Home > 1968-2008 Campaigns, 1996 Campaign > 1996–Clinton Reelection Ad–Amina Haleem

1996–Clinton Reelection Ad–Amina Haleem

The TV ad for Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign in 1996 contained the slogan, “Building a Bridge to the 21st Century.” This was also the theme of his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination in which he outlined his goals for the presidency that would lead into the new millennium. The intention of the campaign ad is meant to be deeply touching and inspirational- it shows various pictures of Clinton with average citizens, outlining his accomplishments in his first term superimposed with classical music and voice clips of Clinton speaking. Clinton also made the parallel argument that Republican nominee Bob Dole was too old, that he was stuck in the past, and that his anti-progressive policies would be unable to sufficiently push America into the 21st Century. In an official debate between himself and Dole, President Clinton said, “I can only tell you that I don’t Senator Dole is too old to be President, but it’s the age of his ideas that I question”. Clinton was also affectionately dubbed “the comeback kid” by news media outlets after his 1992 New Hampshire primary[1]

Clinton’s association of Dole with Newt Gingrich, the House Speaker, and use of old black and white footage of both of their past conservative policies, demonstrated the disconnect between the leadership of the Republican Party and the American people, even though the Republicans gained the majority of seats in Congress in 1994. Republicans started a “Contract with America” in order to eliminate the New Deal culture. The budget became a divisive issue between the political Parties, causing Dole to accuse Clinton of over spending. However, Clinton, in his presidential election ad, took credit for the flourishing economy and American contentment with jobs. The success of the Democrats and Clinton’s support of American moral values reflected Clinton’s capability as President while questioning Dole’s “stuck in the past” conservative mentality, which would not be the way to vote in the election that would carry Americans into the next generation.

Bill Clinton was able to use his incumbency and the successes from the first term of his presidency to catapult him to the forefront of the 1996 presidential race. The Democratic Party was in a good place during President Clinton’s campaign despite the 1994 congressional election which caused both houses in congress to be controlled by the Republican Party. However Clinton was subject to criticism for this change in legislative power due to the failure of his proposed health care system and the controversies surrounding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). But Clinton’s successes included addressing the budget deficit, Medicare, the D.A.R.E. program targeted towards educational institutions. Clinton targeted the needs of America’s youth in his campaign and his accomplishments regarding child vaccinations and education reform to garner family votes. Most Americans felt content with the prosperity of the country which is why voting for familiarity worked in Clinton’s favor.

During the ’96 election, the Democratic National committee was accused of accepting foreign donations and funds from Chinese religious groups, which is illegal for any non-American citizen to donate to American politicians[2]. This scandal was dubbed “Chinagate” due to the Chinese monetary influence on American politics and also in reference to the Watergate scandal under President Nixon. However, this campaign scandal was kept under cover and did not receive any media attention until a year later in 1997[3]. Dole attempted to capitalize on Clinton’s minor scandals during his first Presidential term, such as the Whitewater controversy involving the Clintons’ invested money into Whitewater real estate development, to create a questionable candidate, but his advertisements were inconsistent and failed to divert Americans’ attention from the successful products of Clinton’s first term. While most of the mid-west voted for Dole, he was only able to capture 159 electoral votes to Clinton’s 379.

Because Dole’s TV ads mostly centered on character-based issues, Elizabeth Dole, Bob Dole’s wife, was a main advocate featured in a number of Dole’s advertisements. She complimented her husband on being a WWII war hero and his commitment to family values and morals. This is in contrast to Clinton’s ads, especially this one, which were more policy based and did not feature his wife, then-senator Hillary Clinton. His focus on more middle-class issues geared his campaign to more moderate Americans. He was able to win many suburban votes.

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