Which Democrat Would've Been the Strongest Presidential Candidate in 1988?

Which Democrat Would've Been the Strongest Presidential Candidate in 1988?

  • Al Gore

    Votes: 7 5.8%
  • Gary Hart

    Votes: 11 9.2%
  • Joe Biden

    Votes: 7 5.8%
  • Dick Gephardt

    Votes: 20 16.7%
  • Jesse Jackson

    Votes: 6 5.0%
  • Mario Cuomo

    Votes: 28 23.3%
  • Bill Bradley

    Votes: 2 1.7%
  • Ted Kennedy

    Votes: 11 9.2%
  • Bill Clinton

    Votes: 6 5.0%
  • Pat Schroeder

    Votes: 2 1.7%
  • Paul Simon

    Votes: 3 2.5%
  • Bruce Babbitt

    Votes: 2 1.7%
  • Chuck Robb

    Votes: 2 1.7%
  • Sam Nunn

    Votes: 13 10.8%

  • Total voters
    120
The 1988 election is infamous in American politics. Despite an early 17% lead Michael Dukakis lost in a landslide to George H.W. Bush. Dukakis' defeat badly demoralized Democrats and discredited liberalism for decades.

In your opinion, which Democrat besides Dukakis would've made the strongest candidate in 1988? On the poll I've posted the names of either candidates who ran, or who were speculated to run before they took themselves out of the race. After making your choice, please explain why your candidate would've been the best man - or woman - to take on Bush in 1988.
 
I voted Gephardt the reasoning being that he would mark a departure away from the liberal label that was becoming increasingly unpopular while still keeping parts of it like being friendly to labor. Also, his strength in the Midwest is a plus.
 
Mario Cuomo. He has the charisma and charm to carry the party, and he has the ability to debate Bush and face his attacks head on.
 
FWIW, a Harris poll taken in early 1987 (before Cuomo announced he would not be a candidate) asked

"Now suppose in 1988 for president, it will be Vice President George Bush for the Republicans and Governor Mario Cuomo of New York for the Democrats. If you had to choose, would you be for Bush or for Cuomo?"
BUSH VS. CUOMO IN 1988

Bush 50
Cuomo 38
Not sure 12


https://theharrispoll.com/wp-conten...D-CHOICE-FOR-1988-AMONG-DEMOCRATS-1987-02.pdf

Obviously, such polls taken long before the election are of limited value, but given that Cuomo enjoyed near-universal national name recognition, I would not totally dismess these results as showing Cuomo potentially vulnerable.
 
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Cuomo had New York, period. He was not at all popular outside his home state.

He was very popular among the Democratic base, dating back to his 1984 keynote address at the DNC. It’s likely that his lower poll numbers could be improved upon with further campaigning and a better reaction to the Bush attack ads.
 
He was very popular among the Democratic base, dating back to his 1984 keynote address at the DNC. It’s likely that his lower poll numbers could be improved upon with further campaigning and a better reaction to the Bush attack ads.

Why? Him being from New York is a strike against him in Middle America in and of itself. That alone is going to make it easier for him to be seen as a far-leftist outside the coasts.
 
He was very popular among the Democratic base, dating back to his 1984 keynote address at the DNC. It’s likely that his lower poll numbers could be improved upon with further campaigning and a better reaction to the Bush attack ads.

He wouldn't just need a "better reaction," he'd need to aggressively fight back. I expect that Atwater would try to smear Cuomo as having mob ties. Which could potentially backfire or help Bush depending on how Cuomo responds.

I do agree that Cuomo could have won. But it's also true that he had vulnerabilities which would need to be overcome in order to defeat Bush.
 
I think Gephardt is probably the strongest candidate for the fact that he's so scandal free, and generally inoffensive. He also has appeal to blue collar, working class whites and close ties to union leadership. He has long experience in the House, and his vaguely economic populist rhetoric would probably appeal to Perot-style voters across the spectrum. That having been said, I cast my vote for Chuck Robb just to offer something different. In spite of the scandals surrounding him (the first of which IOTL would only come out in 1991), he'd have a solid image as an outsider, a southern Democrat with a moderate record and good experience in office. If he chose to run that year, rather than going for the Senate (and made it through the primary), I think he'd give Bush a serious run for his money.
 
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Bradley, Biden, Gore, and Clinton wouldn’t have the crime weakness.
He wouldn't just need a "better reaction," he'd need to aggressively fight back. I expect that Atwater would try to smear Cuomo as having mob ties. Which could potentially backfire or help Bush depending on how Cuomo responds.

I do agree that Cuomo could have won. But it's also true that he had vulnerabilities which would need to be overcome in order to defeat Bush.
I feel like accusing Cuomo of having mob ties could cause people who would otherwise be anti-abortion to resent Bush for “anti-Italian” rhetoric.
 
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Take a look at their name recognition and polling from OTL via FiveThirtyEight. I’m not sure anyone truly stands out as the obvious pick given what we know in retrospect.
 
He wouldn't just need a "better reaction," he'd need to aggressively fight back. I expect that Atwater would try to smear Cuomo as having mob ties. Which could potentially backfire or help Bush depending on how Cuomo responds.

I do agree that Cuomo could have won. But it's also true that he had vulnerabilities which would need to be overcome in order to defeat Bush.

Unless there was actual evidence of such "Mob ties" I very much doubt it. He would be eaten alive. He could call Cuomo "soft on crime" but without actual proof of some sort of having "Mob ties," he can't accuse him of that. It would be seen (correctly) as anti-Italian bigotry which won't fly.
 
Unless there was actual evidence of such "Mob ties" I very much doubt it. He would be eaten alive. He could call Cuomo "soft on crime" but without actual proof of some sort of having "Mob ties," he can't accuse him of that. It would be seen (correctly) as anti-Italian bigotry which won't fly.

If by "he" you mean Bush himself, I doubt that Bush would ever actually accuse Cuomo of mob connections. But rumors did exist (and were discredited by journalist Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the book that inspired Goodfellas), and Atwater wouldn't hesitate to exploit them in some way. After all, Atwater had spread rumors that Dukakis was mentally ill and used electroshock therapy - things Bush himself never mentioned. So if Atwater does try to exploit the rumors surrounding Cuomo, it would be done without directly involving Bush. (And let's be honest, could a man like Atwater possibly resist?)
 
If by "he" you mean Bush himself, I doubt that Bush would ever actually accuse Cuomo of mob connections. But rumors did exist (and were discredited by journalist Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the book that inspired Goodfellas), and Atwater wouldn't hesitate to exploit them in some way. After all, Atwater had spread rumors that Dukakis was mentally ill and used electroshock therapy - things Bush himself never mentioned. So if Atwater does try to exploit the rumors surrounding Cuomo, it would be done without directly involving Bush. (And let's be honest, could a man like Atwater possibly resist?)

Rumors won't be enough. For it to have any impact it will have to be broadcast on a national network. In 1988 cable was small and the internet was non-existant. Basically, you would have to have enough evidence for it to be shown on the Big Three to have an impact.
 
Rumors won't be enough. For it to have any impact it will have to be broadcast on a national network. In 1988 cable was small and the internet was non-existant. Basically, you would have to have enough evidence for it to be shown on the Big Three to have an impact.

On that note I agree that rumors wouldn't be enough to swing the election. But I believe they would have some impact. Bush and Cuomo will be asked about the rumors, and the Bush campaign's connection to them, in TV interviews. Cuomo will be forced to respond in some way, and that will make an impression on the voters.

Moving on from Cuomo, could Clinton have potentially done well in 1988?
 
On that note I agree that rumors wouldn't be enough to swing the election. But I believe they would have some impact. Bush and Cuomo will be asked about the rumors, and the Bush campaign's connection to them, in TV interviews. Cuomo will be forced to respond in some way, and that will make an impression on the voters.

Moving on from Cuomo, could Clinton have potentially done well in 1988?

Unless the rumors have at least some credibility it wouldn't even be asked. There are all sorts of silly rumors about all candidates and they aren't talked about.
 
Lee Iacocca would be a fun one. He was the third most respected man after Reagan and the Pope.


Sam Nunn is my pick. After 8 years of the Reagan Revolution, an experienced Moderate-to-Conservative Democrat with some liberal sensibilities who can make the south competitive would be an effective counter to Bush. He also is experienced and Chaired the Armed Services Committee - which is pretty significant given how Bush's big specialty was Foreign Policy. Honestly, I could see Cuomo as being a good running mate for him.
 
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. . . Sam Nunn is my pick. After 8 years of the Reagan Revolution, an experienced Moderate-to-Conservative Democrat with some liberal sensibilities who can make the south competitive would be an effective counter to Bush. He also is experienced and Chaired the Armed Services Committee - which is pretty significant given how Bush's big specialty was Foreign Policy. . .
Yes, foreign policy credentials. Even if he loses to Bush on points in this regard, that’s close enough. Foreign policy is not voters’ main concern, as long as you have something.

And maybe if Nunn hits upon a middle-class tax cut?
 
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