Death Penalty As A Campaign Issue: Hillary Clinton Differs From Bill


Shortly before the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Gov. Bill Clinton went to Arkansas to highlight the execution of Rickey Rector. Nearly a quarter-century later, Hillary Clinton has taken a strikingly different tone, says the New York Times. She has she urged a “hard look” at capital punishment, saying it had been applied too frequently, and often in a discriminatory manner. She said she would “breathe a sigh of relief” if the Supreme Court struck it down. Several presidential candidates from both parties are voicing skepticism about the death penalty. While Bill Clinton leaned rightward, playing up his commitment to law and order, Mrs. Clinton is contending with an expectant left, as well as passionate calls from her two Democratic rivals for the death penalty to be repealed outright.

“From Bill to Hillary is a remarkable signal of the changed climate surrounding capital punishment,” said political scientist Austin Sarat of Amherst College. The 1988 Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, a death penalty opponent, found his campaign damaged when he said he would not favor the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered. Although public support for the death penalty has waned, 56 percent of Americans still support it for people convicted of murder, said a March poll by the Pew Research Center. Dukakis says now, “I don't think coming out against the death penalty will win you points in this election. And it will certainly provoke plenty of criticism from the other side.” The scrutiny of the death penalty is part of a broader look at the wisdom of U.S. criminal justice policies, a discussion motivated in part by concerns over how racial minorities are treated.

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