In 1979, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) planned to challenge his own party’s unpopular President, Jimmy Carter, for the Democratic nomination.
Months before Kennedy even entered the race, his plan seemed to be working. A poll taken in August 1979 showed Kennedy crushing Carter by a stunning margin, 58% – 25%.
Things continued going well until three days before he officially entered the race that November. That’s when CBS News aired his interview with correspondent Roger Mudd.
Mr. Mudd asked a rather straightforward question: “Why do you want to be president?” But it was Mr. Kennedy’s uninspired, obtuse, and disconnected answer that irrevocably damaged his campaign.
His “elliptical” answer may not seem like a big deal now, but critics savaged his response. His lame answer called into question whether he really wanted to be President, or whether he was simply avenging his brothers’ deaths out of some sense of obligation.
After a bruising battle, Mr. Carter went on to beat Mr. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination in 1980, but lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan.
When watching Kennedy’s answer, I couldn’t help but think of South Carolina’s representative in the Miss Teen USA pageant, who bungled a similarly straightforward question in 2007 with this “huh?” response:
Spokespersons often spend a lot of time preparing for the toughest questions. That’s a good thing. But they’d be wise to remember to prepare for the easiest ones, as well.
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