George H.W. Bush: “Weekend Passes” (1988)
|Haney López writes in his book that George H.W. Bush initially avoided adding a racial element to his campaign against Democrat Michael Dukakis. But when he found himself trailing in the polls, his campaign rolled out an ad decrying the case of convicted murderer Willie Horton, an African-American Massachusetts man who, while on weekend furlough from prison, fled the state and committed several crimes, including stabbing a white man and raping his fiancée. Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, had vetoed a measure that would have made convicted murderers like Horton ineligible for the state’s furlough program, which had been created by Dukakis’s Republican predecessor in the early 1970s.
“Willie Horton has star quality… It’s a wonderful mix of liberalism and a big black rapist,” a Bush aide told The New Republic. During the month when the “Horton furor reached its crescendo,” Haney López writes, “12 percent of the electorate switched its allegiance from Dukakis to Bush.”