campaigning

balanced ticket

balanced ticket

A balanced ticket is a paring of political party candidates designed to appeal to a broad swathe of the electorate. A balanced ticket normally includes candidates likely to be approved of by different racial, regional, and religious groups.

The term was first used in 1937, according to Merriam Webster.

In modern presidential elections, the presidential nominees choose their running mates carefully, hoping to create a balanced ticket. This is going to look different for every candidate. The general rule is that the running mate should possess whatever important quality the presidential candidate is lacking. Of course, this will also depend on the electorate and their perceived requirements.

In 2008, Barack Obama announced that Delaware senator Joe Biden would be his running mate. Biden was seen as a foreign policy expert; he was also someone with decades of experience in Washington. In that way, he balanced out Obama’s relative lack of experience and lack of foreign policy credentials.

Obama’s opponent, John McCain, picked a relatively unknown running mate – Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. While Palin was criticized as a lightweight, some pundits argued that, in fact, picking her was a stroke of genius. Her freshness and energy could balance out McCain’s age and experience. The McCain-Palin ticket was a combination of political insider and brash outsider, in much the same was as the Obama-Biden ticket way.

In 2016 the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, chose Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. Analysts pointed out that Kaine represented Virginia, a “battleground” state; Kaine also spoke fluent Spanish and had “working class roots.” But Kaine was also expected to balance the ticket by the sheer fact that he was a white man, a demographic which the Clinton campaign was struggling to win over.

Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump, chose Senator Mike Pence as his running mate. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Andrew Downs wrote:

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been unconventional, but the naming of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as Trump’s vice presidential choice is quite conventional. Pence balances the ticket in almost every way.

What many people may notice first is how Trump’s and Pence’s personalities balance each other. Trump is unpredictable, forceful and, at times, impolite. Pence is predictable, some might say to a fault. Pence does not shy from a fight, but “forceful” is not a word that is used often to describe him. Pence is Midwestern polite. “

Some analysts argue that balancing the ticket isn’t always a great idea. Yes, a balanced ticket is likely going to appeal to a broader group of voters. But in some cases, it could turn off core voters who were energized by the nominee and might not necessarily want those qualities to be evened out.

In this vein, a 2020 op-ed in the New York Times argued that the system of balancing the ticket is outdated and that it’s far more important for the candidate to pick someone whom they align with. The piece argued that “imposing a running mate for the purpose of pushing the nominee’s positions in a certain direction can lead to a tense and nearly dysfunctional White House.”

open convention

A party convention in which delegates are able to vote for the candidate of their choice, and are not tied to the results of primaries or caucuses.

Open conventions were the norm until about 1968. The Democratic Party’s delegates were never tied to primary votes before then, and could choose who they wanted (the Republican Party was tied to primaries much earlier). This led to many cases where candidates would forego primaries and focus on delegates instead.

According to Reuters, “the 1968 election, when Hubert Humphrey, who eschewed the primaries in favor of courting officials who controlled the delegates, lost to Republican nominee Richard Nixon, led to reforms that essentially gave control of the nominating process to the popular vote. A number of states decided the easiest way to comply with the new rules would be to hold primaries.”

Today, open conventions only happen when no candidate takes a majority of the delegates. The last open convention was in 1976, when neither Ronald Reagan or Gerald Ford was able to secure a majority of GOP delegates. The delegates were then free to choose a candidate without being tied to a vote.

Morning in America

morning in america

“Morning in America” is a phrase from a 1984 TV ad for President Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign to evoke a renewed American economic and social landscape.

The Reagan campaign sought to build on perceptions of economic progress during the 1984 presidential campaign. In 1980, Reagan won the presidency by highlighting high unemployment, inflation, and international unrest in four years of President Jimmy Carter. His re-election campaign used TV ads to show progress under Reagan and contrast perceived lack of preparedness by the campaign of Democratic nominee Walter Mondale.

Hal Riney of Ogilvy & Mater was tasked in June 1984 with writing positive ads for the Reagan/Bush ticket. Riney wrote the ad that would be referred to as “Morning in America” but was properly titled “Prouder, Stronger, Better.” The 60-second ad shows imagery from an average American community starting their day culminating in a wedding. Riney’s narration included the following text:

It’s morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history. With interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980, nearly two thousand families today will buy new homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon 6,500 young men and women will be married, and with inflation at less than half of what it was just four years ago, they can look forward with confidence to the future. It’s morning again in America, and under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?

Riney followed “Morning in America” with the similarly toned “America’s Back.” A 30-second ad titled “Bear” struck a different tone, comparing a wild grizzly bear to international foes and imploring voters to opt for the more prepared candidate.

These ads helped cast Reagan in a positive light following the 1982 recession and midterm Democratic gains in the House. The Harris Survey gave Reagan a five-point lead over Mondale in June 1983, though 48% of respondents say Reagan shouldn’t run again in 1984.

Campaign ads like “Morning in America” countered these numbers, making voters remember the Reagan who won 489 electoral votes in 1980. On November 6, 1984, Reagan nearly swept the Electoral College by winning every state except Minnesota. Reagan also received 58.8% of the popular vote, which has not been equaled by any presidential campaign in subsequent elections.

Examples

Business Insider (July 28, 2016): “‘He wants to divide us – from the rest of the world and from each other,’ Clinton said. “He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise. He’s taken the Republican Party a long way, from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America.’”

The New York Times (May 8, 2016): “What’s missing from ‘Morning in America’ is Mr. Reagan. His face appears in the commercial for only two or three seconds, at the end – a still color photo on a campaign button, next to an American flag.”

wave election

When one political party makes major gains in the United States House and Senate and the other has few losses.

Mark Barabak: “There is no authoritative definition of a wave election. (Which is not to be confused with a realigning election, like those in 1932 and 1968, in which a party forges a new and enduring presidential coalition.) A wave election is commonly considered one in which a political party wins a large and lopsided number of House and Senate seats while sustaining minimal losses.”

“In the past 20 years, there have been several wave elections of that type, including 1994 when Republicans netted 54 House and 10 Senate seats; 2006 when Democrats won 31 House and six Senate seats; 2008 when Democrats gained 21 House and eight Senate seats, and—most spectacularly—the last midterm vote, in 2010, when the GOP won 63 House seats and four in the Senate.”

Jacob Smith: “Unfortunately — and surprisingly given the widespread use of this term — there is not a precise definition of this concept. To try to correct this, I have developed my own definition that combines both scholarly rigor with the basic intuition of a wave election being a ‘big win’ for one side at the expense of the other.”

“Specifically, I define a ‘wave election’ to be a congressional election that (1) produces the potential for a political party to significantly affect the political status quo as (2) the result of a substantial increase in seats for that party.”

Fancy Farm

An annual picnic in Fancy Farm, Kentucky that has come to represent the traditional starting point of the fall campaign season in Kentucky. The gathering attracts statewide and occasionally national candidates and is held on the first Saturday in August.

The picnic was mainly a local affair until A. B. “Happy” Chandler began making appearances, going for the first time in 1931 while running for Lieutenant Governor. So many Kentucky politicians now attend that it tends to only be news when a major politician decides not to make an appearance.

Said Chandler in an interview: “I guess I was one of the first candidates for statewide office to ever go to Fancy Farm. I ended my 1931 campaign for lieutenant governor down there. I won that election and thought Fancy Farm was good luck, so I kept going back.”

Sam Youngman: “Politically speaking, there are two main attractions at Fancy Farm: The specter of a career-ending gaffe hanging over every politician who takes the stage, and the crowd, half of which is trying to will that gaffe to happen through endless heckling and occasional chants.”

The Louisville Courier Journal has a good video explainer of the event.

bed-wetting

“Bed-wetting” refers to someone who expresses doubt or excessive worry about a political outcome.

ABC News reports that David Plouffe, President Obama’s former campaign manager and top political adviser, first coined the term in 2008 when Democrats began openly fretting about their political challenges.

Plouffe used the term again before the 2010 midterm elections in a Washington Post op-ed when he urged “no bed-wetting” among Democrats: “This will be a tough election for our party and for many Republican incumbents as well. Instead of fearing what may happen, let’s prove that we have more than just the brains to govern — that we have the guts to govern.”

McConnelling

“McConnelling” is the practice of setting music to awkward, B-roll footage of a politician.

The term was coined after Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) re-election campaign in 2014 posted a two-and-a-half minute video of the senator campaigning set simply to music. As Time points out, the footage “was most likely placed there for outside PACs supportive of McConnell to use, a practice circumventing campaign finance rules barring coordination used by both Republicans and Democrats.”

The Daily Show coined the term “McConnelling” and provided a few hilarious examples, putting the footage of McConnell to Salt-n-Pepa’s “Whatta Man,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” and Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Said host Jon Stewart: “Here’s the secret. It works with every song that has the word ‘eyes’ in it.”

barnstormer

A barnstormer travels around the country or state making political appearances during a political campaign. The phrase was first used when pilots would travel around the country to entertain with their flying skills.

The appearances are typically set up by an advance man to make each stop as seamless as possible.

All-Things-Aviation: “A typical barnstormer (or a group of barnstormers) would travel across to a village, borrow a field from a farmer for the day and advertise their presence in the town by flying several low passes over it – roaring over the main street at full throttle. The appearance of the barnstormers was akin to a national holiday. Entire towns were shut down and people would flock to the fields purchasing tickets for the show and plane rides. Locals, most of them never having seen planes before, would be thrilled by the experience. In several towns parties would be organized on such occasions in the honor of the barnstormers.” Now the word has come to mean a political speech given on the road.”

kangaroo ticket

A “kangaroo ticket” is a ticket for higher office in which the person at the bottom of the ticket is considered more electable or is more well-known than the person at the top.

The Chicago Tribune defines the term as: “A combination of nominees in which the running mate is more appealing than the presidential candidate (possibly coined to refer to a kangaroo’s propulsion from its hind legs, or to the weight it carries in its bottom half).”

The term dates back to Mississippi politics from the 1840s, as seen in this news clipping from the Vicksburg Whig, which describes the ticket of James K. Polk for President and Silas Wright for Vice President as a “kangaroo ticket,” since Wright was considered more electable. The editor explains his rationale for the term: “A Kangaroo Ticket, by G-d – strongest in the hind legs.”

While so-called “kangaroo tickets” are rare in national politics, there are some notable examples of the term being used throughout history, as on October 23, 1971, when the New York Times reported: “[John Connally would run for Vice President if asked by President Nixon, but] he would insist that the Nixon-Connally partnership be advertised as a ‘kangaroo ticket.’”

In a 1984 New York Post article, the author described one Texas politician’s reaction to FDR’s 1934 nomination as a “kangaroo ticket,” adding: “It’s stronger in the hindquarters than in the front.”

In 1860, during the election that eventually led to the Lincoln presidency, in the lead up to the Civil War, the little-known Constitutional Union Party put forth the ticket of John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. Everett was an esteemed orator and lecturer from the North and Bell was a more reserved and lesser-known candidate from the South. This unusual combination of candidates earned them the label of “kangaroo ticket,” as reported in Douglas Egerton’s book about the election of 1860 called Year of Meteors.

Perhaps the most notable visible depiction of the concept of a “kangaroo ticket” can be seen here in this political cartoon from Judge Magazine, mocking the ticket of Grover Cleveland and Thomas Hendricks for the Democratic nomination in 1884.

The Great Mentioner

“The Great Mentioner” describes the phenomenon whereby certain people are “mentioned” to journalists as possible candidates for higher office.

Scott Simon of National Public Radio explained: “The late Art Buchwald used to talk about the Great Mentioner — some unnamed person who told pundits and reporters a lot of people say this, a lot of people say that. Art said that if you trace back exactly who said this and that, it was usually just the reporters and analysts themselves that tried to splash a coat of credibility over sheer speculation by putting it in the mouth of the Great Mentioner.”

Ryan Lizza attributes the term to New York Times columnist Russell Baker who used it “to describe the mysterious source who plucks politicians from obscurity and mentions them to political journalists as contenders for higher office.”

suspended campaign

When it’s time to leave a race for public office, candidates often announce their “suspended campaign” instead of actually dropping out.

Practically speaking, there is not a big difference and federal law does not define or officially recognize the act of a presidential candidate “suspending” their campaign instead of formally ending it.

However, CNN points out there are two important differences between suspending a campaign and dropping out: delegates and money.

“Candidates who suspend their campaigns usually get to keep any delegates they’ve won and can continue to raise money beyond what’s needed to retire their campaign debts. In contrast, candidates who actually drop out of a race, usually have to forfeit certain delegates and are limited in how they can raise future funds.”

There’s one more reason to “suspend” a campaign: In theory, a suspended campaign could spring back to life if the political landscape changes dramatically.

Slate observes the phrase “has been employed at least as far back as the 1970s and continues to serve as the most popular way for candidates to end their primary bids without closing down their campaign committees.”

GOTV

GOTV is an acronym for “get out the vote.”

The process by which a political party or campaign urges its supporters to vote in the immediately approaching election.

brokered convention

brokered convention

A brokered convention takes place when no one candidate wins a majority delegates during the presidential primary to earn their party’s nomination in the first vote at the nominating conference. When that happens, the nomination is “brokered,” or determined through horse trading and backroom deals.

Brokered conventions, also called deliberative or contested conventions, were the norm in the United States until the second half of the 20th century. At that time, party “bosses” wielded enormous power, and candidates were often chosen after hours of deal-making in smoke-filled rooms. Warren G. Harding, for example, was famously selected to be the Republican presidential candidate after a series of conclaves by party leaders. And in 1924, Democratic delegates took 103 ballots to select the little-known candidate John Davis.

The most recent brokered convention was the Democratic convention of 1952, from which Adlai Stevenson emerged as the winner. In 1948, the Republican party held a brokered convention and selected Thomas Dewey as the party’s candidate.

By 1972, almost every state in the union had established either a primary election or a caucus system, making it possible for voters to choose the candidate they wanted to run for their party. The brokered convention became irrelevant, since primary votes and caucuses meant that there was always a clear frontrunner by the time a party held its political convention. Both of the major political parties also allow candidates to win the nomination with a simple majority, rather than a two thirds majority; this makes it easier to determine a frontrunner as well.

Analysts have also pointed out that the cost of modern elections, and the 24-hour news cycle, also means that all but the most popular candidates will drop out before they get to the convention. As a result, the winner is always clear by the time a party holds its political convention. As a result, modern political conventions are  often viewed as spectacles, rather than as formative political events.

At the same time, pundits and political junkies still love to talk about the possibility of a brokered convention. In 2016, there was a lot of speculation that Republicans might have a brokered convention. The speculation largely grew out of the idea that Republican leaders wanted to “stop” Donald Trump from winning the party’s nomination to the presidency and were troubled by signs that “favorite sons” like Jeb Bush were losing out to Trump. In the event, the Republican convention was not brokered.

In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, many wondered whether the Democrats would have a “contested,” or brokered convention. Analysts have pointed out that Democrats are under heightened pressure to find a candidate who can defeat President Trump. It’s also possible that “superdelegates,” who are automatically made delegates because of their positions, could sway the outcome of the Democratic convention. Senator Bernie Sanders has said that it would be a “very divisive moment” if the candidate with a plurality of votes does not win the party’s presidential nomination.

But often a brokered convention is mostly just a political junkie’s fantasy. The modern party primary system almost always determines an overwhelming winner of delegates. And as David Frum notes, it’s hard to imagine a “brokered convention” when there is no such thing as political “brokers” any more. Elected delegates to a convention aren’t going to be swayed by political leaders deciding the nominee in a backroom.

A brokered convention was portrayed in the film The Best Man starring Henry Fonda.

front-porch campaign

front-porch campaign

A front-porch campaign is one in which the candidate stays close to home throughout the campaign. Instead of crisscrossing the country to woo voters, the candidate connects with supporters locally (by making speeches from his front porch, for example).

The term is often associated with William McKinley, who ran a successful front-porch campaign in 1896. McKinley, a Republican, won the presidency in spite of the fact that he spent almost the entire campaign at his home in Canton, Ohio. McKinley outspent his opponent, and he also had the benefit of working with one of the great political strategists of the time, an Ohio businessman named Marcus Hanna. Hanna acted as McKinley’s press agent, publicist, and reputation manager.

McKinley’s Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan, was an unusually active campaigner who traveled around the country calling for America to abandon the gold standard. Bryan’s speech at the Democratic national convention, in which he warned that America’s poor farmers were being “crucified on a cross of gold,” remains one of the most famous speeches in US politics, and Bryan delivered the speech in campaign stops around the country. Bryan made an estimated 600 campaign stop. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough to win the presidential election.

McKinley wasn’t the first presidential candidate to conduct a front-porch campaign. In 1880 another Republican, James A. Garfield, ran a successful campaign from the spacious front porch of his home in Mentor, Ohio. The railroad companies agreed to build a spur line right up to Garfield’s house, and they offered a discount for crowds going to visit the candidate. Members of the press were invited to pitch their tents on Garfield’s lawn and listen to him speaking from his porch.

Visitors were also treated to scenes of the Garfield family’s domestic life: Garfield playing with his children on the front lawn; the whole family eating dinner together; Garfield’s mother pitting cherries in her rocking chair. The overall effect was of a strong, traditional family unit, an image which resonated with the country, especially in the aftermath of the troubled presidency of Ulysses S Grant.

Eight years later, Benjamin Harrison ran another successful presidential campaign from his front porch. Harrison, a Civil War general, addressed crowds of supports and curiosity-seekers at his home in  Indianapolis. Harrison carefully avoided the mudslinging and harsh rhetoric that had characterized earlier campaigns; giving speeches from his front porch allowed him to seem wholesome and to stay above the fray. Meanwhile, his political campaign ran a fiercer battle against the incumbent, Grover Cleveland.

In 1920, Warren G Harding conducted a successful front-porch campaign of his own. Harding’s victory is all the more interesting because his opponent, James Cox, carried out a very energetic campaign. Cox traveled from town to town and made full use of the newly-invented microphone to address large crowds. Harding, on the other hand, stayed in his home in Marion, Ohio, delivering speeches to admirers from his round front porch. Harding won the election by a landslide.

Sister Souljah moment

Sister Souljah moment

A “Sister Souljah moment” is a public repudiation of an extremist person or statement perceived to have some association with a politician or his party.

It’s a strategy designed to signal to centrist voters to show that the politician is not beholden to traditional, and sometimes unpopular, interest groups associated with the party.

In 1992, riots swept across Los Angeles following the acquittal of five LAPD officers for the allegedly brutal beating of Rodney King. Writer and rapper Sister Souljah expressed sympathy for the rioters and said that she wanted to see an end to black people killing each other – instead, she said, black people should start killing white people.

“I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I’m saying? In other words, white people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?” Souljah told the Washington Post.

Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination at the time. During a meeting with Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, Clinton spoke out against Sister Souljah’s comments, saying that her comments were full of hate. Clinton compared Sister Souljah to the white nationalist David Duke, calling them racist.

At the time, pundits said that Clinton had denounced Sister Souljah in an attempt to court suburban and blue collar white voters. Those groups were often described as “Reagan Democrats” at the time, and Clinton’s strategists believed that he needed their votes if he stood a chance of winning the election. The Sister Souljah moment was widely seen as an attempt to prove to those key groups that Clinton was on their side and would take a strong stand on issues like welfare reform.

Joan Vennochi wrote, “This so-called ‘Sister Souljah moment’ — a calculated denunciation of an extremist position or special interest group — wrapped Clinton in a warm centrist glow just in time for the general election.”

A decade later, in 2002, President George W Bush had a “Sister Souljah moment” when he publicly denounced Majority Leader Trent Lott. Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, gave a speech in which he said that the country would be in a better place if the segregationist Strom Thurmond had won the 1948 presidential election. President Bush’s aides said at the time that Bush felt that if he didn’t speak out against Lott, he would not be able to reach out to the African American community.

Obama had his own “Sister Souljah” moment when he was a candidate for the presidency. Obama was asked about his connection to Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of the church which Obama attended in Chicago. Wright was known for his fiery sermons and for remarks which appeared to denounce the US government as racist. Obama first tried to explain his nuanced views on Wright, but as clips of the pastor’s speeches circulated, Obama disowned Wright and left the church.

In 2015 Sister Souljah, now a best-selling novelist, gave an interview to Time Magazine. She suggested her own definition of what the term Sister Souljah moment should mean: “when you meet a beautiful, powerful woman – and you just can’t forget her.”

flip-flop

A “flip-flop” is a sudden reversal of opinion or policy by a politician, usually running for office.

NPR notes the term “has been a fixture in popular American parlance at least since the 1880s. A New York Tribune writer in 1888 called out President Grover Cleveland for his ‘Fisheries flip-flop,’ presumably referring to Cleveland’s handling of the fishery treaty that governed waters shared by American and Canadian vessels and perhaps making wordplay on the way fish flop and flip on a boat deck. And in 1892, the New York Times pointed to the ‘flip-flop antics’ of John Boyd Thacher, the once-and-future mayor of Albany.”

Matthew Cooper: “Somewhere along the way, the charge of flip-flopping became one of the deadliest in politics—the shorthand for a lack of character. By contrast, a politician who didn’t change his or her mind, or who vowed to be uninterested in polls, was considered to be of a higher caliber. But there is a case for flip-flopping, or what might be called being human. After all, almost anyone with common sense has probably evolved on some position or another.”

Astrotweeting

“Astrotweeting” is the creation of fake Twitter profiles to show support for a political candidate.

Bill White described the practice in an Texas Monthly interview about his 2010 race against Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R):

There were also some silly things that happened that are still hard to believe. One consulting firm of his created artificial people to tweet. [The campaign] wanted to question my support in the African American community, but they couldn’t recruit an African American person to do it, so on Twitter they used a stock photo of a black person. One of the people who supported my campaign clicked on the image and found out it was a singer from Atlanta. The Twitter address was registered at the same location as one of Mr. Perry’s political consultants.

Derived by Rick Hasen, with inspiration from Ben Smith, from the term Astroturfing.

money blurt

A money blurt is the strategy of using a politician’s controversial statements to attract a large number of campaign donors.

Washington Post: “Here’s how it works: An up-and-coming politician blurts out something incendiary, provocative or otherwise controversial. The remark bounces around the blogs and talk shows and becomes a sensation. And in the midst of it all, the politician’s fundraisers are manning the phones and raking in the donations.”

“The phenomenon marks another phase in the quest for money in politics, fueled by the eternal hum of the Internet, social media and 24-hour cable news… The money blurt — spontaneous or not — is a close cousin to a technique called the ‘money bomb,’ in which a campaign or its supporters designate a specific day or time period to raise a vast amount of cash and generate publicity.”

Spin Alley

“Spin Alley” is the place designated after a political debate where reporters interview analysts and campaign operatives who attempt to “spin” the news coverage of the event.

A video from the 2008 presidential campaign shows what “spin alley” looked like after a debate in New Hampshire.

Political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow: “After the debate, I took the press shuttle back to the media center — and to the small section therein blatantly designated ‘Spin Alley,’ ringed on three sides by bare-bones makeshift broadcast platforms and stuffed to capacity with reporters, camera crews and politicos. Everywhere you looked there were clusters of media people surrounding spinners and surrogates, whose names were printed on laminated red signs held high above the crowd by aides. I felt like I was standing in the middle of one of my own damn cartoons come to life.”

Rose Garden campaign

rose garden campaign

A Rose Garden campaign is when an incumbent president takes advantage of the power and prestige of his office to help him run for re-election.

The phrase originally referred to a president staying on the grounds of the White House to campaign as opposed to traveling throughout the country. However, it’s taken on a broader meaning in recent years.

The term “Rose Garden campaign” was first used by then-candidate Jimmy Carter in 1976. At the time, Carter was challenging the incumbent president Gerald Ford. Carter complained that Ford was using a “Rose Garden strategy” to get himself free publicity, staying in the public eye by signing bills and making pronouncements. Meanwhile Carter, a relatively unknown peanut farmer from Georgia, had to work much harder to get attention.

President Ford’s “Rose Garden strategy” was not literally confined to the White House Rose Garden. In October of 1976, President Ford invited Queen Elizabeth to visit him at the White House to celebrate the bicentennial for America’s declaration of independence. Inevitably, the visit garnered a lot of media attention. Ford also held a series of televised interviews with the former baseball star Joe Garagiola.

Rose Garden strategy has both a literal and a figurative meaning. On the literal level, incumbent presidents use the White House Rose Garden as a stage for signing bills and holding media events. The setting evokes presidential power and stability. It’s an iconic location, and being photographed there sends a clear message to the public.

On a metaphorical level, a Rose Garden strategy refers to any time the incumbent president distributes political favors or largesse as part of his re-election strategy. This can mean offering economic packages to certain key states. It can also mean making key announcements about military victories, or about trade, or anything which impacts voters. Ahead of the 1936 election, for example, Franklin Roosevelt famously pushed for more economic support for workers and farmers, telling his aides that he wanted cotton prices to go up and that he didn’t want workers to be laid off.

In the first half of  2019, the New York Times reported that President Trump had held at least 11 events in the Rose Garden – more than twice the number of such events that he held in 2017. The Times concluded that Trump wanted to use his Rose Garden appearances to bolster his public image as part of his re-election campaign.

“He’s an indoor creature, but he wants to be seen outdoors,” Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, told the Times. “He likes the Oval Office because he could do the big signature and show power. But after a while, it becomes an image of a guy who is locked in a room. This is a deeply image-driven president. In the Rose Garden, he’s able to project that he’s outside and enjoying the compound.”

Also in 2019, The New Republic accused presidential hopeful Joe Biden of employing a “wilted Rose Garden” strategy. The publication argued that Biden, who served as Barack Obama’s vice president, was basing his campaign around his vice presidential past. The strategy, New Republic argued, was one born out of weakness, rather than strength. Its goal was to bypass Biden’s problematic voting record in the Senate and to keep voters focused on his two terms serving under a popular president.

invisible primary

An invisible primary is said to begin when a candidate formally announces their plans to run for office. The invisible primary comes to a close when the actual primary season begins.

The invisible primary is a testing-ground for candidates and their advance teams. It’s an opportunity to find out how much support they can gather before the real primary is held. In fact, the invisible primary can often make or break candidates – candidates who don’t get enough shows of support during the invisible primary often end up bowing out of the race, sometimes before the primary season even begins.

A key example of that in the 2020 presidential race would be Sen. Cory Booker. The New Jersey senator dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination on January 13, 2020, almost a month ahead of the Iowa caucus. Booker had been struggling in the polls for some time; he also wasn’t able to raise enough money to keep his campaign going and to maintain his reputation as a serious candidate.

The invisible primary is often referred to as the “money primary.” That’s because pundits and party bosses are closely watching to see how effectively each candidate can fundraise. Critics of the invisible primary say that effectively, it forces candidates to curry favor with the most wealthy and powerful Americans. Big donors, as well as well-connected fundraisers (“bundlers”) have a disproportionate role in picking candidates.  On the right, wealthy donors like the Koch brothers, or Sheldon Adelson, have traditionally held a great deal of sway. On the left, prominent fundraisers include George Soros and the Facebook founder Denis Moskowitz.

In recent years, more and more presidential candidates are, themselves, extremely wealthy men who have the capacity to fund their own campaigns. This has arguably changed the whole nature of the invisible primary, and may have lessened the power traditionally held by wealthy donors and fundraisers.

permanent campaign

First explored by Sidney Blumenthal in his 1980 book, The Permanent Campaign, which explained how the breakdown in political parties forced politicians to govern in different ways. Instead of relying on patronage and party machines, politicians increasingly used political consultants to help them monitor their job approval numbers and media exposure.

However, the theory of the permanent campaign is also credited to political strategist Patrick Caddell who wrote a memo for President-elect Jimmy Carter just after his election in 1976 in which he asserted “governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign.”

Time: “Thus Caddell gave a name — the permanent campaign — to a political mind-set that had been developing since the beginning of the television age. It has proved a radical change in the nature of the presidency. Every President since Lyndon Johnson has run his Administration from a political consultant’s eye view. Untold millions have been spent on polling and focus groups. Dick Morris even asked voters where Bill Clinton should go on vacation. The pressure to “win” the daily news cycle — to control the news — has overwhelmed the more reflective, statesmanlike aspects of the office.”

flake rate

“Flake rate” is a calculation of people who sign up to volunteer for political canvassing or events but do not participate.

Flake rate is presented as a percentage of volunteers who initially sign up for campaign activities but ultimately decline to attend. The Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment suggests that 50% of volunteers recruited for an event will not participate.

A low flake rate shows strong buy-in by volunteers in a campaign’s message and structure. A high flake rate can be attributed to superficial campaign development or lack of engagement with supporters beyond their initial sign-up. A negative flake rate occurs when more volunteers show up for a campaign action compared to the original sign-up list.

The Campaign Workshop provides a representative sample of suggestions for campaigns seeking to reduce their flake rates. These suggestions include frequent confirmations with volunteers and encouraging participation as part of daily routines. Recognition for volunteer performances and a variety of work can also encourage higher participation rates.

This term is largely used by political operatives, nonprofit leaders, and other experts. Google’s Ngram Viewer does not register the term in English texts to 2012. The Google Trends interest chart shows brief spikes around presidential elections but relative interest below 50%. Recent usage of the term comes from the dating app scene with users calculating flake rates based on planned dates that do not occur.

Examples

The Daily Beast (February 25, 2020): “‘We had a 75 percent flake rate,’ Leo said. ‘A good field plan can add on the margins but it can’t do it for you all by itself. You’ve got to be in the conversation, you’ve got to be on people’s minds.’”

Slate (September 6, 2012): “The metric of the day for Barack Obama’s field team is ‘flake rate’: the percentage of supporters who had registered to attend his open-air stadium speech but won’t show up for one of the replacement events the campaign is scrambling to arrange in its place after moving tonight’s convention session indoors.”

 

chum

“Chum” is campaign gear such as bumper stickers, lawn signs, and campaign buttons.

The term is derived from the bait used to catch fish because in a political campaign these items are frequently used to entice volunteers and voters to get more involved in a campaign or bringing them to events. The distribution of chum is organized by a candidate’s advance man.

Time notes that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s campaign “set up little tabletop trinket shops, known as ‘chum stores’ because all those little Obama-branded doodads aren’t only keepsakes; they are also bait. Every person who buys a button or hat is recorded as a campaign donor. But the real goal of the chum operations was building a list of workers, supporters and their e-mail addresses.”

push card

A “push card” is a small, easy access, wallet-sized campaign sign typically given to a potential voter during door-to-door canvassing or at an event.

They’re also sometimes called palm cards because they’re designed to be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

carpetbagger

A “carpetbagger” is a politician who runs for office or tries to appeal to a constituency in a geographic area where he or she has no roots or connection.

The term traces its roots back to the Civil War era, when it was first coined as a way of deriding someone from the northern states who migrated to the Confederacy to opportunistically benefit from the Reconstruction. Southerners who resented these interlopers started referring to them as “carpetbaggers,” a reference to the satchel – or cheap carpet bag – that held their meager belongings.

At the time, these so-called “carpetbaggers” headed south because the Confederate states needed significant capital investment, and there were financial opportunities that that didn’t exist in the north. Over time, this influx of northerners began to alter the political realities in the south, and the term “carpetbagger” became synonymous with an ill-intentioned foreigner who aligned with slaves, and had an aspirations to hold office in a region in which they were either not welcome or not part of the community.

Often confused with the term “scalawag,” the History Channel explains the difference. While a “carpetbagger” was an interloper who imposed their views on the south, a “scalawag” referred to someone already living in the south who was sympathetic to the northern cause, or specifically in this case, was anti-slavery.

Taken broadly, all northerners who went south in search of opportunity could be called carpetbaggers, but in reality the label didn’t apply to just anyone. To quote a 2014 Mother Jones article: “If you came South and joined up with the Democrats, you were a gentleman, not a carpetbagger.” Hence, it was a mostly partisan label, hurled by Democrats at Republicans.

Famous Restoration carpetbaggers included Adelbert Ames, Hiram Revels, Albion W. Tourgee, and Daniel Henry Chamberlain.

In more modern times, satchels made of carpet are no longer in vogue, and the term carpetbagger can refer to a member of any political party; nor is it limited to Republicans who migrated south. Modern carpetbaggers are sometimes accused of “district shopping.”

One of the most noted examples of modern carpetbagging occurred in 1964, when Bobby Kennedy sought the New York Senate seat. As noted by American Heritage: “…For controversy, comedy, and sheer audacity, no act of carpetbagging is likely to measure up any time soon to what happened when Robert F. Kennedy invaded the Empire State in 1964.” Of course, Kennedy ultimately appealed to New York voters, and he won the seat he sought.

High profile carpetbaggers abound. In 2014, when Republican Scott Brown from Massachusetts decided to run for office in New Hampshire, instead of eschewing the charge, he embraced it. As reported in the Washington Post, Brown said “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ‘Cause, you know, whatever.”

In 1999, when Hillary Cilnton ran for the New York Senate seat vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, charges of carpetbagging accompanied her bid, but were mostly shrugged off by voters. Hillary went on to win to election by 12 points.

snollygoster

snollygoster

A “snollygoster” is a political operative or candidate who uses cunning or ethically questionable behavior to achieve power.

The term snollygoster is traced back to 1846 by Merriam-Webster with a strong preference for the word among Southern politicians starting in the 1850s. Georgia legislator H.W.J. Ham is often credited with popularizing the term in the late 19th century. He used snollygoster in 1893 to describe fellow Georgians who had “an unquenchable thirst for office with neither the power to get it nor the ability to fill it.”

By the 20th century, there was a belief that snollygoster evolved from the mythical snallygaster. This creature was believed to roam Maryland in search of children to eat. Merriam-Webster dispelled this connection, however, noting that snallygaster was not found in publications until after snollygoster.

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows relatively low usage for the term in English publications from the late 19th century to the 1940s. A spike in usage occurred in the 1950s thanks to President Harry Truman’s application of snollygoster to his Republican opponents. He invoked the term in a 1952 speech in West Virginia to refer to politicians who use their religious background to gain political support.

Snollygoster remained a novelty to political observers through the early 20th century. Safire’s Political Dictionary revised between 1968 and 1993 included an entry for the term. Publisher William Safire used snollygoster in a 1980 article in The New York Times on the power of presidential words. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly used the term in his Word of the Day feature.

Merriam-Webster removed snollygoster from its Collegiate Dictionary in 2003 because it was considered an archaic term. The publication added the term again in 2017 due in part to O’Reilly’s invocation of the word in reference to Democratic politicians. The term has gained currency among those who want to show a deep knowledge of political history. WOSU, a public radio network in Ohio, has a weekly podcast called Snollygoster that covers politics in the Buckeye State. Snollygoster’s revival came from its unusual sound and the continued presence of figures who match the definition.

Examples

The Huffington Post (December 6, 2017): “Seriously, how much harder do we have to be hit on the head before we realize that this “snollygoster” destroys the essence of who we are as a people.”

Slinging Mud (2011): “Ham claimed to have first heard the word during an 1848 political debate. He defined a snollygoster as a ‘place-hunting demagogue’ or a ‘political hypocrite.’”

The New York Times (September 2, 1952): “President Truman revived an old American word today when he taunted the ‘Republican snollygosters.’”

favorite son

A favorite son candidate is one who draws their support from the home state or from the broader region. Sometimes the term is also used for someone with little to no support outside of their own region. 

In the past, state delegations sometimes nominated “favorite son” candidates as a bargaining tactic. After nominating their own local candidate, state leaders were in a position to make deals with the leading candidates, trading their support for whatever privilege they wanted for the state. The process was described in detail in a piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 1928. The Post-Gazette described the “favorite son” procedure as a way for “professional politicians” can be sure of “securing what they want at a national convention.” 

The term “favorite son” kept its original and negative connotation for many years. In 1968, for example, the New York Times wrote about Ronald Reagan’s decision to run for president: “Another declared opponent entered the field against Mr. Nixon when Gov. Ronald Reagan of California announced he was a real, rather than a favorite-son, candidate.”

In the same electoral cycle, Spiro Agnew started out as a “favorite son” candidate but agreed to drop out of the running; he later became Nixon’s running mate.

In modern times, brokered conventions have been replaced by primary elections, which means that the kind of explicit deal-making described in the Post-Gazette no longer takes place. Today, “favorite son” is most often used to mean “hometown hero.” (Female politicians are sometimes called “favorite daughters.”)

An article written after George H.W. Bush passed away, for example, was headlined “Connecticut mourns the death of favorite son, George H.W. Bush.” The piece cited Greenwich First Selectman Peter J. Tesei, who called Bush a “hometown boy.”

“The Town of Greenwich, like the nation and the world, mourns the loss of one of its own — a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’” Tesei said. “President George H.W. Bush was a true hometown boy, that regardless of his position in the global sphere of political power, he remained forever tied to his family roots here in Greenwich.”

Similarly, Barack Obama was often described as “Chicago’s favorite son,” or as “Illinois’ favorite son.” After his election, many in Chicago held out hope that their “favorite son” would thank them for their support by doing more to help the troubled city. 

A favorite son or daughter can also help put a location on the map, when it might otherwise be overlooked. That was the hope when Grace Meng, a member of the New York State legislature, decided to run for Congress. As WNYC said, a win for Meng would be also be a win for her whole community:

“Besides winning the straw poll for political Ms. Congeniality, Meng’s immigrant family and political do-it-yourself background has positioned her as the aspirational candidate in the race. She represents that classic New York political storyline of a rising community that, through the success of its favored daughter or son, can say it’s finally made it, even as questions linger about her readiness for a promotion to Congress.”

cattle call

cattle call

In politics, a public event at which a big group of political candidates all speak.

The term comes from the acting world, where a “cattle call” is a massive audition to fill a part in a movie or play. Merriam Webster notes that the term was first used in 1952.

The event serves as an audition for the part of presidential candidate. A cattle call allows all the candidates in a race to make their stump speech, to be heard, and to get the media exposure they so badly need. It’s also good practice for the advance team.

Typically, a cattle call takes place early in the election cycle, in a state with an early primary contest like New Hampshire or Iowa. Cattle calls are especially common in Iowa, where voters traditionally put a lot of value in being able to meet the candidates face to face. The events are usually organized by advocates of specific causes, or by political party organizations.

Tim Albrecht, a long-time GOP strategist in Iowa, explained the benefits of the cattle call this way: “You have a megaphone from the inside out. There’s no other place these candidates can go where they will see 200 media confined to one location. That’s potentially 200 stories they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. With these kinds of events, it’s a very low bar to participate and to even be invited.”

In theory, a cattle call gives candidates the chance to distinguish themselves from their rivals and stand out from the crowd. In practice, this can be trickier than expected. When the field is crowded, candidates can start to blur into one another, at least in the mind of the audience. The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich, a veteran of many Iowa cattle calls, has grumbled that the events tend to be “mind numbing,” with hours of speeches and little opportunity to get to know the candidates.

In June 2019, 19 Democratic candidates took the stage in Iowa to speak to prospective voters. As Time Magazine reported, most of the audience seemed to have trouble telling the candidates apart. “When are we going to start seeing some real contrast?” an Iowa Democratic operative reportedly complained, adding, “Somebody’s gotta throw a punch.”

Cattle call is often used in a slightly negative way, implying that an event is not very serious. During the 2019 primary season, for example, The Washington Times ran an op-ed describing one of the Democratic debates as little more than a cattle call. The piece argued that not only was the stage crowded, but the candidates failed to stand out from each other:

“The goal in a real debate is to arrive at a conclusion which best solves a problem. This is what is so frustrating about these badly constructed cattle calls; either no one proposes a workable solution to a real problem or the problem is ignored altogether.”

It’s worth noting that years before “cattle call” had its current political meaning, it was a hit song recorded by Eddy Arnold, full of nostalgia for the cowboy’s way of life. And before that, of course, it was just a way of calling in the cows.

 

politics ain’t beanbag

“Politics ain’t beanbag” Is an old-fashioned way of saying that politics can be rough. People express roughly the same idea when they call politics “hardball” or a “contact sport.”

The term originally comes from a 19th century novel by the writer Finley Peter Dunne. One of Dunne’s characters is an Irish American named  Mr. Dooley, who likes to sit in his favorite Chicago bar and talk about politics. The full quote from Mr. Dooley reads, ““Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists’d do well to keep out iv it.”

The phrase is a little archaic, but it’s still used periodically, especially by political commentators who want to lend extra gravitas to their declarations. In 2014, for example, New York Post columnist Bob McManus wrote a piece discussing Andrew Cuomo’s re-election as the governor of New York. McManus wrote that Cuomo had used some dirty tactics to get elected but,

Big deal: Politics ain’t beanbag, as the Irish used to say, and Andrew Mark Cuomo woke up Wednesday morning sitting right where it matters most – in the catbird seat.

In 2018 the columnist Arlene Jones, writing in Austin Weekly News, used the phrase in a piece about Chicago politics. Jones described the plight of Ja’mal Green, a Chicago mayoral candidate who was having a tough time navigating the system. Jones concluded, ruefully,

“The coming weeks will reveal if Ja’mal makes it on the ballot or not. But knowing the way this city works, I’m not going to put too much money on it. Politics ain’t beanbag, and when you run, you need to learn how to play the game!”

Politicians use the expression too, of course. In 2013 Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor to denounce what he saw as a particularly nasty trick carried out by the Democrats. Cruz began by saying, “we all know the old saying that politics ain’t beanbag. But the nastiness with which the Democratic majority responded to Senator Vitter… was extraordinary.”

In 2012, when Mitt Romney was running for president, New York magazine poked fun at him for getting the famous phrase wrong, again and again. Romney repeatedly said that “politics ain’t bean bags” and once said that it ain’t “the bean bag.” Newt Gingrich, who also ran for president that year, tried to turn the expression back on Romney at one point.

What is bean bag, anyway? Today, the game is often referred to as a “bean bag toss” and is generally seen as a kids’ game; it’s the kind of game you might play in the back yard during a birthday party, for example. In some parts of the country, the game is referred to as “cornhole.”

The rules are very simple. Competitors hold small bags filled with dried beans (beanbags) and toss those bags into baskets, or into holes in a specially-made beanbag board. Whoever makes the most shots wins the game. It’s a gentle, friendly game – very much unlike presidential politics.

triangulation

The act of a political candidate presenting his or her views as being above and between the left and right sides of the political spectrum. It’s sometimes called the “third way.”

The term was first used by political consultant Dick Morris while working on the re-election campaign of President Bill Clinton in 1996. Morris urged Clinton to adopt a set of policies that were different from the traditional policies of the Democratic Party in order to co-opt the opposition.

Morris described triangulation in an interview on Frontline in 2000: “Take the best from each party’s agenda, and come to a solution somewhere above the positions of each party. So from the left, take the idea that we need day care and food supplements for people on welfare. From the right, take the idea that they have to work for a living, and that there are time limits. But discard the nonsense of the left, which is that there shouldn’t be work requirements; and the nonsense of the right, which is you should punish single mothers. Get rid of the garbage of each position, that the people didn’t believe in; take the best from each position; and move up to a third way. And that became a triangle, which was triangulation.”

Morris also offered a definition in his book Power Plays: “The idea behind triangulation is to work hard to solve the problems that motivate the other party’s voters, so as to defang them politically… The essence of triangulation is to use your party’s solutions to solve the other side’s problems. Use your tools to fix their car.”

advance man

The “advance man” is someone who makes arrangements and handles publicity for the candidate during a campaign. The advance man travels to a location ahead of the candidate’s arrival and sets everything up so that things run smoothly for the candidate’s media appearance, or for whatever event the candidate is participating in.

As Time reports, “There is no such thing as a spontaneous campaign appearance. Every candidate has his advance men, the harried unsung experts who go from town to town to make as sure as humanly possible that the crowds will be out, the schedule smooth, the publicity favorable.”

According to Merriam Webster, the phrase dates back to at least 1882.

An advance man can also be compared to a fixer. He, or she, plans every moment and every detail of the candidate’s day in order to make sure that the upcoming appearance is completely successful. It’s similar to a body man who handles a politician’s personal and logistical issues through the day.

This means figuring out where a rally will take place and organizing the local fundraisers. It also means deciding where the candidate will sleep at night, and how he’ll travel from place to place within the area. An effective advance man plans out even the tiniest details, like where exactly the candidate’s car will pull up to the event, and who will stand next to the candidate on stage.

In today’s media-saturated world, candidates are subjected to greater scrutiny than ever before. This means that the work of an advance man is more difficult than ever before.

Josh King, who served as an advance man under Bill Clinton, compared his job to that of a roadie or of a movie director. King told PopSugar that his job boiled down to making sure “that something that is designed to entertain and impress and inform comes off without a hitch.”

Marc Levitt served as advance man for Bernie Sanders in 2016; Levitt also worked as an advance man on the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama. Levitt said that he was astonished when he first saw what intense planning went into organizing John Kerry’s days.

He later said that an advance man does all of the behind-the-scenes work which people tend not to even notice. Levitt said, “at every place that a presidential candidate goes and every event that he appears at, I think there’s a perception that these things just happen magically. When, in fact, they are the most planned and coordinated aspect of the campaign.”

Most of the time, advance men stay out of the public eye — the very nature of their work means that they avoid the spotlight. When they do get media attention, it’s usually because something has gone wrong – or because they’re retiring. But an effective advance man cultivates a close relationship with the candidate and occupies a position of trust.

Donald Trump was known for sometimes “namechecking” his advance man, George Gigicos, from the stage. In 2016, for example, candidate Trump was speaking at a campaign event in Pensacola, Florida. Frustrated at the sound quality, Trump yelled, “The stupid mic keeps popping! Do you hear that, George? Don’t pay ’em! Don’t pay ’em!”

Gigicos also worked as an advance man for George W Bush and for the Mitt Romney campaign; he joined the Trump campaign in 2015 and was one of the longest-serving members of the team.

glad-hander

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands as he arrives for a town hall meeting, Tuesday, June 11, 2019, in Ottumwa, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

A glad hander is a highly extroverted person, who makes a point of acting friendly in an over-the-top way. In politics, especially, the term glad-hander connotes insincerity and opportunism.

Glad-handers are also referred to as back slappers. To “glad-hand” is also a verb.

Merriam Webster claims that the first known use of “glad-hand” was back in 1903. The phrase grew out of the older expression to “give the glad hand,” which meant to extend a warm welcome to a friend. The phrase has often been used in a cynical sense.

Some political scientists have argued that in fact, most politicians in modern history have been morose and depressive. The cheery, glad-handing exterior is nothing more than a façade, aimed to hide the sadness within. If anything, some analysts say, glad-handing could be one of the ways that narcissistic politicians seek an emotional boost in the form of public affirmation.

In 2020, the reality of COVID-19 and social distancing meant that politicians had to stop glad handing. In some cases, this turned out to be a challenge. In March 2020, Fox News noted that President Trump had glad-handed a whole rope line of his supporters, as they waited to see him speak at an event in Florida.

This wasn’t just a one-time event. The Times of Israel noted that, at least as of March, Trump was continuing to hold meetings with other heads of state:

President Donald Trump is flouting his own government’s advice on how to stay safe. He continues to shake hands with supporters and visitors, hold large events and minimize the threat posed by a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 115,000 people and killed over 4,000 worldwide.

The Times of Israel reported that the vice president, Mike Pence, had defended Trump for shaking hands and vowed that the glad-handing would go on.

“In our line of work, you shake hands when someone wants to shake your hand,” Pence said. “And I expect the president will continue to do that. I’ll continue to do it.”

The Washington Post reported that the Democratic presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, was also struggling to adapt to the new norms of social distancing:

Joe Biden is a personal kind of politician. He’s a glad-hander, a back-slapper, a shoulder-squeezer and a hair-nuzzler — sometimes to a fault. Yet with the presidential campaign essentially in suspended animation and all of us practicing social distancing (or at least we should all be), Biden can’t interact with voters the way he’d like. So what should he do?

The Post recommended that Biden should take a break from glad-handing and turn to making video announcements from his home – an appropriate measure in the age of social distancing. The Post suggested that Biden should set out his platform in a series of friendly, accessible video announcement.

cookie-cutter campaigns

A “cookie-cutter campaigns” are political campaigns run by political consultants who use virtually identical strategies in different jurisdictions. The typical sign of such campaigns are websites or direct mail advertisements that use identical layouts and stock photographs.

The increased number of cookie-cutter campaigns in recent years is due, in large part, to the rise of political consulting on the local level.

But they’re also due to consultants having found campaign tactics that work again and again.

Walter Shapiro: “There is another intriguing reason why campaign tactics in both parties are about as creative and innovative as those employed by the French general staff during World War II. No major candidate is willing to risk his or her political future on untried campaign plans built around embracing new media and playing down TV spots. With a Senate seat or a governorship at stake, the political herd instinct is as powerful as it is debilitating. So every campaign resembles every other campaign with cookie-cutter ads since the creative potential of 30-second spots was exhausted decades ago.”

Mugwumps

In American politics, the term “mugwumps” was first used to describe those who left the Republican party in favor of the Democrats in 1884 to vote for Glover Cleveland instead of the GOP nominee James Blaine.

At a contentious 1884 Republican convention, Blaine beat out Chester Arthur for the nomination on the 4th ballot. But Blaine had his detractors and was perceived as financially corrupt by a significant number of Republicans, who would ultimately flee the Republican party and vote for his Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland. There were enough defectors (estimated to be 60,000), particularly in New York State, to swing the election to Cleveland, who became the 22nd president.

In a sense, Mugwumps were the original independents, eschewing their party for the things they believed in strongly.

Mugwumps earned their colorful nickname when New York Sun’s editor Charles Anderson Dana first referred to them as such, citing their fence sitting posture: “Their mug sat on one side of the fence and their wump on the other.”

The nickname, however, actually had a dual meaning, as the term was originally derived from an Algonquian word that referred to a “war leader” or someone who considered himself “self-important.” Ironically, it was Blaine’s sense of self-importance that the mugwumps were rebelling against.

At the time, the Mugwump nickname was meant to be derogatory. From The Daily Kos: “The bolters were called man milliners, hermaphrodites, turncoats, amateurs, delusional public moralists. By claiming themselves above partisan interests, Mugwumps were seen as sanctimoniously arrogant.”

But the term was actually embraced by these independents who were proud to be “aloof from party politics.” Some of the most notable Mugwumps still have a firm place in American history, such as Carl Schurz , Henry Adams, Charles Eliot Norton and Henry Ward Beecher.  Two of the most notable Mugwumps were Mark Twain and Louis Brandeis.

These days, a general misunderstanding of what a Mugwump really was has led to more questionable uses of the word, including a 2017 Boris Johnson rhetorical attack on Jeremy Corbyn, when the British PM called Corbyn a “mutton-headed old mugwump.”

And the term has crossed over from politics to pop culture, finding a place in Harry Potter’s universe.

In 2016, the controversial candidacy of Donald Trump caused some, like political consultant and writer David Frum, to long for the days of the Mugwumps, where principles trumped party.

Indeed, a direct analog to the Mugwumps of 1884 can be found in the “Never Trumpers,” who all but left the Republican party under the 45th president in favor of any possible alternative. Such contemporary “mugwumps” include Jeff Flake, Bill Kristol and Rick Wilson.

Shermanesque statement

Shermanesque statement

A Shermanesque statement is a clear and direct statement by a potential political candidate indicating that he or she will not run for a particular office.

The term is derived from a remark made by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman when he was being considered as a possible Republican candidate for president in 1884. Sherman declined, saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”

In modern times, President Lyndon Johnson famously declared he would not run for a second term in 1968 by saying, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Likewise, Gen. David Petraeus made a similar pledge in 2010 saying, “I thought I’ve said ‘no’ as many ways as I could. I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you of that.”

body man

A “body man” is an assistant who follows a political figure around the clock, providing logistical assistance for daily tasks ranging from paperwork to meals. This is different than the advance man who typically prepares solely for campaign events.

The term body man typically refers to the closest personal aide to a president or presidential candidate. This assistant stays with the official at all times save for sensitive meetings and personal moments. Body men work with political advisors, administrative staff, and family members to manage the president’s time. The president typically selects a body man from their campaign or previous office to ensure confidentiality.

Political observers have only used this term in public recently with the earliest published reference dating back to 1988. In The Boston Globe, Susan Trausch described the body man as someone who “makes sure the candidate’s tie is straight for the TV debate, keeps his mood up and makes sure he gets his favorite cereal for breakfast.”

Google Trends found a steady increase in searches related to this term since 2004. The trend line has grown from relative interest ratings of 35 in January 2004 to 85 in February 2020. Increased media coverage of presidential inner circles over time has boosted body man into the forefront of political terminology.

Duties for the president’s body man have evolved over time. Reggie Love, a body man for President Barack Obama, said that he was hired without a job description. Blake Gottesman helped President George W. Bush handle his dog, pay for meals during campaign stops, and manage autographs on rope lines. Love played basketball with Obama in addition to handling gifts, documents, and scheduling.

The post-presidential careers of past body men show why the position is so valuable to young politicos. Stephen Bull went from a role as President Richard Nixon’s body man to roles with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Salvation Army. Tim McBride served as a body man for President George H.W. Bush before moving up the corporate ladder to a vice presidency with United Technologies Corp. Kris Engskov went from President Bill Clinton’s body man to a vice president of operations for Starbucks within a decade of service.

Public familiarity with the body man has been solidified by portrayals in popular TV shows. Characters like Gary Walsh in the HBO political comedy Veep and Charlie Young in the NBC drama The West Wing added dimensions to real-life descriptions of the role.

William Safire: “The informal job title is not be confused with the man with the briefcase, the ever-present carrier of the codes needed by the president to respond to a hostile missile launch. It is more specific and intimate than gofer, a term applied to any aide ready to ”go fer” coffee or do other menial tasks.”

Examples

CNBC (October 27, 2016): “Band had begun his career as Bill Clinton’s ‘body man’ – the young staffer who carried bags, took notes and navigated Clinton through the day.”

Politico (February 9, 2015): “Love was that oddity in politics: the ‘body man’ – part valet, part buddy, part whatever.”

The New York Times (July 19, 2008): “Mr. Engskov says the body man’s job was a study in diplomacy, politics and world affairs rolled into one: ‘It allowed you to see everything the president sees, without the responsibility.’”

fusion voting

fusion voting

Fusion voting allows a candidate’s name to appear on multiple parties’ ballot lines, and to combine his or her votes from those lines.

The practice was widespread in the 19th century, as Democrats benefited from fusion tickets with populist parties, but now remains legal in only eight states. In those states, minor parties will often agree to cross-endorse a major party’s candidate in exchange for influence on the candidate’s platform.

stump speech

stump speech

A stump speech is a speech that a politician makes again and again as they travel to different places during a campaign.

The expression dates back to early American history, when candidates would travel through the countryside building support for their campaigns. Most of the time, there weren’t any formal stages where a politician could address a crowd, so candidates stood on tree stumps to give their speeches. Today, candidates still travel around the country delivering standardized speeches to win over voters.

A typical stump speech has a lot of distinctive elements, all woven together into an appealing whole. The speech sets out the candidate’s values and their overarching plans, as well as specific campaign promises and talking points. And of course, the speech also needs to forge an emotional connection between the candidate and the voters.

Stump speeches are not intended to be newsworthy or dramatic. Normally, a candidate repeats the same stump speech, word for word, at every one of his campaign stops. The speech might change slightly depending on the audience – for example, the candidate might add a few words to the speech to mention local politicians, or to refer to a local specialty. For the most part, though, candidates deliver the same stump speech at every campaign stop, giving the audience time at the end to ask questions.

In 2015, the FiveThirtyEight blog created two “perfect” stump speeches – one for Republicans, and one for Democrats. The speeches weren’t real, but they imagined what highly pandering possible speeches for each party would look like, based on the values reflected by the majority of voters from each party.

The Republican speech, as written by former Republican speech writer Barton Swaim, focused on the need for smaller government, reduced Federal spending, and free trade. The Democratic speech, written by Democratic speechmaker Jeff Nussbaum, talked about social inclusion, income inequality, and education.

Even in the age of social media, the old-fashioned stump speech continues to be important during a campaign. During the 2020 presidential campaign, most candidates continued to use standardized stump speeches to present their talking points and to reach out to voters. President Trump’s stump speech clocks at just over an hour and touches on issues like the economy, conservative values, and tax cuts.

Some candidates, though, seemed to be moving away from the classic stump speech. After all, stump speeches are also full of potential pitfalls, since they present opportunities for candidates to make gaffes or lose their audience’s attention. Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner for the presidential nomination, shortened his stump speech to just 15 minutes. And Senator Elizabeth Warren replaced her own stump speech with a town hall format.

The Atlantic once cited this speech by one Phil Davidson, the would-be GOP nominee for treasurer in Stark County, Ohio, as the worst stump speech in American history. The speech is striking because of Davidson’s highly emotive delivery, even when he is discussing non-controversial subjects like his own biography. At moments, Davidson seems enraged or on the verge of tears.

mudslinging

In politics, “mudslinging” is a tactic used by candidates or other politicians in order to damage the reputation of a rival politician by using epithets, rumors or mean-spirited innuendos or insults. The term is often used interchangeably with the more descriptive phrase “negative campaigning.”

The term is most often used in the context of a political campaign in which one candidate “mudslings” in order to damage an opponent’s political prospects and gain an advantage with the electorate. Mudslinging is typically not geared towards exposing a difference in policy position, but is usually associated with insulting an opponent’s character or deriding them as a person.

Decried in this 2016 Chicago Tribune article, mudslinging has a long tradition in American politics, first witnessed in the heated election of 1800, in which Adams and Jefferson hurled mean-spirited epithets at each other.

While the tactic of attacking opponents with character assassinations and epithets goes back hundreds of years, the term “mudslinging” itself wasn’t coined until the late 1800s. It was derived from the Latin phrase “Fortiter calumniari, aliquia adhaerebit,” which means “to throw a lot of dirt and some of it will stick.” As a political term, “mudslinging” picked up steam after the Civil War.

Variations of the term included “dirt throwing,” “mud throwing” and “mud-gunning.”

The presidential campaign of 2016 is often cited as one of the dirtiest of all-time, with mudslinging used by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to gain advantage. A Time magazine article published just before that election ranked it in the top 5 dirtiest campaigns of all-time, but was also quick to note that mudslinging is a time-honored tradition in politics. The article singles out the elections of 1800, 1828, 1876, 1928 and 1988 as some of the most notable when it comes to mudslinging.

Described in detail in this Wall Street Journal article, the election of 1828 was particularly vicious and dirty, and is often cited as having set a standard for mudslinging that might never be matched. In that election, supporters of John Quincy Adams, running against Andrew Jackson, accused Jackson of being a cannibal and eating American Indians that were slaughtered in battle. By comparison, the mudslinging of today can seem a bit tame.

Mudslinging is related to the more modern term swiftboating, which was derived from attacks directed towards 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry by swift boat captains he served with in Vietnam, and orchestrated by supporters of his opponent, president George W. Bush.

The efficacy of mudslinging is the subject of much debate, with some believing that negative campaigning turns off voters, while others arguing that it’s a necessary component of a successful political campaign.

 

 

dark horse

In politics, a “dark horse” is a candidate for office for whom little is known or for whom expectations are low, but who then goes on to unexpectedly win or succeed. While history is replete with examples of dark horse candidates who went on to win local, regional, state or national office, the term is most often used in the context of presidential politics.

As described by a local Massachusetts reporter: “In many ways the allure of the dark horse mirrors that of the American Dream: An unknown candidate, the little guy, overcomes incredible odds to pull a shocking victory from the hands of an establishment favorite.”

The term is borrowed from racing, where it was first used to describe a horse that was unknown to bettors and was therefore impossible to handicap. From Benjamin Disraeli’s 1831 novel The Young Duke: “A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.”

The first known political use of the term was in 1831, with the unlikely ascendancy of James K. Polk to the Presidency. As noted by White House historians, in the particular case of Polk, his “dark horse” status was due to his unlikely nomination to higher office:” When Whig opponents changed “Who is James K. Polk” throughout the presidential election of 1844, it was more an attempt to influence perception than a reflection of reality. The image of Polk as an obscure protégé of Andrew Jackson stood in contract to the successful career of the nationally known governor of Tennessee and speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Polk’s ‘dark horse’ status was based not on his political obscurity, but on his unexpected selection by the Democratic Party.”

As outlined in the Washington Post, the other nominees who started out as dark horses were: “Horatio Seymour, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Warren Harding and John W. Davis. Of the five, Hayes, Garfield and Harding were elected president.

  • Seymour, the former governor of New York, said over and over that he had no desire to be a candidate, but he nevertheless found himself nominated at the 1868 Democratic convention on the 22nd ballot.
  • Ohio Gov. Hayes won the Republican nomination in 1876 on the seventh ballot.
  • Congressman Garfield, an Ohio Republican who was the last person to go directly from the House to the White House, won the 1880 GOP nod on the 36th ballot.
  • Harding was nominated during a 1920 smoke-filled room meeting in which Republican leaders settled on the Ohio senator on the 10th ballot.
  • The 1924 Democratic convention was the longest in American history, going 103 ballots – and 17 days – before settling on former West Virginia congressman Davis.”

Often, Abraham Lincoln is considered a dark horse, in his case because he left the arena, only to return over a decade later: “Even Abraham Lincoln, who had left politics entirely after serving a term in Congress in the late 1840s, but would win the presidency in 1860, has sometimes been called a dark horse candidate.”

In modern times, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Donald Trump were all in their own ways considered dark horses.

bandwagon

bandwagon

To be on the “bandwagon” is to follow a group that has a large and growing number of followers.

A bandwagon is literally a wagon which carries the band in a parade. The phrase “jump on the bandwagon” first appeared in American politics in 1848 when Dan Rice, a famous and popular circus clown of the time, used his bandwagon and its music to gain attention for campaign appearances. As campaigns became more successful, more politicians strove for a seat on the bandwagon, hoping to be associated with the success.

The term itself is derived from the era of P.T. Barnum, when it referred to a literal wagon that carried a marching band on it, as part of a larger circus show.

Its first use in a political sense was in 1848 when Dan Rice, described here as “The Clown Who Ran For President,” “invited future-president Zachary Taylor to campaign on his circus wagon, using its music to attract attention for the candidate. Taylor later made Rice an honorary Colonel.”

This raucous method of getting attention became increasingly popular, as more and more politicians began to angle for a seat on the bandwagon, hoping to be associated with its success. By the turn of the 20th century, candidates such as William Jennings Bryan in 1900 were using bandwagons and loud musicians to garner enthusiasm for their campaigns. That’s when the term started being used in a derogatory way, implying that people were associating themselves with the success without considering what they associated themselves with.

Eventually the term lost its literal meaning and took on a more figurative one, and soon the idea of a “bandwagon effect” became a staple of political science.

A 2015 article in Psychology Today described “the bandwagon effect” this way: “Researchers have long identified the impact of social conformity in shaping how people think and act. Along with explaining new trends in fashion or popular fads, this bandwagon effect can also influence how people would be likely to vote on important issues. Many voters often prefer not to make an informed choice before voting and simply choose to mimic the behavior of other voters instead. If a poll predicts that a certain candidate will win by a landslide, could voters actually be persuaded to vote for this candidate themselves?”

The so-called “bandwagon effect” in politics has been a topic of much debate and study over the years, particularly during presidential campaigns, with papers such The Washington Post and New York Times using the term to analyze candidate momentum and how it can impact election results.

Of course, the term applies to more than just politics, and has been used to describe everything from geopolitical relationships to trends on Wall Street to consumer and business behaviors.

The most common use of the term “bandwagon” is arguably in sports, where it’s used to describe people who become fans of a team only when they become successful. NPR described the bandwagon effect on the popularity of the Washington Nationals during their 2019 World Series run: “We’ve all done it. We’ve jumped on the bandwagon because something became popular. Many people in the region are now jumping on the Nationals’ bandwagon as they head to the World Series this week.”

The article went on to quote a fan: “It’s not about sports, it’s about human nature. People like to have something to get excited about and like to connect with people.”

Swiftboating

“Swiftboating” is an untrue or unfair political attack or smear campaign. It’s similar in meaning to mudslinging.

The term comes from the 2004 presidential campaign when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth produced a series of television ads and a bestselling book that challenged Kerry’s military record and criticized his subsequent antiwar activities. Kerry himself had served for four months as a swift boat commander in Vietnam.

The term “swiftboating” soon became used to describe political tactics of the group.

October surprise

october surprise

An October surprise is a news event which takes place shortly before a closely-watched election and which may influence the election’s outcome.

Usually, the term in reference to a presidential election, although it can be applied to any election.

Merriam Webster notes that October surprise wasn’t always a political term. In the early 20th century, it referred to the annual autumn sales held by major department stores. Around 1980, people started using October surprise in its modern political sense.

An October surprise can take many different forms. A natural disaster, an economic downturn, or even a war can all impact elections, especially if they take place just before people go to the polls. All of those count as an October surprise. However, the term is more commonly used for deliberately planned news events. Last-minute revelations about a candidate’s personal life or their finances can also constitute an October surprise.

In 2000, George W Bush was running for president against Al Gore. The two were in a close race, but Bush appeared to have pulled ahead. Then in early November, the news broke that Bush had been arrested and charged with a DUI in Maine back in 1976. The news shook Bush’s support. Karl Rove, Bush’s chief strategist, later said that if the DUI news had never become public, Bush would have won the popular vote, eliminating the need for a recount.

In October 2004, when Bush was running for re-election, Osama bin Laden released a video that boosted the president’s position in the polls. The video referred to the September 11 attacks and called President Bush a dictator, accusing him of repressing civil liberties by means of the Patriot Act. The video put national security back at the forefront of public discussion and likely inflated support for the president.

Four years later, in 2008, John McCain was running for president against Barack Obama. In October, the stock market crashed, unemployment reached an all-time high, and the global economy seemed to be on the point of collapse. The market crash was widely credited with helping Obama win the election.

The most famous October surprise of them all, however, may be one which never actually took place. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was running for president against the incumbent, Democrat Jimmy Carter. The Reagan campaign was reportedly afraid that Carter would orchestrate a last-minute deal to free the American hostages that had been held in Iran since 1979. Reagan’s staffers feared that if the hostages were released, Carter would get a huge bump in the polls.

In the event, though, Iran waited to free the hostages until just after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president. Since then, theories have abounded as to what happened. Many Democrats believe that Reagan himself made a deal with Iran, asking them not to liberate the hostages until after he won the election. What’s clear is that, in the absence of an October surprise, Reagan was able to sweep to victory.

whistle-stopping

whistle-stopping

“Whistle-stopping” is practice of making political speeches or appearances in many different towns during a short period of time.

The term originates from the time when politicians mainly traveled by train and gave speeches from the back of the train during “whistle-stops” in small towns. The term now covers any means of travel punctuated by multiple short stops, usually arranged by an advance man. The term “flag stop” is used almost interchangeably with “whistle stop.”

The BBC notes that the term “whistle-stopping” originated in America but is now used by European politicians too. The expression may have been used first by the columnist O.O. McIntry, back in 1928. McIntryre wrote about a person who had to admit that his hometown was “some outlandish whistle stop with the conventional red depot.”

President Harry Truman is famous for his long whistle-stop tour while he was running for re-election in 1948. Truman’s campaign tour stretched 31,000 miles and included 352 campaign stops. The tour was planned by Truman’s publicist, a journalist named Charlie Ross. Voters apparently thought of Truman as distant and uncharismatic, and the whistle-stop tour was supposed to give them a fresh look at the president. The president reached three million Americans while he was on the months-long tour.

Of course, Truman and his staff did not invent the whistle stop tour. Abraham Lincoln was famous for campaigning from trains and train stations. After Lincoln was elected president, he spent nearly two weeks traveling from his home in Illinois to Washington DC to be sworn in as president. The extended trip gave Lincoln time to meet with his supporters in whistle stops throughout the country. Along the way, the president-elect survived an assassination attempt (discovered by the railroad detectives).

Almost a hundred and fifty years later, president-elect Barack Obama recreated Lincoln’s famous whistle-stop tour. Obama traveled to his own inauguration by train, following the same route as Lincoln had and stopping along the way to speak to crowds of supporters.

“To the children who hear the whistle of the train and dream of a better life — that’s who we’re fighting for. That’s who needs change,” Obama said at one stop along the way. “And those are the stories that we will gather with us to Washington.”

First ladies have historically done their own whistle stop tours too. Lady Bird Johnson famously carried out a whistle stop tour of the south in order to rally support for President Johnson’s civil rights agenda. Lady Bird spent four miles aboard a train which had been named the “Lady Bird Special,” traveling through eight states and covering 1,628 miles. A southerner herself, Johnson said she wanted her tour to take her “to the land where the pavement runs out and city people don’t often go.”

In 2017, Melania Trump went on what many journalists called her own whistle stop tour. The first lady visited four African nations during a week-long tour of the continent. Her trip was widely seen as an attempt to repair relationships between the Trump administration and African nations. Melania Trump’s tour was not technically a whistle stop tour, but because she made many short stops over a long distance, it was often referred to in that way.

fence mending

fence mending

In politics, fence mending means making an effort to repair a political relationship after it has been damaged.

The term was first used in 1879 by John Sherman. Sherman, the younger brother of the Civil War hero William Tecumseh Sherman, was a politician in his own right; he served six years in the House of Representatives and six terms in Congress. Today, when he is remembered at all, it’s for a speech in which he declared, “I have come home to look after my fences.”

Sherman, a farmer, may have literally intended to mend the fences on his own land. However, the phrase quickly came to mean mending relationships with people after a rift.

In 2019, President Donald Trump was on the outs with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. The fight started back in 2018 as a disagreement over tariffs and then turned personal, with Trump publicly calling Trudeau “very dishonest and weak.”

In a fence mending effort, the Trump administration lifted tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel. Vice president Mike Pence also paid a visit to Ottowa during which he praised Trudeau’s negotiating skills.

Closer to home, President Trump mended fences with Senator Ted Cruz after a bitter rivalry between the two men during the 2016 presidential election. During the primary elections, Donald Trump dubbed the senator “Lyin’ Ted.” He also insulted Cruz’s wife and implied that his father was involved in the plot to assassinate president John F. Kennedy. For his part, Cruz said publicly that Trump was a “pathological liar” and a “coward.”

The two men mended fences in 2018, when Cruz was running for re-election. President Trump stumped for Ted Cruz and attacked Cruz’s rival, Beto O’Rourke. At the same time, Cruz became one of the president’s trusted allies in Congress. During one rally in Houston, Trump referred to the old rivalry between himself and Cruz:

“We had our little difficulties,” Trump said. “It got nasty, and then it ended. And I’ll tell you what — nobody has helped me more with your tax cuts, with your regulations, all of the things we’ve been doing with your military and your vets, than Sen. Ted Cruz.”

President Trump also had to mend fences with Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski in 2018. The two had a falling-out after Murkowski decided not to support Trump’s plans to end Obamacare. That led to a least one angry phone call; the president also denounced Murkowski on Twitter. Later, in an apparent attempt to mend fences, Trump invited Murkowski to a private lunch. She praised the gesture as “kind” and said that there was “no sourness” between herself and the president.

Mending fences isn’t just for politicians. Psychologists say that after a divisive election, it’s important for ordinary people to mend fences with their own friends and family. Elections, especially presidential elections, can be full of rancor and can rouse strong feelings. That’s why psychologists stress the importance of mending fences — by apologizing if you’ve made hurtful statements, and by trying to understand opposing points of view.

coattail effect

The coattail effect is when the popularity of a candidate at the top of the ticket boosts the fortunes of candidates from the same party lower down on the ballot.

The “coattail effect” is a phenomenon whereby a political candidate or leader’s popularity leads to improved vote totals for fellow party candidates further down the ballot.

A coattail refers to a part of the coat extending below the waist that provides extra coverage. The coattail effect or the alternate phrase “riding on someone’s coattails” is a relatively recent entrant into the political lexicon. The concept’s origins are murky though U.S. Rep. Abraham Lincoln’s 1848 speech discussing General Zachary Taylor’s “coattails” seems to be the first notable use.

In this speech, Lincoln highlighted Democratic Party hypocrisy in their critiques of Whigs hiding under presidential nominee Taylor’s “military coat-tail.” The future president pointed to two decades of Democratic hiding under Andrew Jackson’s coattail as evidence of this hypocrisy. Lincoln’s use of coattail refers more to a presidential candidate providing cover for fellow party members rather than a rising political tide lifting all boats.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer points to the recency of the coattail effect’s use in political literature. In a search of all books from 1800 to 2008, there are no mentions of this phrase until 1947. There is a spike in the term’s use by 1957, which peaked by 1996.

The presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton illustrate positive and negative coattail effects. Eisenhower was a popular figure following his role in Allied victory in World War II. This popularity and his reluctance to political power contributed to his election in 1952 and Republican control of the House and the Senate.

Reagan’s appeal to conservative Democrats and Republicans helped him win the presidency in 1980. Republicans regained the Senate for the first time since Eisenhower’s first term due to the down-ballot effects of Reagan’s election.

Clinton emerged from a three-candidate race in 1992 with a Democratic Congress. After two years of an embattled presidency, Republicans retook the House and Senate by offering a Contract with America to counter what they viewed as presidential overreach on healthcare. Clinton’s struggles weighed heavily on Democratic congressional candidates.

Recent studies have raised questions about the power of the coattail effect. The University of Virginia Center for Politics published a report in 2011 that highlighted inconsistencies in a president’s impact on congressional races. Political scientist Robert Erikson’s 2016 study of the coattail effect found that Democratic votes for Congress fluctuate for both presidential popularity and evaluations of the likelihood of Democratic victory.

Examples

Fox 5 Atlanta (February 7, 2020): “Biden argued that he’s the only Democratic candidate who’d have a coattail effect for Senate candidates in battleground states and GOP-leaning states like North Carolina and Georgia.”

The Hill (June 18, 2016): “‘They’re whistling past the graveyard,’ said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, when asked about GOP skepticism of a presidential coattail effect in 2016.”

The New York Times (October 17, 1982): “But a poll by The New York Times indicates that the coattail effect is weak, with supporters of one Democrat often planning to vote a split ticket, and vote against the other candidate.”

smoke-filled room

Typically a place where secret political deal-making occurs. In earlier times, many political operatives smoked cigars which filled the rooms with smoke.

Encyclopedia of Chicago: “The original smoke-filled room was in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel, where, according to an enduring legend, a small group of powerful United States senators gathered to arrange the nomination of Warren G. Harding as Republican candidate for president in 1920… when the Associated Press reported that Harding had been chosen ‘in a smoke-filled room,’ the phrase entered the American political lexicon. Ever since, ‘smoke-filled room’ has meant a place, behind the scenes, where cigar-smoking party bosses intrigue to choose candidates.”

trial balloon

An idea suggested by a politician in order to observe the reaction. If public reaction is favorable, the politician pursues the idea and takes full credit.

The term originates with the testing of the first hot air balloons in the late 18th century. Unmanned balloons were sent up into the atmosphere to determine if they were safe for human travel.

rubber chicken circuit

In politics, a “rubber chicken circuit’ is the nickname given to the endless parade of dinners that political candidates must attend during a campaign for office in order to meet donors and raise money.

The term refers to the pre-cooked, stale and unappetizing meals often served at these fundraising dinners. As described in The Guardian, it describes “the abundance of cold drumsticks on the buffet tables.”

The first known use of this term dates back to the 1950s when improvements in transportation made it easier for candidates to travel the city, state or country in which they were running to meet with potential supporters. Perhaps the earliest use is from a 1953 New York Times article: “Pity the poor coach. This is his twenty-first engagement on the ‘rubber chicken circuit’ in the past month and he has to drive 200 miles to the next town after he has finished his pleas for John and the other departing seniors.”

Over the years, countless candidates have hit the “rubber chicken circuit” to pound the flesh, raise money and meet wealthy donors. In 2012, Politico described then Maryland governor, and future presidential candidate, Martin O’ Malley’s appearance at Iowa steak dinner as ‘ramping up his presence on the national rubber-chicken circuit.”

During the lead up to the 2016 presidential race, in describing what Hillary Clinton will have to do to win the Oval Office, the Washington Post noted: “She’s going to have to spend time on the rubber-chicken circuit, looking inquisitive in factories (donning safety goggles as well) and dealing with a whole lot of minutiae.”

The term “rubber chicken circuit” is not just limited to campaigning, but also refers to the spate of high-profile speeches given by former officeholders, as in the case of Newt Gingrich, whose “rubber chicken circuit” speeches are described here in Wired Magazine as earning the former Speaker of the House “$50,000 a pop.”

While the rubber chicken circuit has long been a staple of donor-based campaigning, in more recent years it has become more associated with elitism in the political arena: From a 2020 article from The Independent, quoting Donald Trump, Jr.: “I am not an elitist. Never have been, never wanted to be and certainly never tried to get on the BS rubber chicken dinner circuit,”

Of course, the food served at these countless political dinners is not limited to poultry: the “rubber chicken circuit” is also sometimes referred to as the “mashed potato circuit.”

caucus

An informal meeting of local party members to discuss candidates and choose delegates to their party’s convention.

The term can also refer to informal groups of Members of the House of Representatives or the Senate used to discuss common issues of concern and conduct policy planning for its members. There are also regional, ideological, and ethnic-based caucuses in Congress.

The term comes from the Algonquian language and means “to meet together.”

William Harris: “The term Caucus is first attested in the diary of John Adams in l763 as a meeting of a small group interested in political matters, but William Gordon’s History of the Independence of the United States of America, 1788 speaks of the establishment of caucus political clubs as going back fifty years earlier than his time of writing in 1774, so a first-occurrence date for the caucus can be estimated in retrospect as early as 1724.”