The 90’s Election Special: the Primary

The first of three election specials from the award winning series, The 90's. This episode focuses on "The Primary" and features moments from the Illinois presidential and senatorial primaries, featuring Bill Clinton, Jerry Brown, Paul Tsongas, and Carol Moseley Braun. The producers tend to stay away from the regular news type footage and find the human interactions and the moments when the politicians are off their guard.

00:14Copy video clip URL Cold opening with David Wilhelm. “Our plan from here is to go on, win Illinois and Michigan, go on and win the nomination and win the White House… Actually those are our goals. I would tell you the plan, but I would have to kill you.”

00:32Copy video clip URL The 90’s opening.

01:24Copy video clip URL The Shot. Super Tuesday: March 10, 1992: Clinton advanceman Tom Hart orchestrates the preparation for the evening’s victory party, paying special attention to “The Shot.” His job is to arrange the photographers so that none of the members of the media appear in the official television coverage.

05:23Copy video clip URL Paul Tsongas at Harper High School. Tsongas talks casually with Skip Blumberg as he signs autographs.

Skip: “Everybody says you’re a real guy, is it true?”

Tsongas: “No, I’m just fake, all plastic… People said I’m not telegenic but it turned out to be an advantage.”

Skip: “Is there a part of the process that pushes you to be phony and plastic?”

Tsongas: “People can do it that way. Certainly there’s a precedent for that.” Tsongas signs his pamphlet “A Call for Economic Arms,” can’t find a taker, then gives it to Skip.

06:52Copy video clip URL Jerry Brown Media Tour. Jerry Brown conducts a satellite TV media tour. The woman working the phone switchboard is baffled by her task. She is asked what her qualifications are. She responds, “I’m a Jerry Brown supporter.” Brown is quick to respond to a question about the possible contradiction between his desire to “throw out” all the crooked politicians and his background from a political family. “That’s how I know how rotten it is.”

08:33Copy video clip URL The Senate Race. Voiceover: “Beyond the presidential primary, the most visible contest in Illinois was the attempt to unseat Democratic Senator Alan Dixon by Carol Moseley Braun and Al Hofeld.” Braun describes her underdog status: “It’s $280,000 a week to do TV. They’ve been on since Christmas. I just have to run an old-fashioned, she’s-the-best-candidate campaign. It seems to be working.” To a crowd, she says, “The feeling is there that we can do better than we’re doing…There’s something wrong with our system when people are excluded from the largest legislative body in the country.” Terry Peterson, a 17th Ward organizer, puts up fliers and talks: “Chicago sets the trend for the rest of the U.S. If you look at the election of Mayor Washington, you’ll see an increase in voter registration as well as participation all over the United States. We’ll all be motivated to get out there this time.” David Wilhelm tells us, “The worst time of a campaign is when the phone doesn’t ring. We’re busy right now, that’s good. I’d rather manage growth than decline.”

13:15Copy video clip URL The Beasley School. Bill Clinton visits the predominantly African-American school on the South Side of Chicago. Opens with children singing “Everybody wants to know/about Beasley School.” David Wilhelm offers his spin on Clinton’s visit to Beasley in contrast to Tsongas’ visit to Harper High, “[Clinton ] talks about parental involvement, making the most out of opportunity and personal responsibility and he really connected with the kids and with the parents. Paul Tsongas goes to a similar high school and talks about capital gains, tax cuts and the need to provide business incentives, and people looked at him like…” Hugh Hill, WLS-TV Political Editor, says of Tsongas’ visit to Harper High, “This guy’s got to be a loser. I mean, Jesus, he comes here to Illinois where he absolutely needs to win. He makes one stop and he’s gone.” Jerry Brown goes on WVON radio, but his appearance is interrupted by news that congressional candidate Mel Reynolds has been shot.

20:06Copy video clip URL St. Patrick’s Day. We see the parade and talk to the marchers, including the Queer Nation’s candidate for president, Joan Jett Blakk, Hillary Clinton’s brother Tony Rodham, and Niki Tsongas. Mayor Richard M. Daley says, “The Democratic Party today is a party made up of people who do not identify with the elephants or donkeys of America. People are much more independent… The Roosevelt era is over in this country, so they identify with an individual.” Poet Barbara Barg says, “Primaries are like primers for the election. It’s like a Miss America pageant. There’s the swimsuit competition, the talent competition, you have to answer one or two supposedly substantive questions. You have to keep your smile right… It’s essentially a Mr. America contest… It has nothing to do with real issues.”

23:59Copy video clip URL Carol Moseley Braun at Operation PUSH rally. A woman tells Braun to elevate her feet at night. Braun replies, “I’ve been doing that ever since you [first] told me that.” At the rally, Braun says, “We’re in striking distance of the incumbent. We can do this. We can actually do this.” Hofeld Media Adviser, David Axelrod, offers his spin on the Senate race. “Dixon and Hofeld are beating the hell out of each other. They’re both losing votes. The third candidate, who has no resources and really hasn’t been running much of a campaign, is benefiting from it; not because she’s above the fray, but because she’s below the fray.” Gloria Steinem presents a $1000 check to Braun: “We have enemies in the Senate. We have a few people who are not enemies, but we don’t have anybody who’s our friend. We don’t have anybody who understands. That’s who Carol is.” Bill and Hillary Clinton make an appearance at the Apostolic Church of God. At the Church of God in Christ, Tsongas has an awkward moment when he is prevented from putting money in the collection plate by the minister.

27:49Copy video clip URL The Money Man. Fundraising at the Clinton headquarters. David Wilhelm: “We had an extraordinary week. The message all week was ‘We understand Chicago and we understand the problems that average Chicago folk face.'” Meanwhile, Rahm Emanuel, National Finance Co-Chair, works the phones for cash. Amy Zisook, the other co-chair, says, “Most people who we raise money from don’t want anything… They just want some excitement and they want to feel important.”

29:44Copy video clip URL Roger Clinton’s band. In Hollywood, on the set of “Designing Women,” Roger Clinton, Bill’s brother, backed by his band “Politix,” sings the Traffic classic “Feelin’ Alright.” Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the show’s co-executive producer, comments on her close relationship with Bill and Hillary and her fundraising tactics. When someone gives less than $1,000, “I always say, ‘You can save yourself a lot of agony and pain, if you just finish writing the check now.'”

32:44Copy video clip URL Clinton headquarters. Rahm Emanuel works the phone and comments on the importance of giving Clinton as much time as possible to get votes as opposed to raising money. Tsongas rally. Tsongas says, “We’re not the machine. We’re the message.” He says the campaign has raised $1,000,000 in the last 12 days, more than all of 1991.

35:09Copy video clip URL The Debate. David Wilhelm defines the other candidates’ strategies: “There’s a lot of desperation on their part… In an attempt to win a state today, you may lose so much of your character that you can’t bounce back.” He maintains the secrecy of the infamous “Plan.” “It’s like Nixon’s plan to get us out of Vietnam. You have to be elected first, then I’ll tell you six months later.” At a TV debate, Jerry Brown accuses Clinton of funneling state business to his wife’s law firm, which causes a heated exchange. At the press conference after the debate, Tsongas says, “I found it very distasteful. Those two got in a dispute you all are going to use on the news and I’m out of the picture… I was gonna run in between them”… Wilhelm offers his spin to the press, “When people are behind in the polls they’ll do crazy things.”

38:17Copy video clip URL President Bush arrives. A press member comments on how the Secret Service keeps the President out of question-answer scenarios. Bush is introduced at the Polish National Alliance, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m most privileged to introduce our number one freedom farter—fighter—and the most popular American in Poland…” Chicago Tribune White House Correspondent Ellen Warren sports her one-eyed telescope, “Sometimes we’re kept so far away that the only way we can see him as more than a pinhead is with this device.” Press members show off their ladders of choice. Michael Maruzzi of the Coalition to End Homelessness says, “President Bush is having a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser and we have 100,000 homeless people in this state.”

42:57Copy video clip URL Election Day. At a CTA L stop, 17th Ward organizer (Alderman Alan Streeter’s Chief of Staff) Terry Peterson encourages people to vote. Bill Banks, 36th Ward Committeeman, talks positively about the work done by David Wilhelm for Mayor Daley during his election bid. David Wilhelm offers his opinion on the day’s result, “For the first time in a long time, maybe since Bobby Kennedy, we have a real coalition of white ethnics, downstate rural voters and black voters. It’s been unifying rather than divisive… It was The Plan. See, The Plan worked.” Warren Mitofsky, Voter Research and Survey Exit Poll Director, talks about the historical significance of exit polls. “We don’t know if Abraham Lincoln got elected because voters were opposed to slavery. We have no idea. Today we know that Ronald Reagan got elected not by a conservative mandate, but by a rejection of Jimmy Carter.”

46:33Copy video clip URL The Results Are In. At the Braun suite, excitement brews with the news that “the race is too close to call.” Advanceman Tom Hart talks to photographers, “I just don’t want to screw up The Shot.” Wilhelm heralds Clinton’s ability to “pull disparate factions of the Democratic coalition together.” With 40% of the precincts in, the Senate race is a virtual tie, prompting Braun to say, “It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” Dixon gives his concession speech: “I had a wonderful public life. I enjoyed every golden, beautiful minute of it… It was a great privilege and honor to be yours – for decades.” Clinton casually talks to reporters. “Tsongas is in Connecticut. Brown is in Wisconsin. It’s back to divide and conquer.” Braun supporters dance to “We are Family.” Braun says, “When they said, ‘You don’t have the money,’ we said , ‘In a democracy, it’s how many votes you got.’ When they said a woman couldn’t serve in the U.S. Senate, we said, ‘Wrongo.'” We also see Clinton’s victory party at the Palmer House Hilton and an intimate, behind-the-scenes portrait of him performing for news broadcasts around the country.

56:18Copy video clip URL End credits with shots of Clinton posing for a camera.