After the successful performance by U.S. and coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush's approval ratings were 89%. His re-election was considered very likely. As a result, several high profile candidates such as Mario Cuomo refused to seek the Democratic nomination. In addition, Senator Al Gore refused to seek the nomination due to the fact his son was struck by a car and was undergoing extensive surgery as well as physical therapy. However, Tom Harkin, Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, Bob Kerrey, Douglas Wilder and Bill Clinton chose to run as candidates.
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa) ran as a populist liberal with labor union support. Former U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas (Massachusetts) highlighted his political independence and fiscal conservatism. Former California Governor Jerry Brown, who had run for the Democratic nomination in 1976 and 1980 while he was still Governor, declared a significant reform agenda, including Congressional term limits, campaign finance reform, and the adoption of a flat income tax. Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey was an attractive candidate based on his business and military background, but made several gaffes on the campaign trail. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton positioned himself as a centrist, or New Democrat. He was still relatively unknown nationally before the primary season. That quickly changed however, when a woman named Gennifer Flowers appeared in the press to reveal allegations of an affair. Clinton rebutted the story by appearing on 60 Minutes with his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The primary season began with U.S. Senator Tom Harkin winning his native Iowa as expected. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts won the New Hampshire primary on February 18 but Clinton's second place finish, helped by his speech labeling himself "The Comeback Kid," energized his campaign. Jerry Brown won the Maine caucus and Bob Kerrey won South Dakota. Clinton won his first primary in Georgia. Tsongas won the Utah and Maryland primaries and a caucus in Washington. Harkin won caucuses in Idaho and Minnesota while Jerry Brown won Colorado. Bob Kerrey dropped out two days later. Clinton won the South Carolina and Wyoming primaries and Tsongas won Arizona. Harkin dropped out. Jerry Brown won the Nevada caucus. Clinton swept nearly all of the Super Tuesday primaries on March 10 making him the solid front runner. Clinton won the Michigan and Illinois primaries. Tsongas dropped out after finishing 3rd in Michigan. Jerry Brown, however, began to pick up steam, aided by using a 1–800 number to receive funding from small donors. Brown scored surprising wins in Connecticut, Vermont and Alaska. As the race moved to the primaries in New York and Wisconsin, Brown had taken the lead in polls in both states. Then he made a serious gaffe by announcing to an audience of New York City's Jewish community that, if nominated, he would consider Reverend Jesse Jackson as a Vice Presidential candidate. Clinton won dramatically in New York (41%–26%) and closely in Wisconsin (37%–34%). Clinton then proceeded to win a long streak of primaries leading up to Jerry Brown's home state of California. Clinton won this primary 48% to 41% and secured the delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
The convention met in New York, New York, and the official tally was:
- Bill Clinton 3,372
- Jerry Brown 596
- Paul Tsongas 289
- Robert P. Casey 10
- Pat Schroeder 5
- Larry Agran 3
- Al Gore 1
Clinton chose U.S. Senator Al Gore (D-Tennessee) to be his running mate on July 9, 1992. Choosing fellow Southerner Gore went against the popular strategy of balancing a Southern candidate with a Northern partner. Gore did serve to balance the ticket in other ways, as he was perceived as strong on family values and environmental issues, while Clinton was not. Also, Gore's similarities to Clinton allowed him to push some of his key campaign themes, such as centrism and generational change.
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