|Mondale for President|
|Campaign||1984 U.S. presidential election|
|Status||Lost election: November 6, 1984|
|Key people||Bob Beckel (campaign manager)|
|Slogan||America Needs a Change|
The 1984 presidential campaign of Walter Mondale, a former Minnesota senator and Vice President of the United States, began on February 21, 1983, when Mondale announced that he was running for president in a speech at the Minnesota State Capitol. Mondale won the Democratic Party's presidential nomination after convincing Frank Lautenberg, a previously unpledged party delegate, to support him. Lautenberg's vote gave Mondale the 1,967 delegate votes needed to become the Democratic Party's nominee. Mondale lost the general election, held on November 6, 1984, to incumbent Republican President Ronald Reagan in a landslide.
A former United States Senator from Minnesota, Mondale considered running for the Democratic nomination in the 1976 presidential election, but he dropped out of the race on November 21, 1974, after having built a campaign for two years. When he dropped out, he explained that he felt he lacked "the overwhelming desire to be President" and wanted to avoid "sleeping in Holiday Inns." In 1976, Jimmy Carter won the presidential election, with Mondale as his running mate. Mondale served as Vice President under Carter from 1977 to 1981. In January 1981, shortly before Mondale left office as Vice President, CBS News reported that he had decided to run for president in 1984.
Mondale's opponents in the race for the Democratic nomination in 1984 included Reubin Askew, Jesse Jackson, George McGovern, and Gary Hart. In early polls, Mondale had a comfortable lead over his primary rivals, and he was considered the front-runner for the nomination by odds makers. John Glenn was considered Mondale's closest rival early in the race, but Glenn's campaign collapsed early on, as did most of the other Democratic candidates' campaigns. In 1983, Mondale was endorsed by almost all AFL-CIO leaders, as well as by the National Organization for Women, who had not endorsed a candidate since they were founded 17 years earlier.
After Mondale trounced Hart in the February 20, 1984 Iowa caucuses, getting 48% of the vote to Hart's 16%, many in the media thought that the primaries were effectively over. Mondale's fate soon began to turn, however, after Hart won the New Hampshire primary, which cost Mondale his front-runner status. In an attempt to regain it, he effectively deployed the phrase "Where's the beef?" to cast doubt on Hart's claim that he offered "new ideas." During the course of all the primaries, Mondale got about 6.8 million votes, Hart 6.5 million, and Jackson 3.3 million.
Mondale clinched the nomination in June 1984 by receiving significantly more votes from superdelegates than Hart did. Lautenberg then stated, "I believe it is time for Gary Hart to come home to the Democratic party and behind the nomination of Walter Mondale." Nevertheless, Hart refused to concede and instead announced his intention to challenge the results at the party's upcoming convention.
Shortly before the 1984 Democratic National Convention, Mondale chose Bert Lance to be his campaign's general chairman, and unsuccessfully attempted to remove Charles Manatt from his position as party chairman. Mondale and his campaign stopped their effort to oust Manatt in response to protests from party leaders. On Mondale's decisions, one anonymous Democratic Party aide told the New York Times: "It's a disaster. People are gulping hard. No one knows why he did it." His choice of Lance proved controversial because Lance had previously left his job in the Carter administration amid charges of bank fraud (of which he was later exonerated).
Mondale picked three-term Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate on July 12, 1984, making her the first woman nominated for president or vice president by a major U.S. political party. The pick was intended to energize Mondale's campaign, which it did at first. This effect proved short-lived, however, as it was soon overshadowed by a scandal involving Ferraro's and her husband's finances.
Shortly before the general election, Mondale defended his choice of Ferraro as his running mate against Reagan, who had recently said that her nomination was not a major breaking point. Mondale replied that he chose Ferraro "because she's the best," adding that "She is far better prepared for her position than Mr. Reagan was when he was elected president of the United States."
Mondale officially accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. He delivered his acceptance speech on the night of July 19, 1984, climaxing that year's convention. During the speech, Mondale controversially vowed to raise taxes but claimed that Reagan would also do so: "He won't tell you. I just did."
Many observers were surprised by Mondale's decision to call for raising taxes on millions of voters openly during a presidential election, with Reagan campaign consultant Stuart Spencer telling CBS, "I've never heard a politician say he is going to raise taxes to 30 million, 40 million, 50 million people in a campaign." Some of Mondale's fellow Democrats also distanced themselves from his tax plan.
During the general election, over a dozen political professionals doubted whether Mondale was appealing enough as a person to win the election and questioned his decision to spend considerable time campaigning in states that he had almost no chance of winning. Some of these professionals also told the New York Times that they were "amazed" at the sloppy preparation the campaign put into organizing events. In October 1984, shortly before the election, Mondale attempted to focus on trying to win California. That effort included spending over $3 million on television advertising there and flying Mondale in for a rally shortly thereafter. That was part of his strategy to try to win at least one big Sun Belt state.
Soon after the election, Democrats offered multiple different theories for why Mondale lost in a landslide: Jesse Jackson argued that the Democrats had pandered too much to white men, and Mondale himself said in February 1985 that he lost because of his inability to appear compelling on television. William Raspberry disagreed with Mondale's self-assessment and argued, "What cost Mondale was the perception that Reagan, while perhaps on the wrong side of a number of specific issues, generally stood for what most Americans stood for, while Mondale, though often on the right side of the specifics, didn't really stand for anything at all."
Writing in the Washington Post in March 1985, Mark Shields argued, "The single, biggest mistake made by candidate Mondale and his campaign was the failure to endorse and to embrace the Fair Tax plan of Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.)."