#CrisisInChicago: Is 274 Murders in 210 Days a Campaign Issue? No. Here’s Why. Throughout the course of 2012 the city of Chicago has become a perverse mixture of Robocop’s “Old Detroit” and the senseless out of control violence of Washington D.C. in the late 1980’s. While overall crime in the city has gone down, the homicide rate has gone up 35% or more in some areas and worse the vast majority of the victims are African American. But this isn’t new, politically, economically and otherwise Chicago hasn’t done particularly well under Obama the Senator or Obama the president.
While most politicians run for office pointing to their success and progress in their hometown state or city Obama seldom used Chicago specific examples during his campaign in 2008 and while the city burns this summer Republicans have more or less let that part of Obama’s past slide. Why? Because in presidential politics the moment you start digging into someone else’s backyard they’ll go right after yours. Here are some mixed examples of hometown attacks in Presidential Politics.
1988 Bush vs. Dukakis and the man from Taxachusetts
If MMA fighting had been around in the 1988 presidential election it would have been a perfect allegory for the fight between Bush and Dukakis. The candidates battled each other in what has been called the nastiest presidential election of all time, but it was George H. W. Bush who took it to the streets of Massachusetts to make his case. Popularizing the phrase “Taxachusetts” the Bush campaign rode to victory by depicting Dukakis’ home state (and him by association) as a liberal bastion of high taxes, leniency on crime and champagne socialist hypocrisy. In the ad below the Bush campaign, by no means advocates of strong environmental regulations, slams Dukakis for failing to clean up the Boston Harbor, even quoting the EPA to do it. Bush the younger worked the same magic against John Kerry in 2004, and Mitt Romney has unsuccessfully fought against the same charges in the 2012 presidential election. As hometown attacks go Massachusetts has been a great punching bag. See the old “Harbor” ad here where Bush warns that Dukakis wants to “Do for America what he did for Massachusetts”!
George Bush has so many ways to attack Bill Clinton in 1992 that it is still baffling that he managed to lose the election (you can thank Ross Perot for that.) Either way, while Bill Clinton reminisced passionately about being the boy from a town called “Hope” Arkansas the Bush campaign was depicting the state a poor backwater where Clinton had raised taxes and impoverished kids. In this case it didn’t do much for the Bush campaign, and for several reasons. Arkansas is usually a red state, so attacking part of your base wasn’t all that bright for Team Bush but worse, everyone knows that state is a rural back-water so the idea that Bill Clinton could “Arkansize” the nation wasn’t as plausible in people’s minds as attacks on Massachusetts or other more established regions of the country. That didn’t stop Bush however, and the attacks on Clinton’s hometown ended with the same tag-line of “Bill Clinton wants to do for America what he did for Arkansas. America can’t take that risk.”
2000 Gore vs. Bush And Making Ohio into the new Texas
Ohio is the swingiest of purple states and therefore is always the focus of any serious presidential candidate. That’s why in the 2000 campaign Al Gore’s team developed the effective plan of attacking George W. Bush’s home state of Texas but giving it a specific twist: Warn Ohioans that turning Ohio into Texas would be a bad thing. In this add in 2000 Team Gore reminds Ohio voters that their wages are higher than Texans, and that during Bush’s tenure as governor Texas became one of the worst places in America to raise children according to research. As the ad goes on, Ohio begins to morph into the state of Texas and the add ends by telling voters Bush isn’t bringing the kind of change that they really want. In the end it didn’t work, Al Gore lost the state to Bush 46.5% to 50% with Ralph Nader and Pat Buchannan making up the difference. At least it was a creative ad.
A quick perusal of American presidential campaigns shows us that attacking the president’s hometown gives you mixed results at best. If a candidate comes from some region of the country that is easily negatively stereotyped (New England Liberals for example) than home town attacks can work. However, while Americans may stereotype Texas, or the South, those regions don’t elicit the same disdain from swing voters and moderates as tea sipping New Englanders. So while Obama’s home town of Chicago seems to be going to hell in a hand basket there just isn’t much headway that Republicans can make with it politically. Obama the “Chicago Style” politician pretty much falls flat with independents, and Romney couldn’t wrap his soul around the idea of critiquing Obama with charges that he doesn’t care about black youth dying in the streets. Unfortunately Romney has no such city cover. Obama will surely say he’s done for America what Romney did for Massachusetts, and the supreme court just told him that is was perfectly okay.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.