The 1992 Election

The first one is always the best.

The presidential election of 1992 was the first time I ever voted. I was 18 years old and in my second year of college at the University of Virginia. The previous spring, I’d come out to someone else for the very first time, and now he lived right across the hall from me in my dorm. I was finally feeling great about being gay, and Bill Clinton was talking openly about gay issues — the first time a presidential candidate had ever done that. Clinton was young, attractive, charismatic, and a Democrat, and he was leading George Bush in the polls. It seemed like he might actually win; we might actually have a Democratic president for the first time in my political memory.

The second presidential debate was in nearby Richmond, Virginia, so I went with the University Democrats to a debate-watching party at the Richmond Marriott. We watched the debate on a big screen in the hotel ballroom. It was the first presidential debate to use a town-hall format. We cheered whenever Clinton gave an articulate answer to a question. We laughed when moderator Carole Simpson ironically referred to Bush as “the education president” and when he flubbed the question about the national debt, and we applauded when Clinton nailed the same question. After the debate, the Clintons came to the Marriott for a rally; Bill was hoarse, so Hillary spoke on his behalf. At the end, the crowd rushed forward to shake Bill’s hand. I was near the front, so I got to shake hands for a split second with the future president.

Late October, back on campus. Chilly air, crunchy falling leaves, daily tracking polls. I still remember the 1992 opening theme music to CNN’s “Inside Politics,” which I watched religiously those last couple of weeks before the election. Whenever I think of that music today, I feel excitement. Things were really going to change.

No election has ever measured up to the one in 1992. The first is always the best.