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August 01, 2013 1:35 PM Does a Presidential Candidate Really Need to Be an Average Joe?

By Jonathan Bernstein

Chris Cillizza, on why Chris Christie is a strong candidate:

As Mitt Romney, John Kerry and Al Gore can attest — and not in a good way — being, or at least seeming, like an average Joe is critically important to your chances of winning.

Except…well, you know what Romney, Kerry, and Gore have in common? They won major party nominations! And that’s where things such as candidate personality are actually important. As…George H.W. Bush can attest.

Or maybe Cillizza would say that Michael Dukakis failed “average Joe” too. But then…well, Bob Dole was no average Joe, and neither was John McCain. And you know who else was no average Joe? Ronald Reagan. Maybe there’s a movie star exception.

Does Barack Obama seem like an average Joe? Republicans don’t think so…I don’t know. But even spotting him the last three presidents, for whatever that’s worth, he’s still not getting there. Far more nominees fail that test than pass it, and before the Clinton/W/Obama group, I’m not sure when the previous average Joe showed up. Truman, I suppose. Surely not FDR, and he seemed to be just fine as a presidential candidate.

For that matter, thinking about FDR, or McCain, or Reagan, or perhaps Obama, reminds us that in fact “average Joe” is only one of a number of politician personalities that can work just fine. That’s part of what Richard Fenno talks about in Home Style — part of a politician’s promises have to do with the type of person he or she will be, personality included, but there are a wide variety of choices. What’s important isn’t picking the right one; what’s important is acting, after the election, how one “promised” to act.

In other words…it’s just another one of those things that some political reporters and pundits are used to saying, but five seconds of thinking about it reveals that it’s pretty much nonsense.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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