|‹ 1984 1992 ›|
|United States Presidential election, 1988|
|November 4, 1988|
|Candidate||Robert Redford||Frank Reed|
|Running mate||George Bush||Terry Connors|
|Red denotes Redford/Bush, Blue denotes Reed/Connors|
The United States Presidential election of 1988 was an open-primary contest for both parties, with outgoing incumbent Elizabeth Shannon having served the maximum of two terms. Vice President Robert Redford of the National Party defeated Pennsylvania Senator Francis "Frank" Reed of the Democratic Party in a huge landslide, making him the first Vice President since Thomas Jefferson in 1800 to succeed the previous President via an election, and the only sitting Vice President to succeed a predecessor of his/her own party. Redford enjoyed the benefit of an improving economy and lack of ongoing conflict in the United States, as well as a settlement of many of the contentious racial and social issues that had permeated the 1980's, while Reed's campaign suffered from numerous miscues as well as a lack of energy and direction following the tragic assassination of the presumed Democratic nominee, Christopher Callahan, during the primaries.
Elizabeth Shannon, the 38th President of the United States, had successfully managed to end a costly war in Brazil and began the lengthy process of dragging the US economy out of a depression by the time her 1984 reelection bid came up. Her second term was an even greater success, in which she fought to pass landmark bipartisan legislation on civil rights, abortion, women's rights, and a "don't ask, don't tell" approach in the military towards the service of homosexuals. She was the first President to endorse a civil rights leader in Bill Cosby, and had stood by the embattled Cosby during his 1986 trial for alleged racketeering, which wound up winning her political points after he was exonerated.
The 1988 election, then, would focus on the direction of the country following the Shannon years. With the stock market booming in 1986 and '87, and with the private sector growing at a robust rate (although far below the levels of the early and mid 1970's), the National Party pledged to "stay true to success." Shannon's Vice President, Robert Redford, was the primary Nationalist frontrunner for the nomination, and was considered the frontrunner for the election due to the enormous amount of power he had wielded in the Shannon administration.
Democrats, meanwhile, were seeking to portray themselves as an inclusive party rather than the segregationist and hard-left zealots of the past.
The Democrats, following Joseph Clausen's defeat in 1984, were a party that spent four years trying to find a message to unite behind. The conservative, somewhat segregationist message espoused by Clausen had failed to inspire the strong liberal base of the party and while having performed well in the South, the powerful Northern Nationalists had managed to recruit social liberals typically aligned with the Democratic Party into the fold - these were called "Shannon Democrats," and had allowed the liberal wing of the National Party to flourish ever since.
The supposed frontrunner entering the 1988 electoral cycle was Clausen's running mate, Senator Nick Angerrard of Connecticut, who had been building a strong organization after he cruised to reelection in the 1986 midterms. As 1987 drew to a close, four major candidates from different corners of the divided party seemed to be poised to fight out a long and expensive primary battle.
- Senator Nick Angerrard of Connecticut, a devoted Northern liberal from the old Kennedy/Eisler camp. Angerrard had the organizational advantage over all other candidates, but the Democratic Party, which still had powerful roots in the South, seemed somewhat unenthusiastic to throw its support behind another hard-left liberal after the failure of the Kennedy campaign in 1964 and the unpopularity of the Eisler/Wallace administrations.
- Senator Frank Reed of Pennsylvania, a "Rust Belt Democrat" with powerful union connections. In a field of candidates trying to move out from under the shadow of Adam Eisler that had lingered since the 1970's, Reed was a moderate, down-to-earth candidate who supported socially conservative ideals but preached economically liberal policies. With the lack of a strong Southern candidate (unlike previous election cycles), Reed seemed like the candidate who best appealed to the Midwestern party bosses and the Southern conservatives.
- Senator Christopher Callahan of Kentucky, the young, grassroots candidate who espoused an "era of Southern liberalism." Unlike many Southern Democrats, he was anti-segregation and had voted in support of the 1987 Equal Rights Amendment, and tried to make friends with civil rights leaders. His message of "we are beyond segregation" earned him support among minorities who were disaffected by the National Party's economic policies, which they felt did not favor their needs.
- Former Governor Dan Seastrunk of New Mexico, a social conservative and economic liberal who had a strong appeal to West Coast moderates. He promised in an early fundraiser that he would, "Suck away the West from Redford."
The first Democratic primaries of 1988 were held in Oregon and Puerto Rico on the same day, January 6th, and experts who predicted a strong showing from Seastrunk and Angerrard were stunned when Callahan won Oregon and placed second to Reed in Puerto Rico, with Reed taking second in Oregon. Seastrunk placed a distant fourth in both primaries and announced he was dropping out of the race two days later.
Callahan's populist campaign gained steam with a whopping win in the "big-ticket" Illinois primary three days later, in which Reed had been heavily favored. Angerrard again placed third. Angerrard would win the Vermont primary on January 16th with Reed placing second, in which he claimed he had "regained momentum, and now we're going all the way to Miami and the White House!"
Angerrard would eat his own words on January 23rd, when Reed eked out a narrow win over Callahan in another "big-ticket," Huron, and Angerrard finished a distant third. Four days later, Callahan blew out both opposing candidates, winning 75% of the vote, in his home state of Kentucky, in the last primary before Super Tuesday.
Entering the Super Tuesday contest, political experts agreed that it would take "a February miracle" for Angerrard to stay in the race after a primary day in which Reed and Callahan were expected to win heavily and split the delegates roughly in half. Angerrard was only able to win in Rhode Island - he placed third in every other primary, even placing fourth in South Carolina where Seastrunk was still on the ballot. Reed exited Super Tuesday having won half of the primaries and owning a lead of ten delegates over Callahan. Angerrard withdrew from the race shortly thereafter and endorsed Reed.
Callahan earned the valuable endorsement of Joseph Clausen in February shortly before he won the Texas primary - Callahan would not lose another primary in February as he heavily outscored Reed in multiple states. Reed vowed to continue, and the two critical early-March primaries that his campaigned determined as a must win were the delegate-rich California contest on March 6th, and the primary in Reed's home state of Pennsylvania four days later. With the Callahan campaign only gaining popularity and early polls in the ensuing primaries slanted in Callahan's favor, Reed was in a must-win situation.
Reed narrowly won the California primary, where the delegates were divided among candidates based on percentage of votes, meaning that he only received a little over half of the available delegates. Still, Reed had pulled to within 30 delegates of Callahan entering the primary in his home state.
The leadup to the primary were some of the most vicious in Democratic primary history, with both candidates airing vicious attack ads. On March 10th, Callahan upset Reed in a comfortable but not convincing win, beating the long-tenured Senator in his home state and pulling away with an even stronger primary lead. As he addressed a crowd of adoring supporters in the middle of a Harrisburg Square, Callahan was shot and killed with a single bullet to the head. Police found a discarded rifle in a nearby dumpster shortly thereafter.
Reed, who had been preparing his announcement to withdraw from the race following the loss, heard about the assassination and allegedly tore up his concession speech. He then gave a rousing speech to a stunned Philadelphia crowd, pledging to drive on and win the Presidential race to honor, "the blackened and horrific legacy this tragic day has earned, and to fulfill Senator Callahan's promise to win the White House."
From then on, Reed was the presumptive nominee in every subsequent primary as there were no other opposition candidates, but much of the fanfare and energy of the campaign had been lost. The Democratic National Convention in Miami was a somber affair, and many voters felt that they were nominating the wrong candidate. Reed even touched on this in his acceptance speech, acknowledging that, "I realize that to many of you, I wasn't the candidate you at first wanted - I was your second choice. Now I pledge to earn your trust and help heal the wounds of this jarring, tragic event."
Reed selected Peninsula Senator Terrence Connors as his running mate to appeal to West Coast voters, seen as a safe bet due to Reed's experience on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Connors' experience on the Senate Budget Committee.
When Robert Redford announced in mid-1987 that he was, as had long been suspected, running for the Presidency, he became the clear frontrunner in the Nationalist field. Ever since 1984, political pundits had considered it a given that the young and telegenic Redford would be the candidate in 1988 regardless of whether or not Shannon won. Due to the rousing success of Shannon's second term, specifically in the improving economy during the 1986-87 stock market boom and the passage of the Permanent Equal Rights Amendment in 1987, the National Party looked strong heading into the 1988 election.
Redford's close allegiance to prominent black leaders such as Bill Cosby earned him a significant edge over other candidates who had been far less vocal about the civil rights movement in the 1980's. His primary competition in a relatively closed field included:
- Washington Governor Trent Warren, the last Nationalist Governor of Washington as of 2010, who was term-limited after twelve years in office in 1988 and was considered the National Party's favorite from the liberal wing.
- Johnny Cash, a former actor turned televangelist, who was one of the most powerful members of the conservative Christian movement in the 1970's and 80's. The late 80's had seen a surge in conservative Christianity across the country, and while not an experienced politician, Cash was considered the leading Nationalist conservative (there were numerous similar conservatives in the Democratic camp).
- Nebraska Governor Pete Salander, an outgoing two-term Governor with a considerable edge going into early Midwestern primaries.
- Former CIA Director and Texas Congressman George Bush submitted his name for the two earliest primaries, but was not received as warmly as in 1980 and withdrew before either primary began
Redford won soundly in the first primary, held in Missouri, and never lost a single primary in the entire National Party primary season. Warren scored a close second in his home state of Washington, but even by then, Redford had nearly secured the nomination for President. With the support of outgoing President Shannon and former Presidents Richard Van Dyke and Clyde Dawley, Redford's superior organization and fundraising helped him pull away in what was one of the most rapid and total primary victories in US electoral history.
Redford gave a rousing, fiery speech at the National Party Convention in San Francisco, CA in which he gave an outline for his vision of the country going forward:
"A nation united by common interest, the interest of our core beliefs: the preservation of liberty, the strength of our economy and the freedom to pursue what we please when we please." - Robert Redford
He selected former CIA chief and Texas Congressman George H. Bush, the son of former President Prescott Bush, as his running mate. The selection was seen as safe, due to the positive connotations of the Bush family name and Bush's considerable experience in both foreign policy and the inner workings of Congress, and the popularity of the Bush family in the state of Texas, which had gone Democrat in the 1984 election and nearly lost the Shannon-Redford ticket the election.
Redford emerged from the convention with a strong lead in the polls over Reed - his status as an incumbent succeeding a popular outgoing President carried him strongly. Redford also shied away from commenting on the potentially thorny subject of Reed having only won the Democratic nomination due to the death of Callahan - National Party leaders across the country had extended condolences and in classic Nationalist faction, had spun the tragedy to their favor without overtly touching on it. Redford's campaign manager, James Carson, focused instead on the "Four Point Plan" - the Redford campaign had to focus on his success as Vice President, his pledge and blueprint for continuing Shannon's policies, criticizing Reed as a general election candidate but avoiding the "Callahan problem" and trying to energize support in the Northeast, where moderates were expect to hew heavily towards Reed.
For Reed, he had the specter of being "America's Second Choice" or "the Next-Best Thing," as he was referred to, hanging over him throughout the campaign. His poll numbers were never close to Redford's and he had failed to inspire any real confidence after his lackluster convention. However, with the ongoing Persian Gulf War hanging over the campaign, Reed successfully criticized the near-nuclear response to the 1988 "Atmosphere Incident" and portrayed Redford as a foreign policy hawk. In a September television interview with Ronald Reagan's replacement, Dan Quayle, Reed vigorously debated the conservative commentator and famously announced, "Redford will deploy nuclear weapons in a heartbeat. I won't. America is smart enough to make its own decisions."
The Redford campaign decided to focus on the Nationalist economic record as Reed gained in the polls. Redford addressed the Persian Gulf War by saying, "The administration is handling the situation, and our handling of this crisis should tell voters everything they need to know."
The first Presidential Debate was held with the candidates virtually tied in the polls - Redford had lost his huge summer and post-convention lead as Reed hammered him left and right on foreign policy issues. In the debate, which was moderated by liberal TV commentator Bill Clinton, Reed continued to successfully barrage the Shannon-Redford administration's handling of the Persian Gulf War, slamming them for supporting the Arabian Caliphate (which had a record of human rights abuses). Redford answered by arguing that "a Middle East under a Persian hegemony, which is by proxy a Middle East under French hegemony, is now and forever unacceptable to not only this administration but to the interests of the United States as a whole." Redford followed up later in the debate by saying, "Frank Reed offers rhetoric - I offer tried, tested experience."
Reed was widely considered to have performed extremely well in the debate, but neither candidate was determined to have won. Redford's polls increased shortly thereafter as he had been determined to have "survived a trial by fire."
The Vice Presidential Debate the ensuing week pitted Bush against Connors, and the result was far more lopsided. Connors seemed hesitant and unprepared, bringing up Eisler-era social policies and shying away from a discussion of foreign policy, despite the campaign's focus on that subject in the preceding month. Bush, meanwhile, spoke eloquently and cited his experience in the CIA as "intelligence and experience in foreign policy - we know how France thinks and operates, and we will continue to counter their interests everywhere in the world where they threaten our own."
Redford and Bush surged in the polls as they continued to lambast Connors as a weak Vice Presidential candidate. "George Bush is the right man to have a heartbeat away from the Presidency, Terry Connors is not," former President Van Dyke said in a fundraiser in Manhattan. Reed's VP choice began to come across as more and more foolish, especially when Connors became flustered and angry during a town-hall meeting in Louisiana where his conservative record was questioned.
In the second Presidential debate, Redford successfully debated Reed on economic issues, and took away opportunities for Reed to make statements by forcing the Democratic nominee to defend Connors. Experts agreed that Redford had won the debate.
In late October, during the seventh game of the World Series in San Francisco, Redford threw out the opening pitch and used the moment as a major photo-op. The San Francisco Pirates wound up beating the Los Angeles Stars in epic fashion in what is widely considered one of the best World Series ever, with Redford in attendance.
Redford won a definitive electoral victory over Reed, winning by a margin of 90 electoral votes and a popular vote margin of 52% to 47.5%. Reed carried his home state of Pennsylvania as well as the "big-ticket" swing states of Ohio and Michigan (the home state of outgoing President Shannon), but lost heavily in traditionally Democratic states where unenthusiastic Southern conservatives, who Reed had failed to successfully court, came out in smaller numbers than black voters joyously exercising their right to vote for the National Party. It was the first time in decades that the Democrats failed to win more than half the South. The most lopsided of margins came in traditional Democratic stronghold Arkansas, where Redford carried 87% of the vote, and close to 100% in the urban and traditionally black area around Covenant.
Still, the strength of the Democrats in their Midwest prevailed, with Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky all going to Reed by comfortable margins. Redford narrowly won New York and Huron, states that could have tipped the scale in Reed's favor with their plethora of electoral votes. The traditional swing states of Florida and Virginia were won by Redford, which helped guarantee his electoral victory had Huron or New York fallen. Reed found success on the West Coast, winning Peninsula and Oregon, but failed to nab Washington, Pacifica or the biggest prize of all, Redford's home state of California.
Despite surprisingly becoming the first Nationalist elected to the Presidency without winning Ohio, Redford gave his victory speech in Los Angeles in front of a crowd of upwards 25,000, where he proudly declared, "We did it, as a country. We chose our future." The quote would become hailed as one of the greatest Presidential quotes of all time. Reed gave his concession speech in Philadelphia in front of Independence Hall, where he pledged, "The fight is not over. In the Senate, in Congress, and in the legislatures of every great state in this Union, we will continue to fight on for our ideals. This is not a defeat, this is a hiccup in our country's destiny."
Redford would be inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States on January 20th, 1989. Reed would continue to serve in the Senate until his retirement following the 1994 midterm elections, in which his former seat was won by a Nationalist.