Primary Colors

Primary Colors is a 1996 novel by Anonymous (later revealed by Donald Foster to be journalist Joe Klein), a roman clef about Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign in 1992. The book centers around Henry Burton, who's roped into being something of a campaign manager for southern governor Jack Stanton (Bill Clinton).

The popular book (a success in part fueled by speculation over the identity of the author) was made into a 1998 movie starring John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, and Maura Tierney. Kathy Bates was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie.

This chart shows each character with their real-life counterpart and the actor who played them in the movie:

Character Real Life Actor
governor/candidate Jack Stanton Bill Clinton John Travolta
his wife Susan Stanton Hillary Clinton Emma Thompson
her friend Lucille Kaufman Susan Thomases Caroline Aaron
their child Jackie Stanton Chelsea Clinton [unknown]
campaign manager Henry Burton George Stephanopoulos    Adrian Lester
campaign chair Howard Ferguson Harold Ickes, Jr. Paul Guilfoyle
campaign consultant Richard Jemmons James Carville Billy Bob Thornton
campaign defender Libby Holden Betsey Wright Kathy Bates
media advisor Arlen Sporken Frank Greer Ben Jones
campaign consultant Daisy Green Mandy Grunwald Maura Tierney
campaign consultant Norman Asher David Garth Robert Klein
pollster Leon Birnbaum Stan Greenberg
affair-alleging Cashmere McLeod    Gennifer Flowers Gia Carides
possible candidate Orlando Ozio Mario Cuomo [not seen]
his son Jimmy Ozio Andrew Cuomo Robert Cicchini
possible candidate Charlie Martin Bob Kerrey Chelcie Ross
possible candidate Bart Nilson Tom Harkin Robert Symonds
candidate Lawrence Harris Paul Tsongas Kevin Cooney
replacement candidate Fred Picker Jerry Brown Larry Hagman
black leader Luther Charles Jesse Jackson
congressional leader William Larkin Dick Gephardt
congressional leader Donny O'Brien Tip O'Neill
reporter Jerry Rosen Joe Klein
reporter A. P. Cauley R. W. Apple, Jr.
Moderate Democrats of America Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)
their founder Arthur Kopp Al From
headquarters Mammoth Falls Little Rock, Arkansas
hometown Grace Junction Hope, Arkansas

Clean sweep

In the book, the plotline diverges from the real-life 1992 Democratic primary when a surprise candidate, Florida Governor Freddy Picker, makes a late run at the nomination. Picker campaigned by waving a broom and shouting that they'd make a clean sweep. It's not clear which candidate, if any, this is based on, though most political observers believe him to be an amalgam of Jerry Brown and Ross Perot. Brown stayed in the race, continuing to needle Clinton, even after he no longer had a chance at the nomination, and Perot jumped into the general election campaign in the summer of 1992 as an independent candidate.

In 2002, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan hoisted a broom and shouted I want you to go find the biggest broom in your house and get ready for a clean sweep in November! [1] ( Arnold Schwarzenegger has also used similar symbolism, and David Miller built his successful campaign for mayor of Toronto around the image of a broom and a clean sweep.

Related film

  • The War Room, a documentary of the Clinton's first campaign.

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