1988: Presidential Primaries at Dartmouth College

  • Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., dropped out of the 1988 Democratic Presidential race in May 1987, two days after his infamous “Donna Rice” press conference at Dartmouth’s Hanover Inn, shown here.

“Presidency in the 200th Year of the Constitution”

The 1988 primary season provided an opportunity for two presidential candidate debates in the State, which were jointly sponsored by Dartmouth and the University of New Hampshire.

On January 16, 1988, Dartmouth hosted a Republican debate in Spaulding Auditorium in Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts. , including then Vice President George H.W. Bush, Sen. Bob Dole, former Delaware governor Pete du Pont, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, Rep. Jack Kemp, and former evangelist Pat Robertson.

The two-hour debate was broadcast nationwide by the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio and moderated by John Chancellor, NBC News. Each candidate was asked to deliver a response to one of eight papers written by noted scholars on a wide range of policy issues. These papers were commissioned by the The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for a July 1987 forum called the William H. Spoor ’46 Dialogue on Leadership Program. The policy issues addressed by the candidates were: Presidency for the 1990s; Dialogues on Leadership Program; The Federal Budget and the Economy; After the Reagan Revolution: How Do We Govern?; Federal Government and Education Policy; Welfare Policy in America; Foreign Policy in a Democracy; American Foreign Policy in the Third World; Preventing Nuclear War: Options for American Policy; and Competitiveness, American Industry, and World Trade.

“The liveliest debate of the campaign season.”

Following their responses, the candidates responded to questions from moderator John Chancellor and six Dartmouth students. “The liveliest debate of the campaign season,” wrote Washington Post columnist David Broder, while the Los Angeles Times described it as the “most spirited,” and New Republic Editor Morton Kondracke ’60 called it “one of the best.”

Ten days later, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) hosted a debate featuring the Democratic candidates, whom the media dubbed “the seven dwarfs.” Gary Hart participated in the UNH debate, after returning to the campaign in December 1987. Hart had dropped out of the 1988 Democratic Presidential race in May 1987, two days after delivering a May 6 campaign speech at Dartmouth that was followed by his infamous “Donna Rice” press conference at the Hanover Inn. Hart had been the leading Democratic contender when the Miami Herald broke the story on May 3 that he had entertained 29-year-old actress/model Donna Rice overnight at his Washington, D.C., townhouse. Watch a video of the Hanover Inn press conference.

Bush captured his party’s nomination. The race marked then Senator Al Gore’s first presidential bid. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis won New Hamsphire and his party’s nomination.


  • The late tennis star Arthur Ashe led more than 250 anti-apartheid protesters, most of them Dartmouth students, at a rally on the Dartmouth Green preceding the debate. “The Republicans would rather see the issue disappear,” Ashe told The Dartmouth student newspaper (January 18, 1988)
  • Debate issues included Social Security, ethics in government, taxes, and the recent INF treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces), which eliminated all nuclear-armed ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (about 300 to 3400 miles) and their infrastructure.
  • Du Pont and Dole’s debate performances were praised by students, but Dole gained the most support according to the Dartmouth student polls (Dole went up 9 percent among Dartmouth students)
  • 36 percent of Republicans were undecided before the debate and only 21 percent were undecided afterward
  • Four presidential candidates– Democrats Michael Dukakis and Bruce Babbitt and Republicans Pat Robertson and Jack Kemp– also spoke at Dartmouth in January 1988 and responded to one of eight issue papers commissioned by the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy at Dartmouth’s William H. Spoor ’46 Dialogue on Leadership Program.
  • There were 221 media representatives present and 94 media outlets. The Dartmouth described the reporters pulling out “their personal [Radio Shack] TRS-80 computers.”
  • Tim Burger, Dartmouth Office of Public Affairs’ Whitney Campbell intern and a member of the Class of 1988, also filed some “behind-the-scenes” notes on the debate. Among them: “On the day before the debate, [Vice President] Bush jogged and played tennis in Leverone field house and pumped iron in the new Kresge Fitness Center in Berry Sports Center. He came to his Spaulding sound check wearing a red and blue running suit.”… “The vice president’s king-bedded suite [at the Howard Johnson’s Motel in White River Junction, Vt.] reportedly included a small refrigerator containing orange juice and yogurt. Mrs. Bush was provided with an exercise bike.”… “Once the debate began, each candidate had the security of a private portable toilet backstage [at Spaulding]. But intermissions were only a minute long.”