Race for the White House is a high-profile six-part CNN documentary series that will tell the story of some of America’s most iconic and consequential presidential elections, narrated by Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey. Each episode will tell the story of one campaign, featuring interviews with candidates, key players, historians and experts, along with contemporary archive and stylized drama. By exploring key themes, issues, turning points and strategies we aim to shed light on the changing nature of political campaigning, and reveal what impact these elections had on the course of American history.
Ronald Reagan’s Vice President, George H W Bush, ran against Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis in what became a notorious campaign of negative campaigning orchestrated by the politically ferocious campaign team, headed by Lee Atwater. For Vice President Bush the struggle was to escape the Iran Contra scandal that had dogged the last months of President Reagan’s administration.
In 1828 Andrew Jackson campaigns against incumbent John Quincy Adams. The bitter race is fought in the wake of the 1824 election, which Jackson, despite winning the popular vote, had lost by failing to secure a clear majority. Jackson, believing the democratic voice of the people had been ignored and Adams has engineered his victory through a “corrupt bargain” with his new Secretary of State, Henry Clay.
This episode tells the story of the remarkable, nail-biting campaign between Republican Vice President Richard Nixon and the Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. Nixon is well-known, experienced, and admired for his foreign policy expertise. Kennedy is youthful and handsome but inexperienced and hamstrung by his religion – no Catholic has ever won the Presidency. But the young Senator is ruthless in securing his nomination: using underhand tactics to beat his rival, Hubert Humphrey, in the Wisconsin primary; garnering the support of Protestant ministers in a televised address in Houston; and having his brother, Bobby Kennedy, work the Convention floor to defeat his Democratic rivals.
This episode tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable rise from political obscurity to President. In 1858 Lincoln faces Stephen Douglas – one of America’s most ruthless political operators – in a race for the Senate seat in Illinois that would be dominated by the issue of slavery. Despite winning the debates against Douglas, Lincoln loses the election, thanks in part to Douglas bribing many voters on Election Day. But Lincoln’s strong showing brings him national attention and encourages him to think about even greater political prizes.
At the beginning of 1948, few gave the Democrat, Harry Truman, a chance of being re-elected. Unpopular, presiding over an economically depressed country and a divided Party, the White House looked set to return to the Republicans and their gilded candidate, New York Governor, Thomas Dewey. But using hard-won political smarts and relentless determination, Truman begins a slow and nail-biting journey back to the White House.
With George Bush leading in the polls following the Gulf War of 1991, few leading Democrats want to run against the incumbent Republican President. Governor Bill Clinton sees his chance. But his initial popularity is severely dented after he is accused of both adultery and avoiding the Vietnam draft. Bush isn’t having it easy either: first facing a challenge from the conservative Republican Pat Buchanan and then Ross Perot - running as an independent.