RIP Pat Caddell

Yesterday we learned that pollster Pat Caddell died at age 68. Caddell is credited with helping send “an obscure peanut farmer” —-Jimmy Carter— to the White House in 1976. But then –as Carter was facing reelection:

While Mr. Caddell was considered instrumental in Mr. Carter’s victory in 1976, he also shared the blame for limiting him to a single term. He helped persuade the president to deliver a speech that was intended to inspirit the nation during an energy crisis and economic slump, but instead tarred Mr. Carter as a weakling who was unable to lift the country out of its malaise.

Instead, in 1980 voters chose Ronald Reagan, a Republican who promised a rosier vision that he would describe during his successful re-election campaign as “morning again in America.”

In fact, Mr. Carter never mentioned the word “malaise” in his 1979 address to a nation fed up with endless lines at gas stations, inflation and joblessness. And his solemn jeremiad bemoaning the “crisis of the American spirit” when “human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns” was initially well received.

But it turned out that the crisis of confidence was in Mr. Carter’s ability to get the country going again and to revive it from its malaise — a description that Clark M. Clifford, a presidential adviser, had invoked before the speech.

But I remember Pat Caddell for another election–the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. I’ve researched this and I can’t find anything on it, so I’m operating from memory. If you remember, the networks were so eager to call Florida for Gore when the vote count still showed a neck and neck race. Caddell was serving an an analyst for one of the networks–I believe it was NBC– and was warning that it was too soon to call Florida. You know the rest of the story—dimples, hanging chads, etc.–until the Supreme Court ultimately determined the winner of Florida’s electoral college votes and thus the presidency.

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...

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