Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, at the beginning of the 1988 presidential campaign told The National Journal that the Iran-Contra incident would have the same type of impact on the 1988 presidential election as the Watergate scandal had on the 1976 presidential election. The ethics issue, according to Wertheimer, would be "reflected" in the campaign to the disadvantage of Republicans.1 Presidential candidate Al Gore, senator from Tennessee, warned Democrats, however, not "to assume that the Iran-contra affair is going to produce victory in the upcoming election. They will have to outline a vision for the American people."2Gore's prediction proved accurate and Wertheimer's was badly off the mark. Iran- Contra failed to catch on as a major campaign issue.3
Throughout the 1988 campaign, George Bush put considerable distance between himself and the Reagan administration's poor ethics record. Early in March 1988, he stressed that members of his administration would comply with strict ethics rules.4In a May campaign speech, Bush announced his support for legislation tightening conflict-of-interest laws.5He pledged that members of his administration would comply with a tough new staff code of conduct.6
The Dukakis campaign tried to make the ethical record of the Reagan administration a major campaign issue.7The Dukakis campaign attacked the Reagan-Bush administration for its record of "sleaze."8Despite the fact that the Dukakis campaign kept raising the character issue, swing voters simply did not care or believe that Bush had anything to do with Iran- Contra or the ethics problems of the previous administration.