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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches


The fundamental transformation of American politics can be summed up by the recent history of a single Senate seat. In 1991, Pennsylvania's three-term senator John Heinz was killed in a light plane accident. A Republican, he compiled a moderate record as his party's leading supporter of environmental and labor union causes. In the special election that followed, the Republicans ran another relatively moderate candidate, Richard Thornburgh a former governor and US attorney general, against Harris Wofford, the interim senator. Wofford, who began his career as the first associate director of the Peace Corps, was significantly more liberal than Heinz or Thornburgh was conservative. In a campaign orchestrated by the then relatively unknown James Carville, Wofford ran a platform of fundamental reform of the U.S. Healthcare system. This electoral strategy was wildly successful as Thornburgh was beaten easily and healthcare became the "hot" issue going into the 1992 presidential elections.

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