The 10 most memorable presidential campaign themes (SLIDESHOW)
10. “Reformer with results” (George W. Bush, 2000) — Give Dubya points for creativity. In 2000, in a tough primary against Sen. John McCain, who was running on an anti Washington corruption platform (did somebody call Newt Gingrich?) Bush claimed he was a reformer too … but with results. Bush got the nomination, and became president despite losing the popular vote. Results!
9. “Building a bridge to the 21st century” (Bill Clinton, 1996 re-election) — Despite his party losing Congress in 1994 and a torrent of conservative legislation, Clinton had reason to be optimistic. With the economy booming, he focused on the imminence of a new century, leaving geriatric war veteran Bob Dole with the vaguely boring “The Better Man for a Better America.”
8. “Peace and prosperity” (Dwight Eisenhower, 1956 re-election) – Having brought the Korean War to a close as promised, the former Army general coasted to re-election on a theme of peace and prosperity. Three days before the end of his second term, Eisenhower warned Americans about the growing “military-industrial complex.”
7. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” (Bill Clinton, 1992) — 46-year-old Clinton unseated President George H.W. Bush in 1992, in part by channeling popular culture. He played the sax on “The Arsenio Hall” show, and used the Fleetwood Mac song, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” to contrast himself with the stiff, formal “Poppy” Bush. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty)
6. “A chicken in every pot” (Herbert Hoover, 1928) — the now famous phrase was the campaign theme of an unlikely would-be president: Herbert Hoover, who ran on the promise of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” — meaning prosperity and good times. Unfortunately, what came next after Hoover’s election was the Great Depression.
5. “Daisy” (Lyndon Johnson, 1964) – With civil rights and Vietnam roiling the nation, Johnson played on Americans’ nuclear war anxieties with an ominous TV ad that became known as the “Daisy” ad (real title “Peace Little Girl.”) The LBJ campaign theme: “the stakes are too high for you to stay at home.”
4. “Yes we can”/”Change we can believe in” (Barack Obama, 2008) — The 2008 Obama campaign boiled down to three simple themes: hope, change, and no more George W. Bush. But the iconic phrase, “yes we can,” was actually the hook from Obama’s concession speech after losing the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton.
3. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” (Ronald Reagan, challenger, 1980) — Four years after winning the White House, President Jimmy Carter was stung by a simple, devastating question posed by former actor and California governor Ronald Reagan: “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Americans overwhelming answered “no.”
2. “We like Ike” (Dwight Eisenhower, 1952) – At the height of the Cold War and the McCarthy era, Eisenhower became the first private citizen in the 20th century to be “drafted” by a citizens movement to run for president, and the first Republican president in 20 years. The World War II hero won in a landslide. He even had a catchy “jingle.
1.”It’s morning (again) in America” (Ronald Reagan, 1984 re-election campaign) — The phrase became the tagline for Reagan’s presidency, but it was actually the opening line of a 1984 TV campaign commercial formally titled “Prouder, Stronger, Better.” Needless to say, it worked.
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From George Washington to Barack Obama, America has had 44 presidents, which means 44 presidential campaigns — some more memorable than others.
Coming up with a campaign theme, for an incumbent president or a challenger, is a tough game. Some themes barely matter: Washington ran unopposed for his second term in 1792, so he didn’t need one. Others fail by being forgettable. Who remembers what Al Gore’s theme was in 2000? (“Prosperity and Progress”) or John Kerry’s in 2004 (“Let America be America Again” — which sounds really similar to Mitt Romney’s current presidential campaign theme…)
And others sound out of place with the passage of time. The theme for Abraham Lincoln’s first presidential campaign in 1860 was “vote yourself a farm,” referring to his promise to expand free homesteads out west. Of course, he also wanted to halt the spread of slavery into the new territories, while “preserving it where it exist[ed]”
Campaign themes can be ironic: President Woodrow Wilson campaigned for re-election in 1916 on the theme: “He kept us out of war,” only to lead the U.S. into World War I a year later. Or they can spawn commonly used phrases: Lincoln’s 1864 re-election theme was “Don’t swap horses when crossing a stream”, which soon became, “don’t switch horses midstream.”
Others take advantage of the candidate’s quirks or name: Calvin Coolidge won with “Keep cool with Coolidge” in 1924, Warren Harding rolled out “Cox and cocktails” in 1920, to ding his opponent, James Cox, for opposing prohibition, and Jimmy Carter, former peanut farmer, won in 1976 with “Not just peanuts.”
So which campaign themes are the most memorable? Here are the top ten: