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The Contenders - A BBC World News Special

ProgrammingMedia Release

Shirley Chisholm
image source - BBC World News

With so much of the worlds focus on the US Presidential Election, this Saturday BBC World News will premiere a new series The Contenders looking back at those who campaigned to be ‘Leader of the Free World’, the series containing interviews with the contenders as well as those close to the campaigns. 

From the successful campaigns of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to the women who made cracks in the glass ceiling, as well as the political candidates from far outside of the mainstream and the third-party candidates that brought chaos to the presidential race – Contenders explores both the successes and the failures of these noteworthy campaigns.

Episode 1: Shirley Chisholm and John McCain—The Mavericks

Oct 15th                         15:10
Oct 16th                         20:10

American voters say they prefer their politicians honest, but does being a straight-talker actually have negative consequences? John McCain, a war hero turned foot soldier in the “Reagan Revolution”, was considered a maverick within his own party for always speaking from the heart even when it wasn’t politically expedient. His first run in 2000 saw one of the more brutal, knockdown drag-out fights between his campaign and that of the ultimately victorious George W. Bush. Eight years later, despite his storied record in the Senate and a headline-making choice for Vice President, he found his run for the Presidency upended by the presence of a certain history-making newcomer, Barack Obama.    Like McCain, Shirley Chisholm, a black woman who dared to run for Congress just three years after African Americans saw the passing of the Voting Rights Act, followed her own instincts.

She was a bold straight-talker who didn’t want to wait her turn to follow an African-American man or a white woman running for President--she saw an opportunity and she took it for herself, smashing multiple glass ceilings in the press conference announcing her candidacy. For both John McCain and Shirley Chisholm, part of the reason they ran is that both were supremely “un-bought and un-bossed”. It could also very well be the reason they lost.


Episode 2: Ross Perot and Ralph Nader—The Independents

Oct 22nd                        15:10
Oct 23rd                         20:10

Americans have become used to the idea that running for President is a two-party affair, but as we’ve seen recently, that’s not the way it has to be. Over the last quarter of a century, two very bold candidates have run as third-party contenders. In 1992, it was Ross Perot, a short Texas billionaire with a distinctive twang and a bold, refreshing, no-nonsense approach. He launched his campaign as a lark during a charming interview on Larry King Live, his appearance going “viral” and creating a strong “Draft Perot” movement. But as he shot up in the polls, his opponents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were forced to take him very seriously, and this was the very first time a third party candidate had such a strong support base. Ralph Nader spent decades in the public eye and affected the lives of millions of people around the world as a consumer advocate, but after jumping into the ring for the 2000 election, he is now best remembered as an independent party contender who may have changed the course of history. You can call these third party candidates difficult, fearless or risible but whatever you do, don’t call them spoilers.


Episode 3: Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin—The Trailblazers

Oct 29th                         15:10
Oct 30th                         20:10

It has to happen eventually--a ceiling-smashing moment in campaign history. The selection of Geraldine Ferraro as the first woman on a major party U.S. presidential ticket catapulted Walter Mondale’s campaign from dull to dazzling. The jolt provided by the former prosecutor and Congresswoman from Queens, New York helped Mondale who was up againstRonald Reagan and George Bush. Her entrance onto the world’s stage at the Democratic National Convention in 1984 was an important moment in women’s history, made all the more captivating by the fact that the audience that day was 80 to 90% women. 2008 saw another important moment take place on the other side of the aisle--the world’s introduction to Sarah Palin. Brought onto John McCain’s campaign to add energy and excitement in the face of the history-making Obama campaign, Palin was able to give Republican voters the feeling that their party could also be ground-breaking and provocative. And like Ferraro two decades earlier, she raised the interest level in the vice presidential slot beyond anything that had come before. The most consequential number two picks in history, both women dealt with attacks that were not just political but highly personal. Not just their competence, but their looks, dress sizes, marriages, and finances were also raked over as they fought to break the glass ceiling.


Episode 4: George W. Bush and Barack Obama—The Master Strategists

Nov 5th                          Time TBC
Nov 6th                          Time TBC

The son of a former president. The son of a Kenyan and Kansan academics. A former large state governor. A community organizer. George W. Bush and Barack Obama are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Yet somehow the two men ended up in the same rarefied class of presidents who could be called master politicians. Bush, with the help of his campaign strategists, survived a vicious fight against John McCain for the Republican nomination, and went on to win one of the closest and most controversial elections in U.S. history, defeating Al Gore by only a few hundred votes. He became a wartime leader early in his presidency, and to this day remains one of the most polarizing presidents in the nation’s history. When Barack Obama announced his campaign in 2007, his popularity was low, and he was trailing Hillary Clinton by thirty points in the polls. He mobilized a grassroots campaign of young Americans relying heavily on the internet, utilizing revolutionary online fundraising models and effectively re-writing the presidential campaign playbook. Both of these two-term presidents were able to beat serious, big ticket contenders such as John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney with a combination of pitch-perfect messaging, careful and calculated campaign strategy, and the very best teams of rivals in the business.