Charm Doesn't Equal Victory

Popularity can be extinguished in an instant.

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Charisma doesn't equal victory in a presidential race. Plenty of candidates have excited millions of voters, only to flame out in pursuit of the White House.

Most recently, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean inspired hordes to join his antiwar bandwagon in 2004, drawing some of the most animated crowds of the Democratic campaign. But party regulars concluded that he was too liberal and one dimensional. He lost the Iowa caucus, which prompted what the media dubbed "the scream" as he tried to raise the spirits of his supporters. Endlessly replayed, the outburst seemed to symbolize charisma run amok. Dean lost the nomination to the cerebral Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Zealot. In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona won the Republican nomination as a charismatic conservative. At his nominating convention in San Francisco, Goldwater declared, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." These two sentences sealed his doom as a right-wing zealot, and he lost the general election overwhelmingly to incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson. But Goldwater paved the way for Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980.

In 1896, former Rep. William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska emerged as one of the best orators in U.S. history. He electrified the Democratic National Convention in Chicago with his "Cross of Gold" speech—a call for the coinage of silver to ease economic problems and a rejection of the gold standard. "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns," Bryan told 20,000 cheering delegates. "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." Bryan was nominated but lost the election to Republican William McKinley, governor of Ohio. His blunt slogan—the promise of a "full dinner pail"—was the opposite of Bryan's grand rhetoric. But it sounded very satisfying to everyday voters.