As the debates approached during the campaign just ended, I, the eternal optimist, had a thought which I tried to bury because it meant that what has just come to pass would come to pass, that Barack Obama would win.
And the thought was this: in every presidential election where there have been debates, the more charismatic candidate won the election. Just look at the roster, winner in bold.
- 1960: John F. Kennedy v. Richard Nixon
- 1976: Jimmy Carter v. Gerald R. Ford
- 1980: Jimmy Carter* v. Ronald Reagan
- 1984: Walter Mondale v. Ronald Reagan
- 1988: Michael Dukakis v. George H.W. Bush
- 1992: Bill Clinton v. George H.W. Bush
- 1996: Bill Clinton v. Bob Dole
- 2000: Al Gore v. George W. Bush
- 2004: John Kerry v. George W. Bush
- 2008: Barack Obama v. John McCain
Not just that. In every presidential election since 1976, save for 1988, the candidate perceived as more anti-Washington won as well.
*If you ever watch video from the 1976 campaign and compare that to imagery from the 1980 campaign, it’s striking how less dynamic Jimmy Carter had become once elected.