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Alternate History

1996 U.S. Presidential Election (The Gipper Goes Down)

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Republicans

Demoralized after two straight losses to the Democrats in presidential elections, the Republicans had sensed a vulnerability in Clinton, especially following the 1994 Congressional elections. Due to the Republican Congressional leadership's miscalculations, however, Clinton recovered, and was the front-runner to obtain re-election in 1996. Jack Kemp decided not to enter the primaries, choosing instead to remain retired, as did his 1992 running mate Dick Cheney, then CEO of a major oil corporation based in Texas. Also Texas Governor George W. Bush son of former President George H.W. Bush decided not to join the race. However, conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan, Governor Pete Wilson of California, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Senators Phil Gramm and Ross Perot both from Texas and Richard Lugar (IN) entered the race, among others. In a close and often acrimonious contest, it was Alexander -- the plain-talking, plaid-wearing Senator and former Governor, university president, and Bush cabinet member -- who surprised all the pundits and emerged victorious. He had been seen as the more viable candidate over the polarizing Buchanan, the decidely uncharismatic Gramm, and the controversial Wilson. Desperately needing someone more conservative, younger, and more charismatic than himself to balance the ticket, he had privately selected Governor Wilson of California, but was over-ruled by his staff, which considered Wilson a risky pick (he was widely seen as anti-immigrant, and his pro-choice stance on abortion offended many conservative Republicans). In the end, Alexander tapped the former Senator from Missouri (and ordained Episcopalian minister) John Danforth. The latter's opposition to capital punishment was balanced out by a strong anti-abortion stance, and in the end he buoyed an otherwise lackluster formula battling long odds in attempting to unseat a popular President in peaceful and prosperous times.

Top-Finishers in the Republican Primaries

  • Lamar Alexander (nominee)
  • Pat Buchanan
  • Ross Perot
  • Phil Gramm
  • Steve Forbes

Democrats

President Clinton was renominated without any real opposition, as was Vice-President Gore.

Electoral College Result:

Clinton/Gore: 348

Alexander/Danforth: 190

Popular Result

Clinton/Gore: 51%

Alexander/Danforth : 47%

Clinton was re-elected in a context of peace and relative prosperity in America -- not to mention dissatisfaction on the part of many Americans with the Republican leadership that came to control Congress after the 1994 elections.

Congressional elections

Senate

Republican = 57

Democratic = 43

House

Republican = 245

Democratic = 190

See also

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