A year before
elections, George Bush
was widely expected to lead the Republican Party
to victory, following a Gulf War
that had cemented him as a foreign policy guru in the eyes of most Americans. Fans of Saturday Night Live
might remember a skit portraying the Democratic
candidates, which was called "Decision '92: The Race to Avoid Being the One Who Loses to Bush." In fact, many big-name Democrats pulled out early for that exact reason.
After the hype surrounding the war died down, however, Bush's position became more and more tenuous. The economy had fallen into a deep recession, which didn't level off until right around Election Day. At the same time, the national deficit, which had existed for decades, was continuing to rise. Bush had to renege on his old mantra, "Read my lips: no new taxes," and that didn't exactly help him, either.
The Partisan Races
Pat Buchanan decided to challenge Bush for the Republican nomination, and launched a campaign that largely criticized the president. The Republican contest quickly turned into a smear campaign. While Buchanan had a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary election, his caustic tactics backfired over time, and Bush regrouped to win his party's nomination.
The Democratic field was an even bigger mess. At the outset, Paul Tsongas looked like the most probable winner. In January, however, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton shot into the spotlight when Gennifer Flowers brought his sordid sex life to the front pages. Tsongas continued to lead the race until the Super Tuesday primaries, when it became clear that Clinton was going to sweep the South, and while distant third-place runner Jerry Brown began to build momentum in the Midwest. Clinton's victory was sealed when he won the state of Florida, and he chose environmentalist senator Al Gore to be his running mate.
The Perot Campaign
In the meantime, a third candidate was shaking up the campaign. He was H. Ross Perot, the multibillionaire founder of Electronic Data Systems. Perot hated Bush: he persuaded congressmen to vote against Bush's policies throughout the president's term. Late in February, Perot declared his candidacy during an interview with CNN's Larry King, and said that he would run if he could get on the ballot in all 50 states.
After the Democratic National Convention, Perot left the race, apparently figuring that Clinton would defeat Bush. Just two months later, though, he was back in the fray, and he bought 30 minutes of air time on all three TV networks to talk about Bush and Clinton's weaknesses in domestic and foreign policy.
Bush, Clinton, and Perot had three televised debates in October, which were all lukewarm victories for Clinton. Bush's platform centered on experience and character, qualities that Clinton lacked. Clinton pushed for broader social programs to bolster the American economy, to be funded by steeper progressive taxation.
Electors Total Votes
Clinton/Gore 370 (69%) 44.9m (43%)
Bush/Quayle 168 (31%) 39.1m (37%)
Perot/Stockdale --- 19.7m (19%)
Clinton carried the key states of California
, New York
, and Illinois
, as well as most of the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast. Bush carried Texas
, as well as most of the South and the Rocky Mountains. Perot won no electoral votes, but his share of the popular vote was enough to garner federal matching funds
for his movement, United We Stand
, which later became the Reform Party