Watch Tuesdays at 8pm, September 13 - November 1 on WMHT-TV
The series kicks off with one such unlikely pair: 1970s presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm, the first black American and first female to run for the country’s top post, and Senator John McCain, who ran against Barack Obama in 2008. Despite extraordinarily different backgrounds, Chisholm and McCain both ran as plain-spoken outsiders. Chisholm’s slogan, “Unbossed and Unbought,” was underscored by a grassroots approach that saw her teams collecting cash in the streets, while McCain’s image as an outspoken maverick often led him to talk off-the-cuff. The show depicts game-changing moments in both campaigns: Chisholm’s betrayal by a friend in the House of Representatives who, at the last moment, decided he would not officially nominate her; and a revealing off-camera show-down between McCain and George W. Bush just prior to a live debate.
Week two of THE CONTENDERS (September 20) revisits the campaigns of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and conservative insider Pat Buchanan — men of two divergent perspectives who were seen as insurrectionists within their own parties. Dean brought “participatory democracy” innovations to his campaign, such as the introduction of Internet fundraising that is now a standard part of campaigns. Buchanan—a so-called “paleo-conservative” insider who served several American presidents and advocated a strong move rightward for the Republican Party—ran twice for the Republican presidential nomination (1992 and 1996) and on the Reform Party ticket in 2000. Despite the strategies, scripts, data analysis and marketing that went into these campaigns, it was, again, the human moments that led to their unpredicted outcomes. For Gov. Dean, it was the excitement (and problematic acoustics) that gave rise to his infamous, campaign-imploding “scream.” For Buchanan, who had barely recovered from heart surgery at his first convention in 1992, a decision to go off the party script and detail his concept of a “cultural war” for the soul of America resulted in a speech that many believe divided Republicans and propelled Bill Clinton to the White House.
Pairings for the balance of the series include: Mitt Romney and Michael Dukakis (September 27); Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson (October 4); Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan (October 11); Ross Perot and Ralph Nader (October 18); Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin (October 25); and George W. Bush and Barack Obama (November 1). Featured alongside the candidates, their families and their friends are a who’s who of campaign managers, observers and Washington, DC, insiders such as Susan Estrich, Karl Rove, Donna Brazile, Karen Hughes and dozens more. Through background stories of groundbreaking campaign moments, fatal missteps, behind-the-scenes insights and lessons learned by each candidate, the series explores deeper questions such as “Can a positive campaign be a winning campaign?” and “Should a single misstep define a campaign and a candidate?”
Chisholm/McCain − The Straight Talkers | September 13, 2016 at 8pm
See how being a straight talker in a presidential race had damaging consequences for both the first black, female Democratic candidate, the “unbought and unbossed” Shirley Chisholm, and Republican John McCain, a war hero dubbed a “maverick.”
Dean/Buchanan − The Flamethrowers | September 20, 2016 at 8pm
Learn about the outspoken doctor and five-term governor who became a force in Democratic politics and the equally outspoken conservative columnist and commentator who both ran for president hell-bent on restoring the America they thought was lost.
Dukakis/Romney −The Technocrats | September 27, 2016 at 8pm
Learn why successful governors of Massachusetts, Democrat Dukakis and Republican Romney, both competent contenders, were unprepared to combat the portraits their opponents painted of them and were unable to define themselves to the public.
Hart/Jackson −The Visionaries | October 4, 2016 at 8pm
Examine the stories of the charismatic Sen. Hart and Rev. Jackson, forward-leaning aspirants determined to tackle the biggest foreign policy and domestic issues of the day. Equal parts brain and brawn, both were ready to upend American politics.
Goldwater/Reagan – The Conservatives | October 11, 2016 at 8pm
Follow the political career of Barry Goldwater, whose conservatism ultimately sowed the seeds of Ronald Reagan’s entry into politics. Though they lost their presidential bids in ’64 and ’76, these influential Republicans, it’s said, won the future.Perot
Goldwater/Nader – The Independents | October 18, 2016 at 8pm
Follow the third-party campaigns of H. Ross Perot, who in 1992 launched his campaign on a lark during a TV interview, and Ralph Nader, a consumer advocate whose candidacy in 2000 may have changed the course of history.
Ferraro/Palin – The Trailblazers | October 25, 2016 at 8pm
Trace Geraldine Ferraro’s entrance onto the world stage in 1984 as the first woman on a major party presidential ticket. In 2008, Sarah Palin added energy and excitement to John McCain’s campaign. See how both women fought to break the glass ceiling.
Bush/Obama – The Master Strategists | October 25, 2016 at 8pm
Examine the campaign strategies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, candidates at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Both beat out serious big-ticket contenders with pitch-perfect messaging and careful and calculated campaign strategy.