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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything is obvious... once you know the answer... great history but poor predictive power
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...
Published on August 22, 2012 by Joel Avrunin

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3.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening campaign advice from a pro
Popkin is a political scientist at UC-San Diego who has advised on many political campaigns in the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the 1972 attempt by George McGovern, Jimmy Carter's 1976 win and 1980 loss, and Bill Clinton's successful 1992 run. He makes no apologies for his Democratic leanings, but he's quite insightful about the strengths and weaknesses...
Published 23 months ago by Edison McIntyre


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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting anecdotes... but really doesn't asnwer how to win and hold the White House, October 23, 2012
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This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
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The book claims that every campaign begins with an inevitable winner who nearly always loses to what becomes the inevitable winning campaign... after we see the final result. In other words hindsight is 20-10 and early predictions are almost always wrong.

The book gives an in-depth exploration of the 1992, 2000 and 2008 presidential elections as well as about every other election since 1948.

About half the stuff in the book I find really interesting and about half I disagree with.

For example, I really liked Popkin's statement that we don't really have a good way to assess campaigns. He uses a golf analogy: Did Bush's bogey beat Gore's double-bogey, or did Gore's par lose to Bush's birdie ? I use another sports analogy, if a basketball or football team loses by one point, too many people think the losing team has a lousy coach the winning team has great players and the outcome was always inevitable to everyone.

I have to disagree with the point of a lot of Popkin's choice of facts. He mentions in June 1999 Gore was leading Bill Bradley by an average of 59-32 and for some reason compared it to George H. W. Bush's trouble breaking 40 % against Republicans in 1987. However, Gore had only one primary opponent while Bush was in a eight or ten candidate field which included Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Paul Laxalt, Pat Robertson, Pete DuPont and others.

Also, it is a great over-simplification to say George H. W. Bush, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton could in any way be considered to be inevitable winners for more than a brief period of time. I was surprised to see Popkin correctly mentions the November 1991 Pennsylvania Senate race that Harris Wofford won. The day after the election Mark Shields shocked us by saying that as of that day Pennsylvania was in the Dem column for 1992. Still the top ten Democrats (Coumo, Mitchell, Gephardt, Gore, Bradley, Kerry, Kerrey and Casey, etc) all sat out the race and the field consisted of third-rate candidates like the mayor of Irvine, California, Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton. On Memorial Day 1992 H.Ross Perot was leading Bush, with Clinton in third place. So there was a time in March 1991 when it seemed like Bush was inevitable, but many candidates have their 15 nanoseconds of fame like Herman Cain, Paul Simon, Richard Gephardt and so many others.

Who ever thought Gore was an inevitable winner ? Maybe for a few days in 1997. But by January 1998 with the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the December 1998 impeachment the Democrat brand was badly tarnished. Bush led in many polls from April to November 2000. The Dow peaked in January 2000, so the Democrats case in 2000 was not all that strong. The book cites Robert Squire as a media expert for Gore in 2000. Unless he participated in Obama's 2008 campaign I think Bob is the only strategist in world history who has lost every race he has been associated with.

Popkin states that Reagan, both Bushes, Carter, Obama and and Nixon were all improbable or even implausible candidates. Is it really that interesting that in the 1940's, Reagan was so liberal that he was not on anyone's radar for the 1976 nomination against Ford as Popkin points out ? Popkin also cites the fifteenth place Carter held in the Democrat field, but the only significance of that is that polls in 1975 of candidates with less than 1% name recognition are less than worthless.

Perhaps the biggest disappoint of the book is that it never really addresses the cover's claim that it will tell what it takes to win and hold the White House. I am sure many read the book to help predict who would win this year.

The lessons of winning are hard to remember. In 1992, James Carville was the first to crack the code to winning elections. Only three concepts are essential: 1) the economy, 2) the economy and 3) the economy. In 2004, I saw Carville crack an egg on his forehead as part of a bet when Kerry lost. He was mumbling something about Kerry won all three debates and had a better campaign.

Popkin thinks having the best campaign is the key to winning.

There are hundreds of debaters who could have beaten Reagan, but he won because those 'better campaigns' will cause 30 years of double digit unemployment and Reagan's policies caused GNP (now we use the GDP measurement) to grow from about 5 trillion to 15 trillion in 30 years.

Even after the third Romney-Obama debate Carville was mumbling about nonsense on CNN and we needed his interview partner, Ari Fleisher, to inform us what the key to winning elections was: appealing to people about the economy. Condescending, smart-alect remarks like telling Romney that air-craft carriers are boats that airplanes can land on may be winning debate points, but the 'better campaign' rarely wins as Popkin believes.

The one thing I do agree with Popkin is that on November 7 we will have an extremely inevitable winner. For the next fifty years either:

1) How could anyone think Obama could even win eight states after 43 months of 8-10% unemployment and passing by far the two most unpopular pieces of legislation in US history ?

2) How could anyone think the worst candidate in US history would beat Obama ?
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, Interesting, and True Manna for Political Junkies, May 27, 2012
This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
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If you are even a bit of a political junkie you will love this book. I have some tendencies in that direction and was engrossed. The author especially focuses on the following presidential campaigns:

Hillary Clinton's in 2008
George H. W. Bush's in 1992
Al Gore's in 2000

He also discusses several others, including Rudy Guiliani's abortive effort and Ronald Reagan's battle for a second term. His analysis delves into both organization and messaging. There are many interesting anecdotes and the book is highly readable. It's a big serving of recent political history, written by an academic who has been in the political trenches working in campaigns. Happily, there is no discernible partisan bias.

I've read a lot about Clinton's campaign, including the superb BIG GIRLS DON"T CRY by Rebecca Traister, and found relatively little about that one in this book that is new. Other writers have cast more light on the particular pressures on a serious female candidate for president. But Popkin is particularly good at summing up that campaign's lamentable organizational failings.

The discussion of the Gore campaign is particularly illuminating and if you wanted him to win it will make you wince. How with such mixed messaging (the country is doing great and I'm furious about it) did Gore ever expect to prevail? (Oh yes, he did win the popular vote.)

The author admits that it's easy to paint the victories and defeats as inevitable as we look backward. But, as he clearly demonstrates, all presidential campaigns are bedeviled by mistakes. The discussion of the situation of an incumbent president and a challenger presented here will help the reader understand both Obama and Romney's campaigns. But it may not help you guess who'll be inaugurated in 2013.

There are many good insights in this book about the American political process. Perhaps the most crucial is this--no modern democracy has ever had its people die in a famine (though many millions died in the last century from that cause under totalitarian and colonial rule). American presidential campaigns rarely yield up a Lincoln. But there is extensive scrutiny, We do not elevate would-be dictators. We avoid the maniacs who are likely to unleash devastation. That the true crazies get weeded out seems little enough to expect of our democracy--faint praise for a political system. But it's a very big deal. Kudos to Mr. Popkin for pointing that out.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite What the Title Promises, August 1, 2013
This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
My first degree was in Political Science and History. I spent 1 year at an American University studying American Politics and time at a German University studying voting patterns and I have taught International Relations Theory at Indiana University. I am therefore well versed in election theory and what it takes to win elections. From this angle this book does a very poor job of putting forward a theory with what it takes to Win and Hold the White House......what it should be called is "How Candidates Lose Elections" because in essence this is what the book is about.

There is an old saying in the UK, "Oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them" and in essence this is the basis of the book, how people lose elections. The author examines the failed campaigns of Carter, George HW Bush, Gore, and Hillary Clinton and explains in great detail how and why they lost. In essence, Poplin puts forward the thesis that they were bad campaigners and so lost elections. I feel the analysis is broad and sweeping and especially in Gore's case questionable. Gore lost by losing Florida by a few hundred votes, in a State controlled by Jeb Bush and with a Rep Secretary of State who decided which votes counted and which did not. To apply Popkin's analysis in the way he has to such a situation is I think somewhat misguided.

For me this is an interesting "history" type book, but the analysis used needs a lot of refining if it is to succeed in its premise of explaining how to pick the winner in an American election and what it takes to hold onto the White House. Its not a bad book but having read it, I could not recommend it, if you are looking for what the title promises.
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4.0 out of 5 stars What It Takes To Win (Or Lose) A Presidential Election, September 21, 2012
This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
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The main theme of this book is how to get elected to the office of President of the United States. Much more time is spent explaining how you can lose an election than how you can win an election. It seems that winning only requires that you be better than your opponent at campaigning. Put another way, it's easy to win as long as your opponent sticks his foot into his mouth. That said, there are some gaffes that are much more egregious and likely to cost you a campaign then there are great speeches that will win you a campaign.

The author spends a considerable amount of time analyzing campaigns that, in one form or another, melted down and cost the candidate the election. Examples are Carter, Bush 41, and Gore. If we listen to the author, all of these individuals should have handily won either the man election or reelection, but failed to do two major gaffes during their campaigns.

If the author is right about his theory, then it should be fairly easy at this point to figure out who will win the election in November. By his definition, it would appear that the Romney campaign is in much more trouble than the Obama campaign. Whether or not that is true won't be known until November, however. As another reviewer put it, this book seems to have 20/20 hindsight. It may be that the only real value is in analyzing losses rather than in predicting outcomes.

I would strongly recommend this book for political junkies. It is interesting, well-written, and presents a side of the campaign that is not often evaluated. I will be following the election in November and will be curious to see if the authors theories hold up.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Candidate, September 23, 2012
This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
`The Candidate' is one of those political books that is a joy to read because it is clear, informative and fascinating to read.

This focuses on the Presidential campaigns of the late 20th and 21st century and explains what made some campaigns a success and what doomed others to failure. I particularly enjoyed the chapter comparing Obama's and Hilary Clinton's campaigns and the chapter explaining how teamwork is important using Ronald Reagan as an example. Also, surprisingly, I came away with a better understanding of George W Bush and why he was so successful when he was vilified globally.

One part of this book that annoyed me was the ever changing gender in paragraphs. For example `He needed to be dynamic to win. If she was dynamic it would mean....' I guess the author may have done this to be gender neutral and not to come across as sexist, but a simple disclaimer at the start of the book would have made the book clearer and more elegant to read.

After reading this book you come away with a better understanding of what it takes a challenger, incumbent or successor to win the Presidency and it will make the upcoming election more interesting to watch as you try to decide what aspects of their campaigns are running successfully or not. It will also help you understand why.

If you enjoy learning more about domestic politics or political books in general then this is well worth a read. I found it to be clear and interesting and would happily recommend it.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining romp behind the scenes..., October 2, 2012
This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
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Popkin's book is a lively, witty, and engaging look at the men (and women) behind the proverbial curtain. He takes us inside the mechanics of several presidential and primary campaigns, including Hillary Clinton's 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination. I was pleasantly surprised to find the book strictly focused on how a candidate wins (or loses) elections--it was not the disguised political polemic that some of these books can be.

Presidential campaigns are massive, often overly-complex machines. Popkin gives us a look at the inner workings of the machine: the ground game, the relationship between the campaign and the media, the platform's presentation, the strategy sessions...if anyone remembers the brilliant but short-lived HBO series "K-Street," this book is akin to a reader's K-Street (or Capitol Hill, as the case may be).

Most of all, it was fascinating to read an insider's account of how public opinion is so easily shaped, swayed, and reshaped in America. Popkin provides ample examples of events, advertisements, debates, speeches, &c., that are as precisely calibrated as a Stradivarius violin to nuance, shape, and ultimately bend opinion and the all-important poll numbers in the right (or left) directions.

An upbeat, highly relevant read--especially as we have entered yet another "Most Historic Election Ever!!" period.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opening explanation of the gritty, grinding way the US picks its presidents, October 5, 2012
This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
Just in time for the 2012 US presidential election - and its inevitable postmortems - political scientist Samuel L. Popkin provides his take on past White House campaigners and explains why some succeeded while others failed. Popkin succinctly lays out the three major assignments that a presidential candidate must fulfill during this arduous campaign: Be one of the people, present a vision and run a well-managed campaign. A candidate who doesn't measure up on all three counts, Popkin says, will never get the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (or perhaps win any other political race, so his advice applies, in part, beyond the US or the presidential campaign). The only blot on this entertaining read is the occasional misspelling or transposition of famous names - but Popkin's observations are so engaging that you probably will forgive him. getAbstract thinks political junkies will find this a page-turner, but, thanks to Popkin's conversational and accessible style, so will anyone who cares about the democratic process anywhere. Winston Churchill allegedly said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest." But perhaps a different piece of Churchillian wisdom applies: "Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous."
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4.0 out of 5 stars How to Get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, November 6, 2012
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This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Insight, October 24, 2012
This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
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I am hardly a political junkie, but I am somewhat interested in the process. I got this book in hopes of seeing what it does take to win and hold the White House.

I think that Popkin generally fails to show what it takes to win and hold the White House, but he does a great job of showing how to lose it. The case studies in this book give great insight into how campaigns work. I found the chapter on the 2008 Democratic primaries particularly interesting as Clinton was the candidate that could not lose and most people had not heard of Obama. Popkin clearly explains where Clinton's campaign went wrong and how Obama's worked.

I think perhaps the most impressive thing about this book is its balance. It is not partisan at all when it comes to describing the failures of various campaigns. Although Popkin worked on three Democratic campaigns, the book is extremely even in its analysis.

If you have any interest at all in Presidential campaigns I think you will enjoy this book, whether you are a diehard Democrat, Republican, or somewhere in between.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Occasionally good, but often middling, September 20, 2012
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This review is from: The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House (Hardcover)
The Candidate is a fair book--decently entertaining, but by no means earth-shattering. Here's the gist: the best campaign usually wins, but no two campaign seasons are the same. Thus, with the exception of some basics (a good candidate who is comfortable delegating, a strong chief of staff, a team that works together), there's no exact way to win or even prepare. Not surprising, right? I bought this because I read that the Obama staff had each received a copy. I've worked in campaigns for a long time, and few insights in the book struck me as particularly insightful or perceptive. There are some interesting anecdotes, however, so if you aren't familiar with American campaigns generally, this book might appeal to you.
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The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House
The Candidate: What It Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House by Samuel L. Popkin (Hardcover - May 4, 2012)
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