Hard to Know Which Gaffes Will Hurt Most

Goofs slid off Biden, but Gore and Quayle were ruined
By Drew Nelles,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 24, 2008 5:27 AM CDT
Al Gore never claimed to have invented the internet, but the idea stuck because it fell into preconceived notions about the candidate, Jonathan Alter writes.   (AP Photo/Bill Waugh)
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(Newser) – Joe Biden’s reference to Barack Obama as “clean” won’t do the Democrats much harm. But Obama’s description of religious, rural folk as “bitter” just might. You just never know which political gaffes will do the most harm, Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek. “Modern campaigns are about flinging 10 things against the wall every day and hoping something sticks,” he says.

The most harmful goofs feed into public perception about a candidate—like Dan Quayle misspelling potato. "Sticky" ideas don’t even have to be true to be effective. Al Gore never claimed to have invented the internet, and Obama isn’t Muslim. But both falsehoods worked against the candidates, Alterman notes. “Flaps fade,” Alterman writes. But some "images and gaffes act like a piece of gum on the bottom of your shoe and may shape voting behavior."