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The best of political rhetoric

The best of political rhetoric: When stubborn presidential candidates overstay their welcome. By Howard Mortman.

Time now to salute a special brand of presidential candidate -- the stubborn ones. Those are the folks who stay in the race far after it’s winnable. This year’s winning example: Howard Dean. Here’s an ad Dean is running in Wisconsin for the Tuesday primary:

On screen: Video footage of Dean on the campaign trail.

Announce [voice over]: They say his campaign has given the Democratic Party its voice back and helped reclaim its soul. Howard Dean had the courage to take on George Bush before it was politically popular -- on Iraq, health care and a balanced budget. Now the media tells us the race is over and the Washington insiders have won. So on Tuesday, Wisconsin can be a rubber stamp or you can vote for real change.

On Screen: Approved by Howard Dean and paid for by Dean for America.

Howard Dean: I'm Howard Dean, and I approve this message because it's time to take our country back.

For lovers of political rhetoric, it’s a classic, timeless, textbook ad.  Most presidential candidate cycle through a predictable series of messages: The language they use when they’re exploring a campaign.  The language they use when announcing and conducting a campaign.  And the language they use when they’re campaign is hopelessly behind yet refuse to exit the stage. 

And that’s where we find Howard Dean these days. On the fringe of the presidential race, yet refusing to bow out.  His ad projects his stubbornness.  There’s positive conspiracy: (“They” say how great his campaign is).  There’s a sense of triumph (“helped” the party - no easy task for a maverick).  There’s negative conspiracy (“the media tells us the race is over.”). And there’s that delicious icing on the cake, defiance (don’t be a “rubber stamp,” Wisconsin).

Dean threw everything into the ad but the towel.

Dean’s ad follows a long, proud tradition of candidates who can’t seem to exit a presidential race that just doesn’t want them anymore.

Below is a quiz.  I’ve listed what presidential candidates over the last quarter century have said about prolonging losing campaigns.  Can you name the candidate and the year?  The answers are at the bottom.

  1. "If you're out there and you've been twisting in the wind for six or eight months and you start to smell a little, then maybe somebody has to cut the rope just for your own good."
  2. "In the end, I don't think people are going to listen to the pollsters and pundits.  I'm not ready to count out New York yet. I think the people are going to come around."
  3. “Am I in this for the long haul? Yes. Do I intend to campaign to the bitter end? Yes.”
  4. “I believe this race is going to go all the way to the convention. And what that means -- no one's going to get 50 percent of the delegates going to the convention. And I expect to be able to pick up delegates, state by state. And I'll arrive at the convention right in the mix for the nomination, and I look forward to it.”
  5. "As this campaign moves forward, a clear choice will be offered. A choice between my optimistic and welcoming conservatism, and the negative message of fear; a choice between a record of reform and an empty slogan of reform."
  6. ''Right now we're moving forward.  This thing is going to be decided in California and not before.”
  7. "I continue not just to count up delegates, I continue to bring the truth that our party must stay in form in its tradition."
  8. "At the convention, there's going to be one question: Who can beat George Bush? Who is electable? Who has an economic message that can attract independents and Republicans? That is the question. You're looking at the answer."
  9. "I'm still hopeful about it, and I still realize that we're in an uphill fight and we're the underdog. ... I'm not prepared to think in terms other than to be successful."
  10. “I have enough money to keep in the race through California and the convention. But I don't have enough to do telemarketing and television.  My own personal travel will continue but as far as a full-blown media campaign I can't afford that any more."
  11. "We don't have to be panicked or stampeded into a given strategy. Never be playing cards and let somebody scare the joker out of your hand. Use it when you need to use it. Don't cut no trey of clubs with no jokers. Cut an ace. The stage is set for a mutually respectful, mutually beneficial relationship."
  12. "As you know, I made a commitment to the three million people who voted for me in the Republican primaries to stay in this race until the convention and to represent their interests.”
  13. “I think this is beyond politics. This is about the direction of the party. I fully expect to win primaries in the coming weeks.  But I'm going to win because I'm speaking the issues and interests of people that have been ignoring.  It's almost contradictory to say, ‘If you don't win, get out.’  Did you come in to win, or did you come in to stand up for something -- and make that win?”
  14. "I'm in this race for the course because I believe that the issues I'm raising are important.  I want to raise these issues of equity and fairness for the people our society has ignored.”
  15. "I'm fighting for the soul of the Democratic Party.”


  1. Bob Dole, 1988
  2. Bill Bradley, 2000
  3. Ross Perot, 1996
  4. Dennis Kucinich, 2004
  5. John McCain, 2000
  6. Pat Buchanan, 1996
  7. Jerry Brown, 1992
  8. Paul Tsongas, 1992
  9. Ted Kennedy, 1980
  10. Pat Robertson, 1988
  11. Jesse Jackson, 1984
  12. Pat Buchanan, 1996
  13. Al Sharpton, 2004
  14. Ted Kennedy, 1980
  15. Jerry Brown, 1992

Howard Mortman is a producer for "Hardball with Chris Matthews."