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What Candidates' Names Mean to S.C. Voters

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What Candidates' Names Mean to S.C. Voters

Election 2008

What Candidates' Names Mean to S.C. Voters

What Candidates' Names Mean to S.C. Voters

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The presidential candidates have spent millions of dollars painstakingly crafting their messages and images. But what words pop into voters' minds when they hear the names John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Ron Paul, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards? Voters in South Carolina offer an earful.


Presidential campaigns spend millions of dollars on TV ads, consultants, billboards, buttons, all designed to make sure that voters associate certain words and attributes with their candidate, words like change, experience, leadership, readiness.

Well, our co-host Michele Norris wanted to find out if all that expense is really worthwhile so she tried a little experiment in South Carolina.

MICHELE NORRIS: In the course of covering the candidates throughout the state, I also took on the role of game show host with the voters. The game: word association. And let's just say I use that word, game, very loosely here. There were no winners or losers, just responses to a simple request. I asked voters to cite the word or image that immediately springs to mind when they hear a specific candidate's name. This is not scientific; just a sampling of what I found.

Ready, set, go. John McCain.

Unidentified Woman #1: Immigration.

Unidentified Woman #2: Churchill.

Unidentified Man #1: War veteran.

Unidentified Man #2: Courage.

Unidentified Woman #3: Unreliable.

Unidentified Man #3: Not electable.

Unidentified Woman #4: Old.

Unidentified Man #4: He's the same age as me, but he is too old. He's too old.

NORRIS: Mike Huckabee.

Unidentified Woman #5: Great heart.

Unidentified Woman #6: Christianity.

Unidentified Man #5: Baptist minister.

Unidentified Man #6: A Preacher.

Unidentified Woman #7: Untested.

Unidentified Man #7: Radical.

Unidentified Woman #8: Nice.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Mitt Romney.

Unidentified Woman #9: Proven leader.

Unidentified Man #8: Business.

Unidentified Man #9: Good man, but I'm not sure.

Unidentified Woman #10: Inauthentic.

Unidentified Man #10: Inexperienced.

Unidentified Man #11: Well put together.

Unidentified Woman #11: Plastic.

NORRIS: Fred Thompson.

Unidentified Woman #12: Tennessee.

Unidentified Woman #13: Oh, I don't want to say anything ugly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #14: Great on paper.

Unidentified Man #12: Ronald Reagan.

Unidentified Woman #15: Not a hard worker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #16: Sullen.

Unidentified Man #13: Hollywood.

Unidentified Man #14: I see him on television. That's where I see Fred Thompson.

NORRIS: Rudy Giuliani.

Unidentified Man #15: Mayor, New York.

Unidentified Man #16: 9/11.

Unidentified Woman #17: 9/11.

Unidentified Man #17: Tough.

Unidentified Woman #18: Wonderful pragmatist.

Unidentified Woman #19: A card.

Unidentified Woman #20: Can't win.

Unidentified Man #18: I like Giuliani.

Unidentified Man #19: Definitely, not electable.

NORRIS: Ron Paul.

Unidentified Man #20: Libertarian.

Unidentified Woman #21: Libertarian.

Unidentified Man #21: A fluke.

Unidentified Woman #22: Unusual.

Unidentified Man #22: Don't know.

Unidentified Woman #23: Extreme.

Unidentified Woman #24: Gutsy.

Unidentified Woman #25: The blimp.

NORRIS: Hillary Clinton.

Unidentified Woman #26: Politician.

Unidentified Man #23: The White House.

Unidentified Woman #27: Strong.

Unidentified Woman #28: Strong.

Unidentified Woman #29: Driven.

Unidentified Man #24: True.

Unidentified Man #25: Possible future. She's all right, isn't she?

Unidentified Man #26: Was president for eight years.

NORRIS: Barack Obama.

Unidentified Woman #30: Dynamic.

Unidentified Man #27: Upcoming.

Unidentified Woman #31: Actually, he's likeable.

Unidentified Woman #32: Charismatic.

Unidentified Woman #33: Audacity.

Unidentified Woman #34: Really interesting.

Unidentified Woman #35: Compassionate.

Unidentified Man #28: Inspiring.

Unidentified Woman #36: Dedicated.

Unidentified Man #29: Future.

NORRIS: John Edwards.

Unidentified Man #30: Upcoming.

Unidentified Woman #37: Hype.

Unidentified Man #31: Ambulance chaser.

Unidentified Woman #38: Aggressive.

Unidentified Woman #39: Unlikable.

Unidentified Man #32: From South Carolina, I like that.

Unidentified Woman #40: Down home.

Unidentified Man #33: I think he's a pretty good man.

NORRIS: Dennis Kucinich.

Unidentified Man #34: Single payer.

Unidentified Man #35: No idea.

Unidentified Man #36: Strange.

Unidentified Man #37: Odd.

Unidentified Woman 41: Not sure who he is. Just kidding.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Impressions of the candidates from South Carolina voters Lynn Bennett(ph), Onessamus Campbell(ph), Cindy Casta(ph), Lisa Corson(ph), Alexandra Eddings(ph), Sam Franklin(ph), Jonathan Freeman(ph), Jack Giddens(ph), Sy Granger(ph), Cynthia Hardy(ph), Don Hess(ph), Cindy Mastellar(ph), and Brad Warthen(ph).

In Columbia, South Carolina, I'm Michele Norris.

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