Interesting anecdotes... but really doesn't asnwer how to win and hold the White House,
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 ?