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100 Days Out: A History Of Presidential Re-Elections

Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon, left, debates Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Democratic presidential nominee, during a live broadcast from a New York television studio of their fourth presidential debate on October 21, 1960. The candidates' performance in this debate is often credited with helping lift Kennedy to victory in the general election.

It's 100 days before the 2020 general election and voters have a lot to consider.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer is joined by presidential historians Tim Walch and Tim Naftali to discuss first-term presidential re-election campaigns and take a look at how past presidents were faring 100 days before election day.

There are plenty of issues that voters are paying attention to this election cycle. The United States electorate is dealing with a global pandemic and national protests over racism and police brutality, to name just a few.

According to Walch, there are many other factors that can historically give last-minute boosts to candidates — their nomination acceptance speech, how well they use technology, and their vice presidential pick. There are also a lot of things that are out of the candidates' control, namely the mood of voters the day they hit the polls.

There is also the variable that very few could have predicted: the very real possibility that everything will be done virtually. "We don't know what effect that will have on the nature of voting," Naftali says. "The very fact of the pandemic has changed the way in which both candidates are engaging in campaigning and electioneering."

If the next 100 days before the election are anything like the year 2020, each day will bring new surprises.


  • Tim Walch, director emeritus, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
  • Tim Naftali, clinical associate professor, history and public service, New York University
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River