Republican Party presidential primaries, 1988

Last updated on 10 May 2017

The 1988 Republican presidential primaries were the selection process that Republican voters used to choose their nominee for President of the United States in the 1988 U.S. presidential election. Incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush was selected as the nominee through a series of primary elections and caucuses culminating in the 1988 Republican National Convention held from August 15 to August 18, 1988, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

George H. W. Bush, President of the United States, 1989 official portrait.jpg
George H. W. Bush, President of the United States, 1989 official portrait.jpg
Bob Dole, PCCWW photo portrait.JPG
Bob Dole, PCCWW photo portrait.JPG
Pat Robertson Paparazzo Photography.jpg
Pat Robertson Paparazzo Photography.jpg

Primary race

Vice President George H. W. Bush had the support of President Ronald Reagan and pledged to continue Reagan's policies, but also pledged a "kinder and gentler nation" in an attempt to win over some more moderate voters. Bush faced some prominent challengers for the GOP nomination, despite his front-runner status.

At the start of the primary election season in early 1988, televangelist Pat Robertson's campaign was attacked because of a statement he had made about his military service. In his campaign literature, he stated he was a combat Marine who served in the Korean War. Other Marines in his battalion contradicted Robertson's version, claiming he had never spent a day in a combat environment. They asserted that instead of fighting in the war, Robertson's primary responsibility was supplying alcoholic beverages for his officers. (See Education and military service).

Robertson's campaign got off to a strong second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, ahead of Bush. Robertson did poorly in the subsequent New Hampshire primary, however, and was unable to be competitive once the multiple-state primaries like Super Tuesday began. Robertson ended his campaign before the primaries were finished. His best finish was in Washington, winning the majority of caucus delegates. However, his controversial win has been credited to procedural manipulation by Robertson supporters who delayed final voting until late into the evening when other supporters had gone home. He later spoke at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans and told his remaining supporters to cast their votes for Bush, who ended up winning the nomination and the election. He then returned to the Christian Broadcasting Network and has remained there as a religious broadcaster.

Bush unexpectedly came in third in the Iowa caucus (that he had won back in 1980), behind the winner Senator Bob Dole, and Robertson. Dole was also leading in the polls of the New Hampshire primary, and the Bush camp responded by running television commercials portraying Dole as a tax raiser, while Governor John H. Sununu stumped for Bush. These efforts enabled the Vice President to defeat Dole and gain crucial momentum. Embittered by his loss in New Hampshire, Dole told Bush directly, on live television that evening, to "stop lying about my record."

Once the multiple-state primaries began, Bush's organizational strength and fundraising lead were impossible for the other candidates to match, and the nomination was his. The Republican party convention was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bush was nominated unanimously.

In his acceptance speech, Bush made an energetic pledge, "Read my lips: No new taxes", a comment that would come to haunt him in the 1992 election.


George H. W. Bush, President of the United States, 1989 official portrait.jpg
Vice President
George H.W. Bush
Bob Dole bioguide.jpg
Senate Minority Leader
Bob Dole
of Kansas
(Withdrew Mar. 29)
(Endorsed George Bush)
Pat Robertson Paparazzo Photography.jpg
Pat Robertson
of Virginia
(Withdrew May 16)
Jack Kemp official portrait.jpg
U.S. Congressman
Jack Kemp
of New York
(Withdrew Mar. 11)
(Endorsed George Bush)
Former Governor
Pierre S. du Pont, IV
of Delaware
(Withdrew Feb. 18)
Alexander Haig Official Portrait.jpg
Former U.S. Secretary of State
Alexander Haig
(Withdrew Feb. 12)
(Endorsed Bob Dole)
Paul Laxalt (colorized).jpg
Former U.S. Senator
Paul Laxalt
of Nevada
(Withdrew Aug. 26, 1987)


George H. W. Bush

Bob Dole

Jack Kemp



Date State George H.W. Bush Bob Dole Pat Robertson Jack Kemp Pete du Pont
January 14 Michigan 57% 3% 22% 17% 0%
February 4 Hawaii 9% 9% 82% 0% 0%
February 7 Kansas 0% 99% 0% 0% 0%
February 8 Iowa caucus 19% 37% 25% 11% 7%
February 16 New Hampshire 38% 29% 9% 13% 10%
February 18 Nevada 27% 22% 15% 13% 1%
February 23 Minnesota 11% 43% 28% 15% 0%
February 23 South Dakota 19% 55% 20% 5% 1%
February 24 Wyoming 23% 46% 11% 7% 2%
February 28 Maine 64% 8% 14% 2% 0%
March 1 Alaska 24% 20% 49% 7% 0%
March 1 Vermont 49% 39% 5% 4% 2%
March 5 South Carolina 49% 21% 19% 11% 0%
March 8 Alabama 65% 16% 14% 5% 0%
March 8 Arkansas 47% 26% 19% 5% 1%
March 8 Florida 62% 21% 11% 5% 1%
March 8 Georgia 54% 24% 16% 6% 0%
March 8 Kentucky 59% 23% 11% 3% 0%
March 8 Louisiana 58% 18% 18% 5% 1%
March 8 Maryland 53% 32% 6% 6% 1%
March 8 Massachusetts 59% 26% 5% 7% 1%
March 8 Mississippi 66% 17% 13% 3% 0%
March 8 Missouri 42% 41% 11% 4% 0%
March 8 North Carolina 45% 39% 10% 4% 0%
March 8 Oklahoma 37% 36% 21% 5% 0%
March 8 Rhode Island 65% 23% 6% 5% 1%
March 8 Tennessee 60% 22% 13% 4% 0%
March 8 Texas 64% 14% 15% 5% 0%
March 8 Virginia 53% 26% 14% 5% 1%
March 8 Washington 24% 26% 39% 8% 0%
March 15 Illinois 55% 36% 7% 1% 1%
March 29 Connecticut 71% 20% 3% 3% 0%
April 4 Colorado 76% 0% 10% 0% 0%
April 5 Wisconsin 82% 8% 7% 1% 0%
April 26 Pennsylvania 79% 12% 9% 0% 0%
May 3 District of Columbia 88% 7% 4% 0% 0%
May 3 Indiana 80% 10% 7% 3% 0%
May 3 Ohio 81% 12% 7% 0% 0%
May 10 Nebraska 68% 22% 5% 4% 0%
May 10 West Virginia 77% 11% 7% 3% 0%
May 17 Oregon 73% 18% 8% 0% 0%
May 24 Idaho 81% 0% 9% 0% 0%
June 7 California 83% 13% 4% 0% 0%
June 7 Montana 73% 19% 0% 0% 0%
June 7 New Jersey 100% 0% 0% 0% 0%
June 7 New Mexico 78% 10% 6% 0% 0%
June 14 North Dakota 93% 0% 0% 0% 0%


Popular vote results:

Running mate

After Bush locked up the nomination in March, conventional wisdom leaned toward the notion of a Southern running mate to balance the ticket. The former Governor of Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, was seen by many as the most logical choice, and some early reports described him as Bush's personal preference. Another high-profile possibility, also from Tennessee, was the former Senate Majority Leader and White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker. Despite the early attention – which included a supportive editorial written by former President Richard Nixon – Baker told the press he would prefer to be left out of consideration.

Bush's running mate, however, would not be revealed until August 16, allowing speculation to intensify all the way to the national convention. Bob Dole, who was considered a leading contender based on his second-place finish in the primaries, expressed impatience with the wait but nonetheless made plain his keen desire for the job. So too did Jack Kemp, who confidently told reporters that he would make "a terrific campaigner and a terrific candidate and a terrific vice president". Both men were thought to rank high on Bush's list of potential picks.

Other highly rated prospects included two people quite close to Dole. His wife, Elizabeth Dole, who had served as Transportation Secretary under President Reagan and was a popular figure among conservatives and women – two key demographics that Bush was struggling to galvanize. A second option was Dole's fellow U.S. Senator from Kansas, Nancy Kassebaum. Other figures who were believed to be under Bush's close consideration included the Governor of Nebraska Kay Orr, the former Governor of Pennsylvania Dick Thornburgh, the Governor of New Jersey Tom Kean, and the sitting U.S. Senators Bill Armstrong of Colorado, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, and Richard Lugar and Dan Quayle, both of Indiana.

U.S. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming was also widely believed to be a possible selection, but he publicly stated that he wasn't interested in the position. This placed him in the company of Baker and others who had declared that they did not want to be considered, such as the Governor of California George Deukmejian and the Governor of Illinois Jim Thompson. Shortly ahead of the convention, however, Bush reopened speculation about all of them when he implied that he would not necessarily give up on any demurring prospects.

Long-shot possibilities included several Republicans who were popular in their home states but held limited name recognition nationally, such as U.S. Representative Lynn Martin of Illinois, the Governor of South Carolina Carroll Campbell, and the two U.S. Senators of Missouri, John Danforth and Christopher Bond. Nontraditional selections who were seen as credible alternatives included the National Security Advisor Colin Powell, the former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Education Secretary William Bennett, former EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus, and even Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Bush announced his selection of 41-year-old Dan Quayle on the second day of the convention.

See also

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