The Contenders - 16 for '16

Expand/Collapse The Contenders - 16 for '16


PBS, in partnership with OZY Media, is proud to present The Contenders-16 for '16, a documentary series that examines the most compelling and influential presidential campaigns in modern history. From Jesse Jackson’s groundbreaking 1984 and 1988 campaigns to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 launching of a brand of conservatism that influenced both Republican Ronald Reagan and even Democratic Hillary Clinton. The Contenders covers sixteen stories from the past 50 years of presidential election history. The series shows how previous elections are still influencing today in unexpected ways.

  • Shirley Chisholm | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to Congress, and four years later, the “unbought and unbossed” candidate embarked on a trailblazing campaign for president. Shunned by the political establishment and most black male political leaders, she ran an inspired, grass roots campaign, building a coalition of blacks, women, and young voters around her cause.

    Learn more about Chisholm with these resources from The Contenders - 16 for '16.

    Grades: 6-12
  • John McCain | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    A war hero and United States Senator, John McCain ran two of the most memorable presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2008. Barnstorming the country in his “Straight Talk Express,” McCain built his brand as a maverick politician and demonstrated it time and again, including in his selection of unknown Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate.

    Learn more about McCain with these resources from The Contenders - 16 for '16.

     

    Grades: 6-12
  • Howard Dean | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign is remembered by most for his infamous “scream” (and third-place finish) in Iowa, but thanks to online organization and his effort on behalf of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic party,” Dean led the party’s more established candidates like John Kerry for months — until they came gunning for him.

    Learn more about Dean with these resources from The Contenders - 16 for '16.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Pat Buchanan | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    Pat Buchanan performed well in the early primaries, particularly New Hampshire. This earned him the role of keynote speaker at the 1992 Republic National Convention. Buchanan's speech, dubbed the "Culture War Speech," argued that the Clintons where staining the American cultural fabric. This would serve as a general prelude to American politics in the 1990s.

    Learn more about Buchanan with these resources from The Contenders - 16 for '16.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Mitt Romney | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    Mitt Romney entered the ring with a sterling record as former CEO of Bain Capital, CEO of the highly successful 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and the first governor in the United States to enact universal health care for his state. Romney outperformed Obama during the first presidential debate, destabilized the incumbent, and got a huge lift in the polls. But in the end, the squeaky clean Mormon husband and father of five, who pledged to clean up Washington with corporate “executive-in-chief” efficiency couldn’t shake the “elitist, out of touch” label.

    Learn more about Romney with these resources from The Contenders - 16 for '16.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Michael Dukakis | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    Some call the 1988 campaign the dirtiest in history. This film examines how Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis struggled to define himself to the American people in the face of the negative ads, gaffes, and other obstacles that wound up defining his candidacy — and some say, costing him the election.

    Learn more about Dukakis with these resources from The Contenders - 16 for '16.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Gary Hart | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    In 1987, Gary Hart looked like an early lock for the Democratic nomination — and likely the presidency. Then one Miami reporter got a tip about Hart’s extracurricular life, and the media took an unprecedented leap into a presidential candidate’s personal life, one that is still felt today. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Jesse Jackson | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    In 1988, right about the time young Barack Obama was getting ready for Harvard Law School, Jesse Louis Jackson made a daring run for president. It was Jackson’s second time around the track. What few people now remember is that he was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Barry Goldwater | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, known as the “Godfather” of America’s Conservative movement in the 1960’s, opposed the Civil Rights Act and advocated shrinking “big government.” He jump-started Ronald Reagan’s political career, yet he was beloved by famous future Democrats like Hillary Rodham Clinton (who was then a Republican). He also widely considered to be the first casualty of a modern negative political ad.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Ronald Reagan | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    California governor Ronald Reagan may have lost to President Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican primary, but that loss would change the course of his party and the Conservative movement. After Ford took an early lead in the primary, Reagan came roaring back, ultimately taking the contest to the Convention where he fell short but left many in the crowd wondering if they had picked the wrong man.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Ross Perot | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    Texas billionaire Ross Perot jumped into the presidential race on an episode of CNN’s “Larry King Live” in 1992 and his no-nonsense challenge to the two main parties—dictated by “the volunteers”—stole the show. In the end, Perot was able to win 19 percent of the vote, marking one of the most successful third-party runs in United States history.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Ralph Nader | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    Consumer advocate Ralph Nader ran one of the most effective third-party campaigns in modern history in 2000, and it may have cost Democrat Vice President Al Gore the election. Did Nader intentionally play the role of spoiler by focusing on battleground states in the waning days of the campaign?

    Grades: 6-12
  • Geraldine Ferraro | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    A former elementary school teacher and prosecutor, and a formidable congresswoman from Queens, Geraldine Ferraro’s selection as Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 made her the first woman vice presidential candidate on a major U.S. party ticket, but it also put her and her family in a pressure cooker. In the end, the Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost all but one state in one of the most lopsided contests in United States history, but ‪Ferraro’s trailblazing candidacy would have a lasting impact.‬

    Grades: 6-12
  • Sarah Palin | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    One of the most electrifying (and polarizing) vice presidential picks in modern history, Sarah Palin brought an infusion of vibrant, youthful energy that John McCain’s campaign desperately needed. But she also brought unwelcome, blistering parodies, questions about her intellect and preparedness, and questions about McCain’s VP selection process.

    Grades: 6-12
  • George W. Bush | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    The son of a former president, George W. Bush rebounded from an unsuccessful career in the Texas oil and gas industry and failed congressional run to become the governor of Texas and to win one of the closest and most controversial elections in United States history, defeating Vice President Al Gore by a few hundred votes in Florida after the state’s recount went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Barack Obama | The Contenders - 16 for '16

    In just a few years, Sen. Barack Obama went from an obscure state legislator in Illinois to the nation’s first African-American Commander in Chief. Thanks to an innovative campaign that mobilized a massive grassroots organization of volunteers and donors, Obama would best more seasoned politicians, like Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain, on the way to becoming the 44th President of the United States. Is his effort the best-run presidential campaign ever?

    Grades: 6-12

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