Parties and Platforms

Campaigns and Nominations

What different campaign styles have made history?

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, presidential campaigns were conducted at the grassroots level, often by party leaders and office holders, but seldom by the candidate himself. One notable exception is William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 tour of the country by rail in order to deliver his Democratic message to the American people. Other nominees held “front porch” campaigns, during which candidates didn’t leave the privacy of their own homes. Introduced by Benjamin Harrison, the front porch campaign became notable in 1896 when 750,000 voters flocked to William McKinley’s Canton, Ohio, home to hear the candidate speak. A modern example of the front-porch campaign is the “Rose Garden” campaign, whereby sitting presidents seeking reelection minimize their travel schedule and instead deliver announcements from the White House, in an effort to simultaneously campaign and maintain their demanding executive agenda. The term “front porch” campaign has come to denote any campaign conducted close to home without extensive travel or one-on-one interaction with the populace.

Active campaigning became more prominent with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1932 conducted the first modern “whistle stop” campaign, traveling thirteen thousand miles by train and visiting thirty-six states in an effort to reach voters. The “whistle stop” campaign—during which candidates toured the country by train and delivered speeches from the rear platform—became a tried and true campaigning method. Historians generally cite Harry S. Truman as the candidate who holds the record for the most stops, covering thirty-two thousand miles and delivering an average of ten speeches per day in his successful 1948 election campaign. Roosevelt is also known for another groundbreaking act: in 1932, he flew from New York to Chicago to accept the Democratic nomination, ushering in an era of campaign travel by air. A thoroughly modern campaigning device, air travel allows candidates to touch base in media markets across the country and gain media exposure. According to media reports, George W. Bush paid about $3 million to charter his own private plane during his twenty-month bid for the presidency in 2000.


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