In four of the six most recent presidential campaigns, Vanderbilt alumni have watched one of their own vie for his party’s nomination.
Al Gore was a front-runner in the 1988 Democratic race, winning on Super Tuesday. Gore served two terms as vice president before running for the top slot again in 2000. Gore received his party’s nomination and won the popular vote but ultimately lost the 2000 race, one of the most controversial elections in U.S. history.
Gore attended Vanderbilt University Graduate School in 1971-72 and Vanderbilt Law School from 1974 to 1976, when he left to run for Congress.
Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, BA’62, ran in the 1996 Republican
primary race, finishing third in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. In 2000 Alexander ran again. He now serves as the senior U.S. senator from Tennessee.
Early in the current election cycle, Fred Thompson, JD’67, was considered the preferred candidate for many conservatives. The actor and former U.S. senator dropped out of the race in late January.
Then there’s Ross Perot. The Texas billionaire never attended Vanderbilt–but four of his five children did, and one grandchild, Henry Ross Perot III, is a rising senior in the College of Arts and Science. Ross Perot made history in the 1992 presidential election as the most successful third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt, winning nearly 19 percent of the popular vote. He went on to found the Reform Party and ran as its nominee in 1996, winning 8 percent of the popular vote.
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When producer/reporters Fernando Suarez, BA'01, and Eloise Harper, BS'02, started covering U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last fall, they could have passed for contestants on the reality show The Amazing Race. Clinton flew around Iowa and the country on a chartered plane, while Suarez and Harper, working for competing television networks, dashed madly after her, patching together commercial flights and speeding down interstates in rented white Pontiacs, GPS units at the ready.
"We didn't even have time to eat," Suarez says. "It was all about beating Clinton to an event."
America's political scholars keep a close eye not only on our own democratic process, but on attitudes about democracy worldwide. And Vanderbilt political scientists studying the level of citizen support for democracy in other countries have turned some interesting findings.
Mitchell Seligson, Centennial Professor of Political Science and founder and director of LAPOP (the Latin American Public Opinion Project), recently received up to $11 million in grant support in new and continuing funding through 2014 to support a project known as the AmericasBarometer, a series of surveys conducted throughout North, Central and South America and the Caribbean that explores attitudes about democracy in various regions.