like Texas would go narrowly for Dole, after which I knew we weren't going to achieve an electoral majority.

We picked up steam as the projections moved west, but it wasn't going to be enough. We weren't going to win tonight…�


News Update Desk -

"It's currently 2 A.M. on the East Coast, this is truly one long election night. We can now project the state of Alaska for Senator Dole. This brings his projected electoral vote total to 103. President Clinton leads with 159, and Mr. Powell is in second with 133.

Some states are still too close to call, as other networks have found out the hard way. Georgia is tight between Powell and Dole, whereas Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Tennessee, Florida, Oregon, and California are all still too close to call between Clinton and Powell. What this all means is that President Clinton and Mr. Powell both still have a chance to win an electoral majority.

In the national popular vote, we can now project Powell as the winner with approximately 36.8% of the vote compared to 35.1% for Clinton, and 26.7% for Dole."

Nov. 6th Evening News -


"We have breaking news. Tennessee can now be placed in President Clinton's category. Clinton eked out a victory over Powell 35.52% to 34.49%, a margin of only 586 votes. This close results triggers an automatic recount. Assuming this results holds up for Clinton, he still has a chance to form a majority in the Electoral College. With only California not decided, the electoral total stands at 225 for Clinton, 143 for Powell, and 116 for Dole.


From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

… therefore the election came down to California. The vote was very close between Clinton and Powell. If Clinton won the state, he would win the Electoral College, with a mere 35% of the popular vote, which would be the lowest popular vote percentage for a candidate to win the Electoral College in history.

The public eagerly awaited the result, but it would be some time in coming. California had often been slow in counting early and absentee ballots, but it had never before mattered that much...

One of the many interesting results of the election was shown in Nebraska and Maine. They are the only two states the do not follow a winner take all system. The winner of the state gets two electoral votes, but the others go to the winner of each Congressional District. For the first time the winner of each of these sates did not win every district, and so their votes were split. Powell won both states (Maine was very close), but Dole picked up Nebraska's third district and Clinton won Maine's first district.

From the autobiography of Dick Morris-

It wasn't until November 11th that California was ready to declare Powell the winner of the state. The President of course demanded an immediate recount even though the margin was outside the margin for an automatic recount in the state regulations. That would not end until the 15th, and Powell still came out on top…

The election would now shift to the House of Representatives. That didn't offer much hope for our campaign…�


Final Election Stats

Electoral Vote - 538

Clinton - 225 - 41.8% Powell - 197 - 36.6% Dole - 116 - 21.6%

National Popular Vote - 103,498,457

Powell - 38,125,209 - 36.8% Clinton - 36,377,638 - 35.1% Dole - 27,628,396 - 26.7% Other - 1,367,214 - 1.3%

States Won: 51 (D.C. included)

Clinton - 20 Powell - 20 Dole - 11


Smallest Victory

Tennessee - Clinton over Powell by .03%


Highest Percentage Victory

Washington D.C. - Clinton - 58.9%


Lowest Percentage Victory

North Carolina - Dole - 34.4%

From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -


The congressional races were nearly as interesting as the presidential race. 1994 had been a banner year for Republicans, and 1996, as expected, generally saw a bounce back for Democrats.

In the Senate, this was obscured by the rotating nature of the elections, and the Republicans picked up two seats to increase their majority to 55-45. The picture was different in the House of Representatives however, as the Democrats threaten to retake the chamber. They picked up 16 seats, but in the end, the Democrats failed to topple the Republican majority. The final tally was 220-215.*

In the presidential race, when no one wins a majority of the electoral vote, the election goes to the House of Representatives. The vote then is by state instead of by representative, so it's necessary to take a look at the state delegation breakdown. The Republicans controlled 26 delegations, the exact number needed to be selected as President. Democrats controlled 21 delegations, and 3 were split. (See map on the next page). This gave Dole the inside track for the presidency, despite finishing third in both the popular and electoral vote.

The Vice-President selection falls to the Senate in this situation, but they are only to choose between the top two vice-presidential candidates in the electoral vote. This caused a weird situation where the party in the majority did not have their party's candidate up for the vote. The Republican majority would have to decide between Gore and former Republican but Independent candidate Voinovich...

From the autobiography of Dick Morris-


It looked like we might be able to get Voinovich in as the Vice-President, if we could convince the Republicans in the Senate…�

Our campaign tried to win support in the House, but we had no hope of success. Some strange things were happening though behind the scenes, things that I had nothing to do with…

News Article -

Dole Not Voted In - Deadlock Continues

Just when the country was braced for a third place candidate wining the presidency, House Republicans suffered a defeat. Republicans control 26 of the state delegations and therefore Dole's victory was assumed. However, their bid suffered from two defections.

Delaware's only representative, Michael Castle declined to vote. A moderate pro-choice Republican, Castle stated that he could not justify voting for Dole when his state had rejected him, but neither could he vote for Clinton. He hinted he might be open to voting for Powell if a genuine compromise movement arose.

The Republican's second defection came from Nevada. In a surprise move, freshmen Representative Jim Gibbons announced his support for Powell, citing his state's vote for him. This move split the two person Nevada delegation and thus prevented them from voting.

These defections left the vote at 24 for Dole, 21 for Clinton, and 5 non-votes. Thus Dole came up two states short of the needed 26 to win the presidency. Two more votes were held afterwards, with the same results...


Editorial -

The Six Men who could be President

Yesterday's surprise vote by the House of Representatives has thrown the whole presidential picture into chaos. Dole's victory no longer seems certain. Let's take a look at the ways in which six different men could now be president.

Dole - This is the simplest outcome. If the Republicans get their defections back, they do control 26 House delegations and they can vote him into office.

Powell - If the House remains deadlocked, perhaps Powell could emerge as the compromise candidate. He did win the popular vote after all.

Clinton - The House could vote him back into office, although with the Republicans controlling 26 state delegations, it is hard to see how this would happen.

Gore - The Senate votes for the vice-president. If the House remains unable to come to a decision, the Senate's choice will become acting president. Without a Republican candidate, perhaps Gore could persuade the Senate to vote for him.

Voinovich - Or perhaps the Senate could be persuaded to vote for the former Republican governor turned independent.

Gingrich - If the House and the Senate both fail to elect someone, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich will become acting president on Jan. 20th. Hopefully this scenario does not happen…

From Chaos: A History of the 1996 Presidential Election -

The House's failure to select a president put more pressure on the Senate, which had been hoping to avoid voting on the vice-presidency until the House had decided the presidency. Gathering on Monday, they managed what the house did not, coming to a successful conclusion to their appointed responsibility on the first ballot.

By a 52 to 45 vote, with 3 Republicans abstaining, the Senate made George Voinovich Vice-President Elect. For the Republicans, he was their preferred candidate over Vice-President Gore. (Buchanan was ineligible because he was not in the top two for electoral votes for vice-president). The Democrats did not have the votes to appoint Gore, but they did have enough to boycott and prevent a quorum if they had wished. The prospect of President Gingrich (no matter how short lived his reign may be) may have caused them to bow to the inevitable.

The focus then shifted back to the House, and word came that Representative Gibbons would change his vote and support Dole. This give Dole the support of 25 state delegations, and the pressure aimed at Representative Michael Castle had to be getting very intense…�


Jan. 9th - News Article

Third Place's a Charm: Dole becomes President-Elect Voinovich to be Vice-president

Senator Dole, who finished in third place in both the popular vote and the electoral vote, was selected by the House yesterday to be the next president. This success was made possible by the return of Representatives Gibbons and Castle to the Republican Party's wishes.

"We had no choice," Castle said. "If we hadn't selected a candidate, it could have gridlocked the whole government and caused a constitutional crises. Dole was the only one who was in a position to win the vote and so I had to support him."

This came after the decision by the Senate earlier in the day that made independent candidate George Voinovich the Vice-President Elect. This produces the unusual situation of a vice-president who had not run on the president's ticket. The conflict should be minimal however, as Voinovich was a Republican until his decision to run with Powell, and was considered a candidate to be the Republican's vice-president candidate before Buchanan gained the spot...


From the autobiography of Dick Morris-

So my campaign to win Powell the presidency was not successful. I took solace in the fact that it was the most successful run for an independent candidate ever. Of course, gaining the vice-presidency was an amusing turn of events.

The maneuvering in the House was very weird. Did Gibbons and Castle not know the rules? Did they hold out to extract some sort of political concessions? My favorite theory is that Gingrich organized their defection in an attempt to gain the acting-presidency for himself. We'll probably never know…�


The End

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