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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In an election year, everyone wants to have insight into which candidate is likely to succeed so they can be the one to predict the election. Invariably, every year pundits of all political stripes make predictions before the election, and when proven wrong afterwards, proclaim that the results were "obvious". Popkin's book serves this role from his insightful position as an adviser to Carter, McGovern, Clinton, and Gore. Despite the fact he is obviously a Democrat, the book is not a political analysis of one party versus another but rather a discussion on the nature of the political process itself.

In my mind, Popkin does not really tell you what it takes to win the White House, but more what it takes to lose the White House. To borrow a phrase from Anna Karenina, successful campaigns are all alike; every failed campaign fails in its own way. Through examining the failed campaigns of Carter, George HW Bush, Gore, and Hillary Clinton, he finds that each had their own failings and reason that they were not successful campaigners. Popkin leads us to his conclusion that should be eminently obvious - we tend to vote for the person who is the best campaigner, not the person we think will govern the best. Hillary was obviously infinitely more qualified than a freshman senator without any accomplishments of his own, but she was a worse campaigner as Popkin explains in intricate detail.

While the book is a good history, it fails in the title to explain exactly what it takes to "win and hold" the White House. It's an election year, yet I cannot look at either the Obama or Romney campaigns and proclaim I know how it will end based on Popkin's insights. In fact, Popkin reminds me of the book Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer. He analyzes why Gore lost, but had 300 people in Florida voted differently, he'd be analyzing why Bush lost. It seems hard to make sweeping generalizations on one man's failure based on a few hundred votes in a single state.

If Romney wins, Popkin's next book can discuss how it was obvious Obama would lose. If Obama wins, it will be equally obvious that Romney could never win. Either way, there will be facts that can be spun after the fact to explain why the outcome was so clear.

The history in this book was fascinating, but the conclusions are a little broadly stated. It seems the most important thing is to have the candidate stay out of day-to-day operations and leave it to professionals. Indeed, Popkin details how Obama basically acted out the campaign that Axelrod and Plouffe put together. Hillary tried to run her own campaign and failed miserably. But these professionals can't have their own aspirations of grandeur, or he says they will sink the candidate like Sununu (and although he doesn't mention it, Schmidt in 2008). I recommend you read the book to gain insight into history you won't find elsewhere, but don't expect to come out of it knowing exactly how a person goes about winning a presidential campaign.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The author analyzes campaigns for president - winners and losers - in the twentieth century. The author didn't just report, but provided an analysis of what contributed to success. He presents the nitty gritty of a candidate's day - grueling! for a few candidates.

What makes the book work is the glimpses behind the scenes. I loved the story about Jackie Kennedy saying it's ironic that people were concerned about Kennedy's religion because "he's such a poor Catholic."

In particular, the author shows how much planning goes into campaign - as well as how little control the candidate has over people and events. As he points out, candidates have to delegate to people they don't know. They have to trust their teams because they can't do everything. Sadly, Hilary Clinton got some really bad advice: Popkin presents several tidbits that make her seem far more human than her image.

Ultimately, Popkin says, candidates who manage their teams become winners. He cites Hilary Clinton's micromanagement in contrast to Barack Obama's bottom-up strategy. Obama fine-tuned his campaign as he crossed the country to win against Hilary.

Ultimately, Popkin concludes, it's a good system. He believes that campaigns serve as a test for office.

I'm not someone who's into politics, and I think the book is targeted to serious political observers. So I thought there was a little more detail than was necessary. The book is organized thematically, rather than by campaign, so at times it was a little hard to follow.

The coverage of issues was comprehensive. There might be a little more about the importance of appearance. It seems that candidates are judged on things that wouldn't have mattered in earlier times, such as looks and ability to blend in. I recall reading that Franklin Roosevelt came out to the west during the Great Depression, in the middle of the dust bowl. He didn't try to be one of the boys. He kept his patrician accent and certainly didn't drink beer and eat local food ... and nobody expected him to.
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on July 27, 2012
Another political winner that is objective and not partisan.

I can't get enough of these books that explain politics without pandering, name-calling or are extremely biased.

Samuel Popkin takes us through the definitions of U.S. President candidates and how the winners win while the supposed winner loses. You won't get the party-line or the typical, "here's how that scumbag tricked us" lines you expect in political books.

The first part is abstract in just the terms while sporadically bringing in real-life examples of past candidates. He explains the different types of campaigns a candidate can run. There are only so many to choose: Challenger, Incumbant. Experience/Stability, Outsider/Reformer It's the latter part of the book that is truly excellent.

Popkin explores President George H.W. Bush's messed up re-election candidacy, Hillary Clinton's micromanaged "inevitable" campaign, and Al Gore's complete meltdown.

You'll read how George W. Bush was able to beat the successor during a time of peace and wealth; how Rudy Giuliani was the winner in all the polls until he actually started running and how a number of other candidates just could not connect, or hold on to their mojo. You'll even get to see how President Obama used the new media and bottom-up mentality to throw off Hillary Clinton's dreamteam.

In the end, Popkin points to Ronald Reagan in order to teach future candidates how to handle miscues, mistakes and misfires.

A fantastic read during this Presidential cycle.
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VINE VOICEon July 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I picked up this book because I am a political junkie, and interested in the process of becoming a President in our country. Throughout history some of the best candidates have sputtered and failed, while other lesser candidates have come along and won the White House to the surprise of many of the pundits. The book overviews some of the most memorable recent campaigns for the White House and how they either succeeded or failed to achieve the White House.

I found the book easy to read, and engaging. It was sort of like pulling back the curtain on the races that we watched from the outside on TV. The behin the scenes views of what was really going on in the campaigns was engaging and interesting and provided both context and reasons for the success or failures of different candidates.

While hindsight is 20/20 the author points out some characteristics of sucessful campaigns, and some of the pitfalls that candidates can fall into. I wondered as I read through the book if the candidates themselves were aware of these pitfalls, and could fall into the same traps that others had without realizing it.

This is a great read for anyone who is interested in the political process, or anyone who wants to go behind the scenes of some of the most recent elections to show what caused the downfall of some of the can't miss candidates in recent years.
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on November 6, 2012
As Samuel Popkin notes early in his book "The Candidate," it is frequently the case that a presidential candidate considered likely to be the next president a year or two before the election ends up losing badly when the votes are actually counted. In particular, Popkin examines the candidacies of George H.W. Bush in 1992, Al Gore in 2000, and Hillary Clinton in 2008 to look for answers as to why favorites in elections many times do not win.

The author sets forth the traits that candidates need to be successful. He asserts that a prospective president must be part monarch, part visionary, and part CEO, and the candidate must also have a strong team of advisers and staffers. Popkin looks at the different problems that candidates running as incumbents, challengers, and successors have to face, and notes the differences between running as a governor, senator, general or hero, and vice president.

Popkin closes by offering his opinion on whether our very long presidential selection process if beneficial or harmful. Anyone remotely interested in presidential politics would enjoy "The Candidate."
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VINE VOICEon July 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was a political science major, so in college I read any number of books and articles on topics like the traits which mark winning presidential candidates. I discovered that, while there was a certain common logic to most of the best of them, there was in the end nothing that really suggested one writer's answers over another. Rather, the best books were big on asking questions, providing lots of historical examples from presidential campaigns (preferably from a broad swath of American history--at least 1900 on), and encouraging the reader to think about his or her own answers to the questions raised based on the evidence provided, with the author humbly submitting his or her own theses for consideration.

Popkin's book does all these things, and is an accessible and interesting read at the same time--so much so that I almost wish I were a number of years younger so I could read this book for my classes. It does a better job altogether than a fair number of the books I read in school. Any poli sci professors out there reading this, please consider adding this book to your syllabi.
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on October 28, 2015
Samuel Popkin is One of the great analysts of Presidential campaigns, and this book His understanding of what it takes for an individual to run for the presidency. It is a well-written, devastating study of the grueling life, the organizational complexity, and the the endlessly shifting moments of modern presidential campaigns from the perspective of the would-be part nominees. An excellent, well considered work.
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on March 20, 2016
In “The Candidate,” Samuel Popkin has attempted to write a kind of management bible for the business of presidential campaigning. Polling, strategy and even a candidate’s platform, Popkin argues, are less important than organization: how a candidate parcels out authority, how his staff manages his time and attention, and whether his campaign can respond quickly to the chaos and shifting demands of the trail.

All campaigns boil down to one of three kinds, Popkin writes. One is the “challenger” seeking to reclaim the White House for his party -- and perennially promising to “end messy politics as we know it.” (When Obama told voters in 2008 that “this campaign cannot be about me,” he was echoing Howard Dean, who had proclaimed four years earlier that “this campaign is not really about me,” and Jerry Brown, who had insisted the 1992 campaign was “much larger than me.”) Another is the “incumbent” looking for a second term, someone who last campaigned as a challenger and now must persuade voters that a Washington insider is their best choice. The third is the “successor,” usually a vice president, who must distinguish himself from the president he serves without alienating the White House staff or party constituencies still loyal to the boss.

Like any management guru, Popkin comes bearing case studies. In 2007, Hillary Clinton was a challenger who mistakenly ran as a kind of incumbent. She campaigned “as if she were a leader in exile,” Popkin writes. She entrusted both polling and strategy to a single adviser, Mark Penn, who devised a “shock and awe” campaign based on inevitability: Clinton’s endorsements, her fund-raising prowess, her experience in the Senate. But as Obama gathered strength with a message of hope and change, flaws in Clinton’s campaign organization made it difficult for her to shift gears. Penn defended inevitability, restricting access to his poll findings so that other aides couldn’t ­second-guess him. Rampant infighting also made it difficult to alter strategy, since any changes -- like pouring more money and staff into the Iowa caucuses later won by Obama, or emphasizing her character, as some aides favored -- meant surrendering turf.

In 1991, George H. W. Bush was the incumbent who couldn’t lose. After his years in the White House, with victory in Iraq and the end of the cold war under his belt, he considered the possible Democratic candidates self-evidently under-qualified. He believed that voters would reward him for his credentials on national defense, which had been a Republican franchise over the preceding decade, and that he could pincer any opponent on social issues like welfare and crime. But Bush suffered from a disconnect typical of incumbents: His White House staff balked at yielding turf to his campaign team. Bush’s chief of staff, John Sununu, was arrogant and dismissive, a self-appointed “deputy president.” Politically tone-deaf, he believed voters would not punish Bush for breaking his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes, and he controlled access in order to enforce his own opinions, freezing out Bush’s pollster and others when they disagreed. When the Democrats nominated Bill Clinton, a tough-on-crime “New Democrat” who tapped into Americans’ economic anxieties, Bush and his team were slow to adapt. Even harder, Popkin says, is the third type of candidacy: the successor. When Al Gore ran in 2000, the country had enjoyed years of peace and prosperity. But voters are skeptical of vice presidents who claim credit for a president’s accomplishments, Popkin notes. And whereas Clinton had outfoxed Congressional Republicans by persuading voters they were extreme, Gore faced George W. Bush, who promised -- like all challengers -- an end to partisan rancor. “If Gore couldn’t get credit for peace and prosperity, and if Clinton was an albatross,” Popkin writes, “what could Gore say about the last eight years that made him the right change instead of Bush?” Gore couldn’t solve that puzzle, Popkin argues, in large part because he was pulled in different directions by his White House staff, his family and his campaign aides. Gore resented Bill Clinton for his infidelities and impeachment, empowering staff and family members who blamed “Clinton fatigue” for his lagging campaign. He overrelied on his adviser Naomi Wolf, a friend of his daughter’s. He would make snap decisions without warning his strategists. Organizational chaos begat message confusion: “You’ve never had it so good, and I’m mad as hell about it,” as the columnist Michael Kinsley described the populist turn Gore took late in the race.

Popkin is the rare political scientist who believes that campaigns really do matter -- that election outcomes are not driven mostly by economic and demographic trends over which candidates have no control. While his 1991 book “The Reasoning Voter” remains a go-to text for understanding what information voters use to pick candidates, reading “The Candidate” I found myself wondering about Popkin’s choice of examples. If infighting doomed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, for example, how did Bill Clinton win in 1996 despite vicious feuding between his Republican-minded Svengali, Dick Morris, and more liberal advisers like Harold Ickes? Did John McCain lose against Obama because his campaign was improvisational and fractured, or because Obama outspent him by more than two to one?

Another problem is that “The Candidate,” like candidates themselves, often veers off message. Popkin is a political buff, and his book comes so overloaded with anecdotes and ephemera that it’s hard to follow. Even when the material is interesting -- like the description of how Obama aides in South Carolina handed out old-fashioned campaign buttons with Obama’s picture on them, so primary voters would know he was black — it is distracting. And at times, Popkin needlessly belabors the basics of campaigning. “The candidate has to persuade skeptical voters that she is ‘one of us,’” he writes in one chapter, “that she understands their lives and shares their values.”

While Popkin has deserved fun with the short attention spans and hyperbole endemic to political reporting, “The Candidate” actually has much in common with behind-the-scenes campaign books like “Game Change,” John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s racy and addictive account of the 2008 race. Both are basically about the perils of infighting. Popkin’s solutions, offered at the end of “The Candidate,” may seem obvious to political executives. Don’t candidates know to hire a strong chief of staff who can be an honest broker, to keep a peer around who can tell them when they’re wrong, to assign a senior staff member to keep their family in the loop? Popkin’s book suggests an unexpected answer: If it were easy, everyone would do it.
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VINE VOICEon August 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"The Candidate" is a timely book that takes the reader inside the highest levels of a presidential campaign. Author Samuel Popkin draws on his experience from four presidential campaigns to learn what works and what does not, why some win and others lose and why some failures were inevitable just from the structure and focus of campaign staffs.

Although drawing also on earlier campaigns, this book consists largely of case studies of inevitable winners...who lost: Hillary Clinton in 2008, George Bush in 1992 and Al Gore in 2000. Popkin explains the difference between the races of an incumbent, a successor and a challenger. This is a distinction that, he says, George Bush and his campaign did not appreciate in 1992. While Bush got it together enough to triumph as the successor to Ronald Reagan in 1988, Al Gore failed to catch on and hence has introduced himself as the one who used to be the next president of the United States. The narrative of the Clinton-Obama primary race makes for fascinating reading.

Besides the case studies of the focus races, Popkin delves into the Truman upset of 1948 to show how it was not the result of the "Give'em Hell" campaign, but almost four years of substantive decisions that enabled the campaign to be a success. His extensive study of why Ronald Reagan, despite being consistently underestimated, became the standard setting success that he did will surprise some and confirm the beliefs of others. The chapter on the particular opportunities and challenges facing vice-presidents guides the reader's thoughts along sensible lines.

In his conclusion, Popkin gives his version of the team that works, what it needs, what it must avoid and how it will make or break a campaign. Some of the roles that are required are logical, others surprising and some a bit frightening.

I found this book to be very interesting on several levels. On the historical level, it introduces the reader into details of campaigns that are overlooked in more general histories. We get an inside look into why winners won and why losers lost. From a political science viewpoint, it presents a case on intricate relationships necessary for a successful campaign and crucial elements on which it depends. It also raises question like, "Is this any way to pick a president?" From the literary perspective it is just a very well written and interesting story. From whichever direction you approach our recent political history, "The Candidate" is a book that you will not want to miss.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
According to Samuel Popkin, who has worked on several presidential campaigns and has made a study of campaigns, the successful presidential candidate has an impossible task. He has to have experience without having a past. He has to give his people space to work while being on top of every aspect of the campaign. He has to attack his opponent while being positive and likeable. He has to protect his base while reaching across the aisle. And whatever works for the successful candidate will be impossible to duplicate four years later.

Since it's a given that the candidates will make mistakes, it comes down to managing the mistakes and whether their opponents will make worse mistakes. All this makes for an entertaining race every four years.

Popkin illustrates different aspects of campaigning with examples from modern presidential campaigns from Truman vs. Dewey in 1948 to Obama vs. McCain in 2008, including party primary races. If you enjoyed Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, you will like The Candidate.

Political junkies will find The Candidate entertaining and informative. For instance, Popkin goes inside the Hillary Clinton 2008 campaign and finds that pollster and strategist Mark Penn was the villain who could not be stopped. It is a fascinating story of poor judgment on his part, and denial on Clinton's part until too late.

George H. W. Bush was hopeless at managing his own team. When John Sununu, his chief of staff, started to make Presidential decisions that the President wasn't aware of, Bush knew he had a problem but couldn't deal with it. He ended up having to establish a secret mail address so that Sununu wouldn't intercept all his important mail. He held important meetings without telling Sununu, but Sununu showed up anyway. Finally, Sununu had to quit when he was caught up in a scandal involving his personal use of government planes and White House limousines. The problem was dealt with, no thanks to the President.

Presidential wives are more than gracious hosts. I was surprised to learn how influential Nancy Reagan was at keeping untrustworthy people away from her husband, who tended to like everybody. And Barbara Bush, who seemed such a forceful personality, was all but invisible in her husband's White House.

The Candidate is full of these riveting political stories as well as lessons for candidates and voters. Five stars.
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