Parties and Platforms

Campaigns and Nominations

How did twentieth-century campaigns capitalize on a candidate’s image?

The growth of radio, television, and the Internet, coupled with the late twentieth-century predominance of political consultants and image makers, has transformed the modern political campaign into one based on candidate image. A key turning point in the importance of a candidate’s image took place during the 1960 presidential debates. Many listening to the debates on radio declared Richard Nixon the winner, while those watching the debates on television were certain that John F. Kennedy would claim the presidency. Kennedy, a tanned, good-looking and well-rested orator, appeared relaxed and assured, and stood in stark contrast to an ill, gaunt, and sweating Nixon. More than thirty years later, Democrat Bill Clinton pioneered the “talk-show campaign” when he appeared in 1992 on the late-night Arsenio Hall Show playing his saxophone. As the “candidate for a new generation,” Clinton aimed to reach a younger audience and perpetuate his image of a maverick who could change a stale Republican government. In 2000, both candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush were interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey Show in an effort to attract women voters. And in 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, announced his candidacy in front of an aircraft carrier to underscore his military credentials as a decorated Vietnam veteran.


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