Decision '88: "California! California! California!" (Bush v. Hunt)

Decision '88 Opening
Opening Music

Tom Brokaw: Good evening America, and welcome to NBC's coverage of the 1988 Election Results. In what is the tightest race since the epic Kennedy/Nixon showdown of 1960, the polls show the race to be inside of the margin of error of the margin of error.

What looked like a runaway for Democratic Senator Jim Hunt of North Carolina has narrowed after a brass knuckled, hard fought comeback from Vice President George Bush of Texas over the past three months. We'll begin by getting the lay of the land from Tim Russert, our political guru. Tim, let's go through tonight's many battleground states, starting in the Northeast.....

TR: Well, Tom. Connecticut is on a knife edge, and will probably come down to a few hundred votes either way. People I've talked with in the Bush campaign have been feeling better about their chances there and in New Jersey and Delaware over the past few days. On the Hunt side, they're feeling very good about their chances for picking up Vermont and Maryland....and then there's the big prize of the night: Pennsylvania, with it's 25 electoral votes. It's a must win for the Hunt campaign, and they are feeling optimistic about a win there tonight; polls have consistently been giving Hunt the edge there by 3 to 4 points, and it's a state that Gary Hart lost by fewer than 700 votes four years ago,

TB: Now, Tim, down onto Dixie......

TR: Despite the fact that Hunt is a popular son of North Carolina, he's struggled to break through into the South. He's on track to carry North Carolina and it's 13 electoral votes, but beyond that, his best chances are probably in Kentucky and Louisiana, both are coin flips. If Hunt's having a really big night, he might get Arkansas, where Governor Bill Clinton has been pushing extremely hard, but beyond that....there are limited opportunities. While Hunt will do better in states like Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee, it probably won't be enough.

TB: Tim....and now onto one of the two big acts of tonight, the Midwest....

TR: Wow.....five huge and crucial states for both candidates: Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri. A whomping 89 electoral votes in play. Let's start with Ohio, where despite the best efforts of Governor Dick Celeste, the Hunt campaign has been polling narrowly behind Vice President Bush by about 2 points; it's probably the state the GOP feels best about tonight. With Paul Simon on the ticket, Democrats have begin to pull away in Illinois, which would net them 24 electoral votes. They're also confident in about their chances in the dairy state of Wisconsin. Hunt's Southern charm offensive has born fruit in Missourah; they've been narrowly tracking ahead there. As for Michigan, who knows; polling's been all over the place.

TB: But important to note just how close these five states have been; a gust of wind in the right place tonight could make all the difference between a sweep and a wipeout for both campaigns. As for the rest of the West before California.....

TR: The Hunt campaign thinks they'll pick up heavily Hispanic New Mexico and South Dakota for sure, and they've been making a play for Colorado in the last few weeks; the joke goes "why not, if we have to refuel somewhere between St. Louis and San Diego anyways...."

TB: Which brings us to the biggest of the big enchiladas of them all: California and it's monstrous 47 electoral votes. The battleground state of battleground states.......we'll go live to Katie Couric in Los Angeles....

Katie Couric: Tim and Tom, there have been enormous lines at polling stations throughout the day, which the Hunt campaign takes as a positive sign, but it's just so tight here. Senator Pete Wilson, the GOP's Vice Presidential nominee, has been campaigning hard here even on election day. The GOP is counting on outsized turnout in San Diego and the LA suburbs to counter the Democratic surge in the Bay Area and urban Los Angeles.....

TR: It is going to be a very, very long night out in California. We probably won't know who has won until the wee hours of the morning. Nobody has a clue as to who the winner in the Golden State will be.....or that matter the other sixteen battleground states. As they say at a rodeo, hang on to your hats!

TB: We're off to break now, but when we comeback we'll have a quick recap of this historic, tumultuous campaign, plus the first results of the night......
 
First Poll Closings: 6PM
Tom Brokaw: .....and we're back. Polls are now closed in most of Indiana and the eastern part of Kentucky. We can at least make one projection at this early hour. Vice President Bush will carry Indiana and it's 12 electoral votes tonight, albeit with a much reduced margin from four years ago, when President Reagan carried it with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Tim Russert: Not a huge surprise; Indiana is a pretty reliably Republican state at the national level, though Democrat Evan Bayh appears to be on track to win the Governorship there tonight. The fact that our exit poll shows Hunt cutting Reagan's margin by about nine points is telling. Swings of that nature would put Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin in the Democratic column tonight. Indiana has a lot of conservative Democrats who stuck with Reagan four years ago, higher than most of the Midwest. Interestingly, Indiana is home to one of the great bellwethers of American politics, Vigo County, and if we look at the limited results from the four precincts reporting so far, you'll see that Vice President Bush is so far clinging to a three vote lead. Perhaps a portent of things to come in the Midwest.

As for Kentucky, our exit poll is projecting a very close race, and we're not able to make any projection currently. As a Southern Governor, Hunt has had more appeal there than Gary Hart, and it is one of his two big hopes for electoral votes in the South tonight along with Louisiana and maybe Arkansas.

Tom Brokaw: In about 45 minutes we'll have poll closings in Florida, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Hampshire, Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina. Most of those, with the exception of Vermont, are likely to favor Vice President Bush tonight, right Tim?

Tim Russert: Vermont will be close; it's ancestrally Republican but has been trending towards the Democrats, and Reagan carried it by only six points in 1984. Hunt has a ghost of a chance in Georgia, but is likely to fall short; he did campaign in there in the last 10 days, but it's a long shot, but with big turnout in Atlanta and from African-Americans, its not impossible.

Florida is a changing state, but the Hunt campaign made the decision to not invest in the expensive state which favored Reagan by 17 points; it was seen as just too big a gap to bridge. Especially in a year when California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania are hoovering up any dime that isn't nailed down. It's also a reflection of how difficult things have become at the federal level for Democrats in the South, despite their resilience downballot.
 
Tom Brokaw: .....and we're back. Polls are now closed in most of Indiana and the eastern part of Kentucky. We can at least make one projection at this early hour. Vice President Bush will carry Indiana and it's 12 electoral votes tonight, albeit with a much reduced margin from four years ago, when President Reagan carried it with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Tim Russert: Not a huge surprise; Indiana is a pretty reliably Republican state at the national level, though Democrat Evan Bayh appears to be on track to win the Governorship there tonight. The fact that our exit poll shows Hunt cutting Reagan's margin by about nine points is telling. Swings of that nature would put Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin in the Democratic column tonight. Indiana has a lot of conservative Democrats who stuck with Reagan four years ago, higher than most of the Midwest. Interestingly, Indiana is home to one of the great bellwethers of American politics, Vigo County, and if we look at the limited results from the four precincts reporting so far, you'll see that Vice President Bush is so far clinging to a three vote lead. Perhaps a portent of things to come in the Midwest.

As for Kentucky, our exit poll is projecting a very close race, and we're not able to make any projection currently. As a Southern Governor, Hunt has had more appeal there than Gary Hart, and it is one of his two big hopes for electoral votes in the South tonight along with Louisiana and maybe Arkansas.

Tom Brokaw: In about 45 minutes we'll have poll closings in Florida, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Hampshire, Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina. Most of those, with the exception of Vermont, are likely to favor Vice President Bush tonight, right Tim?

Tim Russert: Vermont will be close; it's ancestrally Republican but has been trending towards the Democrats, and Reagan carried it by only six points in 1984. Hunt has a ghost of a chance in Georgia, but is likely to fall short; he did campaign in there in the last 10 days, but it's a long shot, but with big turnout in Atlanta and from African-Americans, its not impossible.

Florida is a changing state, but the Hunt campaign made the decision to not invest in the expensive state which favored Reagan by 17 points; it was seen as just too big a gap to bridge. Especially in a year when California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania are hoovering up any dime that isn't nailed down. It's also a reflection of how difficult things have become at the federal level for Democrats in the South, despite their resilience downballot.
Good stuff although that Florida situation would've been a recent development then -- if you had not-Reagan vs. Hunt four years earlier he'd have been after it like a dog with a bone because of his personal connections to the political machinery of Bob Graham, Reubin Askew, and Lawton Chiles. The only actual nit I have to pick is that "hoovering" was still a distinctly British/non-American Anglophone phrase in the Eighties. Not enough PBS watchers out there at that point to make it common slang. Always "vacuuming" for older USians. Love the granular detail on Indiana.
 
Good stuff although that Florida situation would've been a recent development then -- if you had not-Reagan vs. Hunt four years earlier he'd have been after it like a dog with a bone because of his personal connections to the political machinery of Bob Graham, Reubin Askew, and Lawton Chiles. The only actual nit I have to pick is that "hoovering" was still a distinctly British/non-American Anglophone phrase in the Eighties. Not enough PBS watchers out there at that point to make it common slang. Always "vacuuming" for older USians. Love the granular detail on Indiana.
Here's the thinking on Florida: In OTL, Bush got almost 61% against Dukakis and Reagan got over 65% in '84. Even Clinton didn't win it when he destroyed Bush in '92.

I'll throw it in later on, but there was basically a long conversation early on after Hunt had secured the nomination about triaging priorities; something had to give between Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, California, and Florida. It came down to a three way argument between Florida, Ohio, and California. Ohio gets saved because they're already having to advertise in the Toledo (Michigan), Cincinnati (Kentucky), and Youngstown (Pennsylvania) media markets anyways; adding Cleveland and Columbus media time isn't so bad. Hart had managed to hold Reagan to a surprisingly low 54.5 in California in '84, whereas Reagan got 57.6 in Florida; the California Democratic Party and the donor base wanted their showdown, and Alan Cranston sold Hunt on the idea.

Chiles/Graham/Askew basically tell Hunt: Come back in 1992. Florida will be a much different place in four years.
 
Here's the thinking on Florida: In OTL, Bush got almost 61% against Dukakis and Reagan got over 65% in '84. Even Clinton didn't win it when he destroyed Bush in '92.

I'll throw it in later on, but there was basically a long conversation early on after Hunt had secured the nomination about triaging priorities; something had to give between Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, California, and Florida. It came down to a three way argument between Florida, Ohio, and California. Ohio gets saved because they're already having to advertise in the Toledo (Michigan), Cincinnati (Kentucky), and Youngstown (Pennsylvania) media markets anyways; adding Cleveland and Columbus media time isn't so bad. Hart had managed to hold Reagan to a surprisingly low 54.5 in California in '84, whereas Reagan got 57.6 in Florida; the California Democratic Party and the donor base wanted their showdown, and Alan Cranston sold Hunt on the idea.

Chiles/Graham/Askew basically tell Hunt: Come back in 1992. Florida will be a much different place in four years. Getting things to 52-48 or so is easy.
Across the South this was also the case in Tennessee, Georgia, and Arkansas to varying extents. Arkansas is cheap to play in, and Tennessee and Georgia aren't Florida sized costs, though at the end in the last 10 days, they stripped Tennessee down to feed Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Georgia.
 
The Hunt/Helms '84 Slugfest
Tom Brokaw: We're back. Vice President Bush and Senator Jim Hunt took very different paths to their party's nominations. We'll let Tim Russert recap how we got here tonight.

Tim Russert: For the Democrats, 1984 was a disappointment. Gary Hart fell short by over ten points, as Ronald Reagan won re-election easily, 55-44 (54.8 to 43.9). Meanwhile in North Carolina, one of the nastiest, most expensive Senate races in American history between then Governor Jim Hunt and conservative icon Jesse Helms. Over $27 million* dollars flowed into the race. Hunt began the campaign with a 24 point lead, but the race tightened considerably after a barrage of negative advertising against Hunt for his support for affirmative action, Martin Luther King Day, busing, and school prayer. Hunt hit back hard, tying Helms to death squads in El Salvador and his extremist views. On Election Day, the polls still showed a dead heat, despite Reagan's personal appeal to return Helms to office.


(Cuts to WCNC-Charlotte): It's 2:03 in the morning, and we have just gotten results from the last two wards in Charlotte. As of right now, Governor James Hunt is the apparent winner....by 87 votes out of over two million cast.

James Hunt (D): 49.86% 1,113,628 ✓ WINNER
Jesse Helms (R): 49.86% 1,113,541

The recount went on for a month, and when it was all said and done, Hunt had prevailed by a margin of just 51 votes. It was a bright spot in a night of disappointments for the Democratic Party. Jim Hunt's already rising star became a rocket shot, having defeated perhaps the most prominent Republican Senator in America.

*Over $60 million in today's dollars
** A retrospective on OTL's race by the Raleigh News and Observer.

So, in short Hart got the '84 nomination and kept his zipper shut for long enough to do about four points better than Mondale. Helms was denied the type cast liberal boat anchor that was Walter Mondale, which he used to sink Hunt in OTL. Hunt ekes it out on election night; the far right of the GOP still thinks they were screwed over in the recount by the state's Democratic machinery.
 
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Nice but there is a type here i think "Election Day, the polls still showed a dead heat, despite Reagan's personal appeal to return Hunt to office." (Shouldnt it be return Helms to office?)
 
Jim Hunt's Prep Work 1985-1988
An Excerpt From Jim Hunt: The New Southerner by Gary Pearce

Having been elected to the US Senate by a razor thin margin, Hunt took a brief victory lap, and then proceeded to start setting himself up for a run at the Presidency, effectively using the US Senate as a finishing school. He wrangled seats on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees to bolster his foreign policy bonafides, cultivated a national network of donors, and spent considerable time talking with the Midwest delegations to get a better grip on how politics North of the Mason-Dixon worked. He was a popular guy; even most of the Republicans were glad that Jesse Helms was gone. By 1986, everyone was jokingly saying that he was the Senate Democrats preferred Presidential choice; Al Gore and Bill Clinton were both waiting for 1992, leaving him as the candidate of the South.
 
I was a campaigner for Bush in 80, when 88 came around the network in Pennsylvania was ready turning out Reagan Democrats for him. That election was a high point for me.
 
1988 Democratic Primaries
NBC News Election Night Coverage: Decision '88

Jim Hunt's entry into the 1988 Primary race was widely expected, and he was tipped as a slight frontrunner. The early primary schedule didn't do him any favors. Two native sons of the Midwest, Representative Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Paul Simon of Illinois were clear favorites in the Iowa Caucus. Likewise, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts was on New Hampshire television most nights than not. Hunt emulated Jimmy Carter's strategy in Iowa, running a grassroots campaign, playing up his underdog status compared to the two Midwestern candidates staying in Iowans homes, and campaigning across the state. He could talk agriculture to the state's farmers with the best of anyone, even better than Simon or Gephardt, who had predominantly urban bases. His hard work and breadth of policy knowledge earned him the crucial Des Moines Register endorsement.

When all the votes were counted on caucus night, Hunt came in a close third to Gephardt and Simon. Hunt rode his Iowa support to a respectable second place victory in New Hampshire. In the weeks prior to Super Tuesday, Hunt did reasonably well in the Northeast and Midwest, despite failing to score a win. On Super "Southern" Tuesday. Hunt blew everyone else away, sweeping the South top to bottom, by large margins, and winning in the border states of Kentucky, Maryland, and Oklahoma comfortably. Jesse Jackson's "Rainbow Coalition" campaign fizzled down to distant second places in South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. Gephardt, having only won in Iowa, Missouri, and South Dakota, began to have fundraising difficulties. Dukakis had won Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont in addition to the Maine caucuses. He was struggling to gain traction outside the Northeast and had flopped enormously in the South; only in Maryland did he place second.

And then came the Democratic Party's high noon: Illinois. After Paul Simon dropped out, the state was wide open, but thought to favor Gephardt, due to his union connections......

An Excerpt From Jim Hunt: The New Southerner by Gary Pearce

We'd executed our plan to perfection: close 3rd in Iowa, lots of great press, and did better in New Hampshire than we had hoped. We romped through the South to a big delegate lead; a week before Super Tuesday, with the writing on the wall, Hunt met clandestinely with Paul Simon in Louisville. It was just me, Hunt, Simon, his campaign manager, and William Daley, who'd flown down.

We had decided to make an offer to Simon and the Daley machine: Simon as VP (who covered a lot of the bases we needed shoring up anyways), William Daley as HUD secretary, and our support in putting Richard Daley into the Chicago Mayor's office, plus some infrastructure goodies at O'Hare and elsewhere. In exchange, the Daley machine would arrange for the party organization to deliver Illinois for Hunt and effectively end the primary. Four days before Super Tuesday, Simon called us to let us know the deal was on, but we had to meet with Lane Kirkland (the price there was striking worker replacement, something we didn't oppose anyways). With that in hand, Hunt went out on stage and famously challenged Dukakis and Gephardt. "MEET ME IN ILLINOIS!".

Dukakis and Gephardt never knew what hit them. We won Illinois by eleven points a week later.



 
Lee Atwater: This Ain't Gonna Be A Walk In The Park
From The Diary Of Lee Atwater, March 12, 1988:

Shit. Hunt's going to be the Democratic nominee. He's going to be a bastard in the general. It's a real bummer, you should have seen what we had ready for Gephardt and Dukakis. Hunt's vulnerabilities are much, much smaller; and he's one of the canniest operators the Democratic Party has produced since.....maybe Harry Truman. The thinking is that we try to paint him as the second coming of Jimmy Carter, but even that's going to have limits. Hunt's got a much better record to run off of, has ingratiated himself with the DC Democrats, and doesn't come off as overly preachy like Carter did. Hunt's got genuine foreign policy experience; less than Bush, but still, lots of B roll out there with him out in the African sticks and the Eastern Bloc. Hunt can win in the South, Midwest, and worryingly, my California people tell me he's the type who will sell out in the Los Angeles and San Diego suburbs. This is going to be a tough slog moving forward, made more so by the goddamn economy and that prick Oliver North.
 
1988 Republican Primaries and Decision '88 Update: 630P Eastern
NBC Coverage: Decision '88

Tom Brokaw: ....after Hunt's decisive victory in Illinois, the Democratic Primary effectively ended, with the party coalescing around him.

As for Vice President Bush, he started out as the prohibitive frontrunner for his party's nomination. Only Senator Bob Dole of Kansas and Reverend Pat Robertson of Virginia stepped forward to challenge the Vice President, in what was expected to become a coronation. After a shock loss in the Iowa caucuses to Dole, and seeming like a likely loser in New Hampshire, Bush went on the offensive and attacked Dole over his support for tax increases and closeness to Democrats. A key endorsement from the lion of conservatism, Barry Goldwater, and superior organization set the stage for a comeback win in the Granite State. Then it was on to the South, where Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater had laid the ground for victory. Bush's won him the day in the crucial South Carolina primary, effectively sealing his nomination, and setting up a showdown with Jim Hunt in the general election.

Tim Russert: With about 38% of the vote in from Kentucky, Bush leads Jim Hunt by 7%, but very little of Louisville and Lexington has reported yet. Also we have news that several polling stations in Detroit and Philadelphia had run out of ballots; judges have ruled that polls in both Philadelphia and Detroit's Wayne County will remain open an extra 60 minutes to remedy the situation......

So, there you have the primaries. The Democratic one is quite different, obviously. Bush wins the Republican one in pretty much identical fashion to OTL. We'll start getting into the general election campaign in just a little bit here.
 
America In Political Transition
An Excerpt from The New Campaign Trail: Three Epic Campaigns That Changed American Politics by Doris Kearns Goodwin

As the 1988 campaign matchup was set, both campaigns were having the same problem: trying to figure out what was and wasn't fools gold. Although both campaigns raised record sums of money at the time, resources weren't unlimited. The map that faced both campaigns reflected an America that was in transition. Most of the formerly Solid South had one foot out the door en route to the GOP; conversely, Rockefeller Republicanism was starting to show signs of rapid decline in the Northeast. The Hunt campaign knew that South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi were gone for at least a generation; Bush wasn't going to spend a dime in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. Everything else had specks of gold embedded in it. Complicating matters was the fact that Reagan had blown away Carter and to a lesser extent Hart so completely that the last decade of Presidential campaign yielded few clues as to the lay of the land by 1988.

Even in the ever moderate Midwest, outwardly the same competitive battleground as always, was concealing huge internal changes. Take the Chicago metropolitan area: in 1960, JFK basically split working class Will County, home to Joliet. In 1988, Bush carried it by close to ten points. Conversely, in Lake County, a place that never met a country club it didn't like, Hunt's pitch as a "Different Kind of Democrat" picked up nearly twelve points from the GOP. With few exceptions, swing voters were available by the hordes.

....and then there was the West. Before 1980, national Democrats qualified for protection on the endangered species list in the Mountain West and West Coast. Gary Hart, the Atari Democrats, and a willingness to slaughter some sacred policy cows of the Democratic Party yielded ore strikes the party could not have even imagined in the late '70s. For decades, having a native at the top of the ticket had masked the massive changes taking place in California. Denuded of that luxury, the state was revealed to be in the first stages of massive hemorrhages in GOP votes. Hart's surprising performance in 1984 in the Golden State had revealed that all was not well in the GOP's Flagship state. By 1988, with the alarm bells sounding, Pete Wilson was drafted in to hold the line, as the floodgates opened. It was a campaign California had never seen before....
 
Death By A Thousand Cuts, But It's Still The Economy Stupid....
NBC Coverage: Decision '88

Tim Russert: As the campaign began, the Democratic Party began to hit Vice President Bush hard on several avenues of attack. As the Reagan White House entered 1984, it was suffering by death from a thousand cuts on multiple fronts, each an opening for Senator Hunt to attack Bush:

The news of bid rigging by HUD Secretary James Watt and the news of kickbacks within the Defense Department highlighted the "culture of corruption" and "pay to play" attacks on ethical lapses within the Reagan White House. This added to the fallout from the disclosures during the Iran-Contra scandal during 1986 and 1987, particularly the damaging testimony of CIA Director William Casey, hobbled the Bush campaign as the general election opened. While Bush and Reagan were cleared of wrongdoing, the scandal did lasting damage to the administration's approval ratings.

The January 1988 fatal midair collision of a USAir DC-9 in and a private jet carrying real estate magnate Donald Trump over New York showed the effects of Reagan's war on unionized air traffic controllers. The Democratic controlled Congress has launched an investigation into the effectiveness and competence of those controllers hired after the PATCO strike.

The continuing S&L crisis has weighed on the Bush campaign. The bailout of these failing institutions by the US government has continued to stoke anger towards what has been perceived as the 'rot at the top'. While the economy has posted average economic growth numbers, the agony of deindustrialization in the Midwest has allowed Hunt to portray Bush as being more concerned with Wall Street rather than Main Street; the S&L bailout has heightened these tensions. Additionally,the enormous deficit spending, particularly in Defense spending, has acted as a drag on the Bush campaign.

In the Republicans favor, the economy has continued to hum along, despite the S&L crisis and the "Flash Crash" of 1987. The strength of the economy has acted as a buffer against the other headwinds the Bush administration has been facing. On the domestic front, the Reagan Administration's successes in the War on Drugs and changes in sentencing guidelines have insulated them somewhat on the crime issue. Polling has found that the Republican "tough on crime" campaign may have neutralized the issue. The Reagan administration's success in foreign policy, such as the signing of the INF treaty, the invasion of Grenada, and the thawing of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union have also buoyed Bush's poll numbers. The Bush campaign has spent a lot of time playing up the Vice President's foreign policy strengths.

Tom, the first two months of the campaign were dead even, but as we all knew, that was soon to change......

Tom Brokaw: And now we have a significant update from Kentucky in the form of the fact that all of the votes in the Kentucky bellweather of Bourbon County have been counted, and Senator Jim Hunt won the county 52% to 47%. Perhaps a sign of things to come in the Bluegrass State.

A few Reagan era scandals have fallen out of the closet earlier than in OTL; Iran Contra was modestly more damning as well. Scandal fatigue is starting to set in, and Hunt will be taking full advantage of that. The Trump/USAir 1139 collision is a random event that didn't arise in OTL. The economy is still humming along as in OTL, but the S&L scandal is producing some noticeable drag.
 
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Foreign Affairs Landmines
April 14, 1988

NY Times: USS Samuel B Roberts Sunk In Persian Gulf, Few Survivors Reported

From The Diary of Jim Hunt

I learned the news of the sinking of the USS Roberts when I saw it on the diner we had stopped at in Philadelphia. We were there in advance of the Pennsylvania primary. It was the first United States ship to be sunk in combat since the Korean War. As reports came in, it appeared that the ship had struck a mine laid by the Iranians. The blast had apparently penetrated to the ship's main magazine, and the thing went up like a firework. The patrons of the diner were pissed beyond words. The nation will want vengeance for the loss of several hundred American sailors. I made the decision to cancel campaigning for the rest of the day, head back to my hotel and get a briefing from my national security team as well as the intelligence liason I had been assigned after becoming the putative nominee. From there, my communications staff drafted a statement on the sinking and called for action against the perpetrators.
 
Retaliation In The Persian Gulf
An Excerpt From The Choice: Bush vs. Hunt by Bob Woodward

Within two weeks, the Iranian Navy and significant portions of the Iranian Air Force basically ceased to exist, as the vengeful US Navy sank pretty much anything and everything it saw. Several US Navy submarines fired over 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Iranian Air Force bases and targets in Tehran such as the Revolutionary Guards HQ, the Defense and Petroleum Ministries, and the Komiteh HQ. It was a completely disproportionate response, and one that was extremely popular with the American people (as well as Saddam Hussein). The White House, never one to miss a trick, put Vice President Bush front and center, publicly elevating his role in the decision making process. The Hunt campaign could do little but watch.

From the diary of Gary Pearce

Bush's poll numbers are on a rocket shot upwards, and all we can do right now is stand and cheer on the response to the sinking of the Roberts. I did have a meeting with our opposition research team. I asked what we had for when after things died down.....we're sitting on something concerning Neil Bush and the S&L scandal. I inquired about Bush and Iran and was told that they have a few puzzle pieces, but nothing damning. There are persistent whispers however, of how the 1980 hostage crisis went down......
 
California Dreaming
I think I made somehwhat too big a jump between the end of the primaries and the sinking of the Roberts. I'm going to spend the next few posts laying out each campaign's grand strategy in March before jumping back to April. We'll be starting with a discussion of the big enchilada.....California.
From The Diary of Pete Wilson

The braintrust of the Bush campaign asked for a meeting with myself, Bob White (my Chief of Staff), and my top political advisor Otto Bos. They wanted us to talk through the ins and outs of a California strategy; it's also a great chance to position myself for a slot on the ticket. The same 5 or 6 names keep swirling around; myself, Governor Deukmejian, Sen. Kassenbaum from Kansas, Sen. Quayle from Indiana, and Illinois Gov. James Thompson. Anyways, we went and gave the dog and pony show to the campaign brass....


1984 Reagan-Hart Map

California's in a state of transition. The fact that a California Governor has been on the ballot five times since 1960 has made the state look more Republican than it really has become. Reagan's surprisingly weak showing against Hart in '84 underlines the end of California as a lean to likely GOP state. Republican decline is rooted in several factors....first off, the Atari Democrats like Hart and Hunt are really popular in the Bay Area suburbs; Marin, San Mateo, and Contra Costa all flipped, despite Reagan's win. Down in Silicon Valley, moderate technocrats sell exceedingly well, which adds to Democrats strong position in Oakland and San Francisco proper. That same centrism is also going to win more than a few votes in the Los Angeles and San Diego suburbs; Hart managed to carry Los Angeles County by three points, and also cut into Reagan's margins in San Diego. On the whole, there are a ton of moderate gettable suburban voters throughout the state in the Bay Area, Southern California, Sacramento, and San Diego. On the flip side, the GOP is now the dominant party in the agricultural North, which is a shift from the 1960s, and the GOP remains solid in the Central Valley as well.

Secondly, the demographics of the state are changing before our eyes; an influx of Latino and Asian voters are going to make things much more difficult for the GOP in Southern California and the Bay Area. While the GOP has made inroads into the Asian-American communities, particularly the Vietnamese, we've really struggled in the exploding Latino community. There is a ton of white suburban backlash to bilingual education and state services being provided to illegal immigrants in the state, and that has pushed them to the Democrats. The California GOP may struggle to win Los Angeles County ever again. That said, the outer suburban support for the GOP in Orange, Riverside, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties has held strong; Bush will need to hold that support if he's going to carry the state.

Finally, cultural attitudes are shifting in the state. In most of the suburbs, maybe outside Orange, there's already the sense that the Reagan era is ending, and something new is ahead. Social attitudes towards hot button issues like abortion and homosexuality are shifting in the state in a way that favors Democrats. That said, the Soviet Union is still around, and the defense contractors in Southern California and the tech community have never been better, so that's something to play on.

On the whole we advised a five point strategy for winning California:

1) Stay moderate on social issues. Falwell's Moral Majority is a minority in the Golden State; going hard right on, say abortion, will turn off a ton of middle of the road suburban voters.

2) Run on "peace and prosperity"; the state's economy has never been better. Pledge to continue the economic path we're on and commit to working with Governor Deukmejian. Good feelings on the economic front are our best ally in 1988.

3) Emphasize the Reagan/Bush commitment to a strong Armed Forces. There are defense contractors by the boatload in Southern California, and the tech industry also gets a nice cut of that.

4) Campaign on increased infrastructure spending. The traffic in Southern California and the Bay Area can be.....trying. It sure as hell won't lose you any votes.

5) Finally, take a firm and decisive stance on the illegal immigration issue. It's crucial to holding a ton of swing suburban voters that you need to hold on. It may be the last thing keeping many of them from jumping over to the Democratic Party. It's not like you're going to win the Hispanic vote anyways....(Lee Atwater seemed to be getting excited at the possibilities). We can always go back with a mea culpa to them later on in 1996 if we have to.....

The 6th point was left unsaid. Put a Californian on the ticket.......

On the whole, I thought the meeting went well. Atwater seemed impressed. Mission accomplished.
 
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