Presidential Campaigns

by Kirk Henley, Public Services Librarian
Originally published by Columbia Daily Tribune.

The prolonged spectacle that is Election 2012 will be over Nov. 6, and we will have chosen, for better or worse, who is to be our president for the next four years. Whether you're excited about, disgusted with or ambivalent toward this upcoming event, there is no denying the outcome is important, and everyone who is eligible should participate. If you would like to do a little brushing up on presidential campaigns and elections before Election Day arrives, here are a few suggestions.

For basic information on presidential elections, “Selecting a President” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2012) by Eleanor Clift and Matthew Spieler is a good place to start. This brief but highly informative book offers a look at a campaign from the primaries to Inauguration Day and answers many basic questions that voters might have.

The Candidate: What It Takes to Win and Hold the White House

To come out victorious in our long and grueling presidential election, a person must possess a very special set of qualities. In “The Candidate: What It Takes to Win and Hold the White House” (Oxford University Press, 2012), Samuel L. Popkin explains there are two winners in every campaign: the inevitable winner at the beginning and the actual winner in the end. Using examples from 60 years of presidential campaigns, he analyzes what it takes for a challenger to succeed, an incumbent to remain in office and a party to maintain power. If you want a real insider's look at what goes on behind the scenes of a campaign, this book is for you.

Our last election was a momentous one in the history of our country. Before election night, we knew we would either elect our first black president or first female vice president. As it turned out, Barack Obama won, and we are yet to elect a woman to a position in the executive branch. Still, Rebecca Traister says, the 2008 election was positive for women. In her book “Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women” (Free Press, 2010), she analyzes the central roles women played in the campaign and media coverage. She concludes that even though no woman won executive office, the election brought to the forefront difficult discussions about sexism and gender roles, discussions she believes need to be ongoing if our country is to move forward.

Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation

For every George W. Bush or Barack Obama, there is an Al Gore or John McCain, men who poured great amounts of time and money into becoming president only to come up short. In “Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation” (Lyons Press, 2012), Scott Farris profiles major candidates who lost their bids for office. Although their campaign efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, several of them, Farris concludes, made a greater contribution to our history than several who have held the office.

Although we have done this for more than 200 years, there are still questions and concerns about the procedure for electing our president. Both Republicans and Democrats understand that the processes of registering voters, and casting and counting ballots, have important implications for the final outcome. “The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown” (Yale University Press, 2012) by Richard L. Hasen chronicles the battle over election laws from 2000 to the present. The author focuses on the increasing number of election-related lawsuits and declining voter confidence in fair results, predicting that we are in for serious election problems unless we reform our system soon.

Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State

The American electorate is a fickle group, as many presidential incumbents have found out over the years. “The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents” (St. Martin's, 2011) by Linda Killian examines the more than 40 percent of citizens who are not registered Democrats or Republicans to see what they want in a candidate. The author profiles swing voters from around the country and concludes that today's partisan politics are alienating people who prefer more moderate candidates. “Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State” (Princeton University, 2008) by Andrew Gelman takes a general look at who votes for whom and why. Readers who enjoy charts, graphs and statistics will love this book.

We tend to view ongoing election campaigns as very serious business, as we should, but within every presidential campaign, there are usually several moments of genuine levity. These clever phrases and self-deprecating comments usually get lost amongst the mudslinging and attack ads. For a look at these lighter moments of past presidential elections, read “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House” (Hyperion, 2008) by Charles Osgood. The host of “CBS Sunday Morning” collects and provides context for a wealth of humorous quotes from Truman/Dewey to Bush/Kerry.   

Taft 2012

Now, for something completely different, try “Taft 2012” (Quirk Books, 2012) by Jason Heller. This satire imagines William Howard Taft falling asleep shortly after losing the election of 1912 and waking up in 2012. As it turns out, his down-to-earth style and progressive policies make him the perfect candidate for a run at the White House in modern America.

Last but not least, don't forget to vote!

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