Thursday, August 25, 2016

Throwing Hat into the Ring

In anticipation of the November 2016 presidential election, the Russell Library’s Access and Outreach staff has been working on an exhibit, On the Stump: What Does it Take to Get Elected in Georgia? opening September 2nd in the Harrison Feature Gallery. The exhibit considers the evolution of campaigning for state office and asks visitors to imagine life on the campaign trail. This post is one in a series exploring political slang and its role in elections.

A politician is said to throw his/her hat into the ring when announcing a run for office. The idiom dates to the nineteenth century and was typically used in reference to boxing. As one source notes, any “lad who fancied his chances in a bout would throw in his hat—presumably this was a more reliable way of putting oneself forward than just shouting over the hubbub of the crowd.”

Left: If she ever tossed one of her hats into the ring, it would be hard to beat! Maxine Goldstein, convention delegate extraordinaire, models her outfit for the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Maxine S. Goldstein Papers, Russell Library.

Over the course of American political history, the methods and means of running for office have changed considerably. In the eighteenth century, it was considered distasteful to openly campaign for an elected position. George Washington reluctantly accepted his nomination for president. Other early candidates such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had latent campaign apparatuses but neither man explicitly announced his electoral intentions, simply agreeing to serve when selected at his respective party convention. Starting around the late 1820s, candidates began holding public events resembling modern campaign rallies and fundraisers when then-presidential hopeful Andrew Jackson pushed his own candidacy and rejected the “Corrupt Bargain” of 1824 that placed John Quincy Adams in the White House.

In recent years, the phenomenon has shifted considerably. Due to the proliferation of the 24-hour news cycle and social media, candidates increasingly express their political ambitions months or even years in advance.  In essence, political hopefuls launch “trial balloons” to test public sentiments. Before announcing candidacy, politicians are expected to form an exploratory committee, assemble field staff, raise starting funds, hire consultants, pollsters, advertisers, and public relations executives, and debut an online presence. In today’s environment, it would have been almost unthinkable for credible presidential candidates to assemble a campaign team and begin fundraising as late as the October, which kicks off with the Iowa caucus in January.

It is difficult to imagine scenarios today like that of 1968, when eventual Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey announced his interest on April 27 of an election year and amid an ongoing primary season. Today such timing would likely render a candidate—at least one for the Presidency—irreparably behind his or her opponents in fundraising, field organization, publicity, and grassroots support.

Above: Democrat Mary Hitt throwing her bonnet into the race. In the August 1974 Primary, Mary Hitt forced Zell Miller, who received 60.82% of the vote, into a runoff for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Democratic Party of Georgia Records, Russell Library.

Want to find out more? Visit On the Stump on display in the Harrison Feature Gallery in the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries from September 2, 2016 through August 18, 2017. The Russell Library gallery is free and open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, email or call 706-542-5788

No comments: