More Than A Popularity Contest: If Al Gore Won In 1988

Who should be Gore's running mate?

  • Sen. Bill Bradley (D-MD)

    Votes: 31 31.0%
  • Gov. Bill Clinton (D-AR)

    Votes: 6 6.0%
  • Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO)

    Votes: 23 23.0%
  • Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX)

    Votes: 15 15.0%
  • Gov. Michael Dukakis (D-MA)

    Votes: 21 21.0%
  • Other

    Votes: 4 4.0%

  • Total voters

By Wmh-fanatic
Hello all! Welcome to my first timeline!

Just a quick headsup, this TL will definitely be on the backburner for a while, since school and my 1968 EG are my priorities. I'm aiming for one update every two weeks.

This TL will focus mainly on US politics, although I'll put some notes of other countries in as well. I'm hoping to carry this up to the present day, or at least to the end of Gore's presidency. Suggestions are welcome and appreciated!

(Only now do I realize I labeled Bradley's homestate on the poll wrong. My mistake.)
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The Beginning (April 1987-January 1988)
The Beginning


Senator Al Gore (D-TN)

On April 11, 1987, Senator Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. of Tennessee announced his candidacy for President.

Gore was only 39 years old at the time of his announcement, which made him the youngest presidential candidate since JFK. The New York Times described the Southern centrist as:

“solidly built, dark and indisputably handsome… …his stump speaking is erratic, one night spirited and evocative and the next flat and routine. He is an indifferent platform joke-teller but can be a raconteur and mimic of some skill in the privacy of his chartered campaign plane. National analysts make Senator Gore a long-shot for the Presidential nomination, but many believe he could provide a natural complement for any of the other candidates: a young, attractive, moderate Vice Presidential nominee from the South.”

Clearly, at least for now, Gore was being dismissed as nothing more than a potential vice presidential candidate for whoever did win the Democratic nomination.


Senator Albert A. Gore, Sr., the father of Al Gore

Al Gore had been born into politics on March 31, 1948. His father was a U.S. Representative who was later a Senator, and he was the second of two children. Gore had planned to be a writer when he first enrolled in Harvard, but instead majored in government. By all means, Gore was not a novel student. He regularly smoked marijuana and shot pool instead of focusing on his studies, and he dropped to the lower one-fifth of his class. However, he managed to turn things around in his last years in college, and he graduated in 1969. He married his wife Tipper in 1970. In 1976, just after Watergate, Gore was elected to the House of Representatives, and in 1984 he was elected to the Senate, following in the footsteps of his father.

By the 1988 presidential election, Al Gore was not even a full term into his Senate career. No one knows for sure why Gore decided ‘88 was his year, but clearly, his judgment would soon prove correct.


Rev. Jesse Jackson

However, Gore's biggest threat seemed to be Jesse Jackson. Jackson had made an effort in 1984, and he was widely expected to give it another shot this time around. Jackson was expected to be strong with the African-American vote, which made up a majority of the Democratic electorate in the region. He had come in third back in ‘84, in fact. Gore was preparing for a tough fight to secure the Southern vote. However, a surprising statement came from Jackson on October 11.

“I will not be seeking the Democratic nomination in 1988, and that is my final decision.”

Jackson claimed that after consulting his family and close friends, it would not be in his best interests to mount a presidential run that year. Gore’s campaign breathed a sigh of relief at this announcement. It now seemed Gore had the Southern vote locked down, as long as no one like Bill Clinton joined the race. With that, Gore decided he could take some resources off to put effort into Iowa and New Hampshire. According to polling, he was lagging behind Dick Gephardt, Michael Dukakis, and Paul Simon, but Gore did not expect to win these early states. He hoped a strong showing, even third or fourth place, could help give him momentum into Super Tuesday.


Al Gore campaigning in Iowa ahead of the pivotal caucuses

By January, a nationwide poll showed Gore at 11%, placing him in third place, behind Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis.

CBS News/New York Times: Jan. 17-21, 1988

  • Gary Hart - 23%
  • Michael Dukakis - 16%
  • Al Gore - 11%
  • Paul Simon - 9%
  • Dick Gephardt - 4%
  • Bruce Babbitt - 2%
I always like a Democrat in '88 scenario. I'm curious about how well Gore can manage the end of the Cold War. It's a chance to win a lot of political capital.
Iowa: Surprises and Disappointments (February 8, 1988)
Iowa: Surprises and Disappointments

Iowa caucus day was tense, it was often the day that made or broke a campaign. And that tension was present at the Gore campaign.

In the days leading up to the caucus, every Democratic candidate (and Republican) tried to shore up their support to ensure a good showing. Gore had put more focus into these early primary states, now that the threat of Jesse Jackson was no longer present in the South, and there were hopes he could deliver a strong result that would legitimize his candidacy.


Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) gears up for the Iowa caucus

When the results finally came through, Dick Gephardt came in first, with 22% of the vote. Paul Simon had 18%, and in third place was Al Gore, with 14%, just barely ahead of Mike Dukakis with 13%. With that, everyone in "Goreland" breathed a sigh of relief.


Gore addresses supporters in Des Moines following his third-place finish

The only way Gore could become a serious candidate was if he acted like one, and so he did. Since Gary Hart, the original frontrunner, was by now drowning in controversies and various scandals, Dukakis and the other more liberal candidates seemed like the obvious targets. Gore portrayed himself as a Southern centrist, someone who wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of Walter Mondale in ‘84, a candidate who could win.

His campaign strategy focused on Super Tuesday. He wasn’t favored to win the early primaries, but strong showings would put him into the news and boost his standing. Then, on Super Tuesday, he would sweep the South and ride the momentum all the way to the DNC. When Iowa came in, it seemed that strategy might just work.


Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis underperformed many expectations in Iowa.

Michael Dukakis had been considered a strong candidate, but he had finished fourth in Iowa, surprising many who expected him to get at least third. However, it was still considered a respectable performance, and after the results came in he reassured his supporters that he was still in the race.

New Hampshire wasn’t looking too bad. Dukakis held a good lead there, as well as in national polls, and a win there would put him back into contention. Hope was not lost yet, it seemed.


Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) emerged the winner of the Republican Iowa caucus

On the Republican side, Bob Dole had emerged the winner of the Iowa caucus. In second place, to the surprise of many, was not Vice President George Bush, but Pat Robertson, an evangelical TV preacher. Bush’s third place finish cast his standing into doubt. “If Bush loses New Hampshire, his campaign is over.” said one newspaper.

Regardless, Bush continued, banking on New Hampshire to deliver him the results he needed. Would New Hampshire end up being the primary that would doom the frontrunners?

Al Gore hoped so.
New Hampshire: The Sigh of Relief
New Hampshire: The Sigh of Relief

Then came New Hampshire, the state that Dukakis was hoping would keep him ahead. The new threat Gore wasn’t polling too well there, and he was the governor of the neighboring state from which most New Hampshirites come from. Dukakis was confident he would win New Hampshire.

But there was still one threat looming who might end up snagging an upset victory if he got too complacent. Dick Gephardt.


Representative Dick Gephardt, the winner of the Iowa caucus, was polling second in New Hampshire.

Dukakis was, of course, from neighboring Massachusetts, and he led by a good 10 points in the polls there, but he was also polling well in Iowa, and the nation saw what happened there.

If he lost here, it was over. He knew that well. And the rise of that random southerner Al Gore wasn’t helping things.

Meanwhile, the air in Goreland was ecstatic. This was all they had to do all month, according to the man himself, and it seemed they had succeeded, and far more than anticipated. One campaign manager reportedly said, “By calling our campaign a joke, they made themselves a joke!”

Regardless, it seemed Dukakis’ efforts paid off, as he won New Hampshire by a sizable margin of 18,000 votes. Gephardt was second, Paul Simon was third, and Al Gore was fourth. Meanwhile on the Republican side, Vice President Bush apparently made a comeback with his victory. However, it was closer than anticipated, as Bush received 34% of the vote with Bob Dole getting 31%. Campaign managers on the Bush team were already sweating beads after Iowa, so imagine what they were sweating with this.


Michael Dukakis declares victory in the New Hampshire primary

But for most of this, Gore wasn’t putting much focus in New Hampshire. He was putting focus on the next two states that he might be able to win outright before Super Tuesday.

Wyoming and South Dakota.


Gore delivers a speech near Yellowstone Park in Wyoming the day after New Hampshire
Wyoming and South Dakota: Comebacks
Wyoming and South Dakota: Comebacks

So… Wyoming. Pretty rural state, pretty unpopulated state. The most unpopulated in the nation, in fact. And a state guaranteed to go for whoever the Republican was in November.

But that means the populace is more conservative, and Gore knew he could hit on that. While barnstorming the state he could hit on this freely, discussing his stance on a moment of silence in schools for prayer and his opposition to federal abortion funding. Gore had a decent lead in the caucus polls here, and he was determined to win it. It wasn’t completely necessary to his strategy, but early wins would boost his standing.


Al Gore speaks in Pierre, South Dakota

South Dakota, however, was coming up sooner, on February 23. Polls weren’t favoring Gore as much there, Gephardt and Dukakis continued to hold the top 2 spots there, and Gore was in a distant third. But his campaign team was feeling confident that they could make a respectable showing there. They kept drilling the point, no first-place wins would be needed until Super Tuesday.

But Gore was getting nervous. Really now, was it really a good idea to bank his entire campaign on Super Tuesday? Though he was the only southerner in the race, the South alone wasn’t going to carry him to victory. He needed wins up north. And to get wins up north, he needed public confidence. And to get public confidence, he needed to win a primary. Gephardt and Dukakis had cemented themselves the frontrunners, albeit tepidly.

CBS News - Wyoming - February 16-18, 1988

  • Al Gore - 30%
  • Michael Dukakis - 28%
  • Dick Gephardt - 24%
  • Other - 18%

CBS News - South Dakota - February 14-16, 1988
  • Dick Gephardt - 39%
  • Michael Dukakis - 35%
  • Al Gore - 16%
  • Paul Simon - 9%
  • Other - 1%
Gore feared an upset. The team told him that even if there was one, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but they had seen what had nearly happened to Dukakis when he underperformed in Iowa. Gore, being in a much more distant third, might be more affected by such a disaster.

Ultimately he wanted Wyoming in his column.

Wyoming caucus day was on March 5. Dukakis and Gephardt had come out victorious in Minnesota and South Dakota respectively, and Dukakis had come out comfortably in Vermont. But when Wyoming finally came, the duopoly was broken.

Wyoming Democratic Caucus Results - March 5, 1988

  • Al Gore - 94 votes
  • Michael Dukakis - 84 votes
  • Dick Gephardt - 63 votes
  • Paul Simon - 6 votes
  • Other - 1 vote

Al Gore had won his first contest. It was a close margin, but he was now being considered a serious contender, especially looking at Super Tuesday polling showing him in the lead in the South and even a little bit in the plains.


Al Gore hits the campaign trail the day after Wyoming

On the Republican side, Vice President Bush and Senator Bob Dole were in a heated race, much closer than expected. Dole had secured victories in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, while Bush had won in Nevada and Maine. Initially, Dole had the lead, but on the day of Gore’s Wyoming victory, Bush secured the state of South Carolina, and by a good 12-point margin.

Vice President George Bush, initially in hot water, was finally gaining on Bob Dole

Al Gore privately believed that George Bush would be the easiest candidate to beat. After 8 years of Reagan, Democrats held the advantage according to polls, and Reagan’s vice president would be an obvious rebuke of the desired change by the Republican Party. Gore hoped that it would be Bush v. Gore come summer, but first, he had to win Super Tuesday. And so did Bush.
Gore in 1988 was an interesting character, a conservative character at that relative to the rest of the Democratic Party. I think his presidency would be very different to that of Bush or the potential presidencies of Dukakis, Gephardt or Hart.

Very good so far. Hoping we get a Dole comeback whether he gets nominated or not, he's an interesting guy.
Its possible Dole could be the nominee in '92.