Theses Bachelor's

The "Total Campaign": How Ronald Reagan Overwhelmingly Won the California Gubernatorial Election of 1966

McKenna, Kevin

While many historians have discussed Reagan's victory in the 1966 California gubernatorial election as a major turning point in American politics, they have nearly exclusively attributed Reagan's victory to a backlash against racial violence and leftist antagonism. While some have acknowledged the skillful management of his campaign, few have emphasized its centrality to Reagan's electoral success. I examined a variety of campaign materials at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and a few oral histories of campaign officials and politicians to explain how Reagan defeated Pat Brown, an effective two-term governor who embodied "responsible liberalism" in the age of the Great Society. Regan's campaign team, led by political consultants Stu Spencer and Bill Roberts, innovated many new campaign techniques that have shaped American electioneering in subsequent decades, first showing conservatives how to win popular support after the overwhelming defeat of Barry Goldwater in the presidential contest held just two years earlier. The Reagan campaign effectively organized a massive army of volunteers, who reached out to voters in every corner of the state on the candidate's behalf. They also hired behavioral scientists, advertisers, and film producers to engineer an image of Ronald Reagan as a "citizen politician" fighting big government in defense of the common man. The combination of an all-encompassing media strategy with an unprecedented recruitment and deployment of grassroots activists produced a "total campaign" that launched Reagan's political career and made modern conservatism a legitimate, mainstream political ideology.

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B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 13, 2010


Senior thesis.