If there was ever any real uncertainty about the celebrity status of Presidential candidates in the United States, all such doubts should have been neatly laid to rest when Ronald Reagan burst upon the national scene during the 1980 election campaign. Reagan, a Hollywood actor for many years before his political rise in the 1960s and 1970s, picked up the baton carried so deftly by John F. Kennedy in the early sixties and capitalized on American’s love of television to speak to us like like no one before him had. Charismatic and well-spoken, Reagan showed just how powerful the right personality could be when married to the magic of the TV set in our living rooms. Reagan’s lessons weren’t lost on the men who came after him, as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush used television to tell us about personal triumphs and failings; national tragedies and plans for healing; and the reasons why they were better suited for the highest office than their opponents were. Perhaps more than in any other election year in history, though, the four remaining candidates for President and Vice President in 2012 appear to be poised to fully capitalize on the opportunities that a nationwide television audience presents. Here are the key figures to watch this fall and why they are so watchable.
Barack Obama, President and Democrat Nominee for President
Obama, at 51 years of age, is clearly very in touch with mainstream culture and plays his connection with Americans to good effect. He talks like us, he is Internet savvy like us, and he even wears his sports affiliations on his sleeve, just like us. Add in the fact that he is handsome and charismatic and can deliver a speech with levity or gravitas, and the President seems custom-made for the television appearances that help pave the road back to his office.
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Joseph Biden, Vice President and Democrat Nominee for President
Of the four guys on this list, Biden is probably least likely to benefit from extensive television exposure. But even though his is the elder member of this clan, at 69, he remains a polished politician and adept public speaker, so there is little chance that his TV appearances will go drastically awry. Riding on the wave of Obama’s personality always helps warm up an audience, too.
Mitt Romney, Republican Nominee for President
Like Biden, Romney is now technically a senior citizen, having celebrated his 65th birthday in March. Despite that fact, Romney has a current and mainstream appeal thanks to his participation in the GOP’s 1994 Senatorial revival. Even though Romney lost his bid for a Massachussetts seat in that election, he became associated with the new-school Republicans and later used those connections to land in the Governor’s mansion. His long history of business leadership shines through in his deft handling of the media and slick on-screen persona.
Paul Ryan, Republican Nominee for Vice President
Of these four gents, Ryan may be best suited to sweep up a television audience and leverage small screen exposure into actual votes come November. Hand-picked by the Romney camp to help connect with the younger crowd, the seven-time Representative from Wisconsin is a relative pup at 42. He is handsome and fit, with strong convictions that come through when he speaks, all of which make for compelling television viewing. Like Sarah Palin before him, could be poised on the brink of mainstream stardom, regardless of how the election plays out this fall.
No matter who wins the White House in November, there is sure to be plenty of political entertainment between now and then. Candidates will descend on our media from all angles, but television will be the primary battleground, home to advertisements, sound bites, talk show appearances and debates. These four men seem especially well-equipped to make the best possible use of their TV face time, so sit back and enjoy the show.