Classic Presidential Ads George Bush And Willie Horton Against Michael Dukakis 1988

During the 1988 presidential campaign the first mention of Willie Horton came from Al Gore during the democratic primary debates. After Michael Dukakis won the Democratic nomination, George Bush began mentioning Willie Horton in his campaign speeches. Horton was a convicted felon serving a life sentence for murder in Massachusetts. While Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts Horton was the beneficiary of a furlough program that gave him weekends off. Horton didn’t return and committed some more heinous crimes. Beginning on September 21, 1988, the Super PAC, National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), under the auspices of Floyd Brown, began running a campaign ad entitled “Weekend Passes”, using the Horton case to attack Dukakis. The ad was produced by media consultant Larry McCarthy, who had previously worked for Roger Ailes. The Bush campaign did not have anything to do with the release of this ad. wink wink

The Willie Horton ads were pulled from TV on October 4th, and the Bush campaign released their own version the next day called, “Revolving Doors.” It didn’t feature Horton but instead showed a bunch of actors walking through a revolving prison door. The ad was produced by political consultant Roger Ailes with help by Lee Atwater. Many felt these two ads played an important role in the defeat of Dukakis that fall, since Americans believed Dukakis was weak on crime. Dukakis led Bush by 14 percentage points in June of 1988, but Bush won in a landslide that fall. Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich later said this about the Horton ad, “The symbolism was very powerful…you can’t find a stronger metaphor, intended or not, for racial hatred in this country than a black man raping a white woman….I talked to people afterward….Women said they couldn’t help it, but it scared the living daylights out of them.”

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