The question that destroys presidential campaigns.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
May 24 2007 2:50 PM

The Candidate Killers

There is one question that haunts every campaign. This is it.

Illustration by Deanna Staffo

At the heart of every campaign there is a haunting question, the problem the candidate can never seem to shake. Is Michael Dukakis too liberal? Is George W. Bush too inexperienced? Sometimes the press or opponents manufacture the question, as in: Is Al Gore a big phony? Sometimes, the question comes out of an obvious, inescapable issue, as in 2004: Will the Iraq war sink Bush?

Over the summer, I will take a periodic look at the key question each campaign is facing. Does Mitt Romney believe anything? Can John Edwards win enough votes as a poverty fighting populist? Throughout the campaign, we'll return to these questions. Perhaps the candidate will succeed in answering the question—McCain can rebrand himself as a conservative—and perhaps the question will keep popping up because it can't be answered. In some cases, we may bid adieu to candidates who are consumed by their big question.


The first piece in the series is about Rudy Giuliani: Can a social moderate get the nomination in a party that evangelical Christians have dominated? The second piece  is about Hillary Clinton: Can she overcome her likeability problem? The third is about Barack Obama and whether he has enough experience to get elected. I've got ideas about the questions some of the other candidates face, but I welcome your advice. Please send your own suggestions to  (e-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise). (Those writing from early primary states will get extra credit!)

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.



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