Candidate Confessional - Defeated Politicians Tell All

Everyone loses. But some losses sting worse than others. This is a podcast about tough defeats. Hosts Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis talk to candidates who came up short in their bid for president, governor, senator and other elected office; those defined by YouTube moments and others who fell by painfully close margins. Looking back, these candidates give the listener an unvarnished, often-emotional picture of what life is really like on the campaign trail.


  • This Democrat Says The Party Needs To Reinvent Itself In The Era Of Trump

    Oct 04 2017

    Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello lost his congressional seat in the Tea Party wave of 2010. In 2017, he jumped back in the ring with a run for Governor, and his primary race against Ralph Northam was viewed as another skirmish in the broader Democratic party battle between the Bernie wing and the party establishment. Perriello rejects that narrative, but he has some strong opinions about how the party will have the evolve if it wants to compete in the Trump era.

  • What It’s Like To Be At The Center Of One Of The Biggest Political Sex Scandals In American History

    Sep 27 2017

    In 2006, John Edwards hired Rielle Hunter to produce a series of videos that would help lay the groundwork for his planned presidential run. That she did, but the two also carried on a affair that resulted in a child -- all of which Edwards tried desperately to keep secret. Early in his journalistic career, Candidate Confessional host Sam Stein was among the first reporters to publicly speculate about the possibility of an affair. Now, a decade later, Sam and Rielle look back at their respective...more

  • These Two Senators Voted Against The Iraq War. They Thought They Were Ending Their Careers

    Sep 20 2017

    When Senators Kent Conrad and Dick Durbin cast their votes against the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, they knew it was unlikely they’d be able to stop the invasion. They also knew that their votes might well be the end of their senate careers. Today, that “no” vote looks like an obvious choice. But in the moment, it was a leap of faith for them to trust their instincts and oppose the war. They also remind us that the political realities that fueled the rush to war are still present today, that the...more

  • The Only Person Ever To Lose An Election To Mitt Romney

    Sep 13 2017

    In 2002, Massachusetts State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien decided to throw her hat in the ring in the race for governor. Her opponent would be one Willard “Mitt” Romney, known for his failed senate run in 1994 and as president of the 2002 Winter Olympics. She went after him, after Barack Obama would do in 2012, over his time at Bain Capital. Mitt went after Shannon over her husband’s ties to Enron. Sparks flew, and O’Brien became the only person ever to go down to Mitt Romney at the polls.

  • The South Florida Dem Who Got Hacked By The Russians

    Sep 06 2017

    In early 2016, the race for the 26th congressional district looked like it was shaping up to be a pretty standard Florida election, as Democrat Annette Taddeo took on incumbent Republican Carlos Curbelo. To her surprise, Taddeo attracted an unexpected opponent in the primary, a former Democratic congressman named Joe Garcia. That was bad enough. But things got even worse when a bunch of documents relating to her campaign got leaked by Russian hackers.

  • Revisiting The Last Disaster In The Gulf

    Aug 30 2017

    In the Spring of 2010, one of the worst environmental disasters in history occurred when the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the next few months, over 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the ocean. Today, as a new disaster -- Hurricane Harvey -- confronts the gulf coast, what lessons are there to be learned from the response to the BP spill? Ben LaBolt, assistant White House press secretary during the spill, talks to us about how he helped craft the Obama ...more

  • What It Was Like To Be An Openly Gay Politician In 1996

    Aug 23 2017

    In 1996, two of congress’s only 3 openly gay members were set to retire; only Barney Frank would be left standing. To fill the void, two new gay candidates stepped up. One of them was Rick Zbur in Southern California, and during that campaign he became an unwitting test case for how to deal with running for office while out.

  • The Day The Global Economy Stood Still

    Aug 16 2017

    In the fall of 2008, President George W. Bush warned top political leaders that without a massive infusion of cash into the market, "this sucker" -- that is, the economy -- "could go down." Days later, the House of Representatives balked at Bush. The first failed vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program cost the Dow 777 points. It was, perhaps, the most dramatic legislative failure of the 21st Century. And this week’s guests were in the middle of it all.

  • The Real History Of The Infamous Compromise Behind Don't Ask Don't Tell

    Aug 09 2017

    In 1994, Bill Clinton signed a directive allowing gays to serve in the military, provided they concealed their sexual identity. That policy -- Don't Ask Don't Tell -- had many critics and few proponents. And Clinton's legacy took a hit because of it. Fifteen years later, Don't Ask Don't Tell was finally repealed. Former Congressman Barney Frank talks with us about the institution and repeal of the policy -- and why he thinks Clinton gets a bad rap.

  • The Senate Candidate Who Put Together An AR-15 Blindfolded

    Aug 02 2017

    Jason Kander ran what was widely considered one of the best Senate campaigns of the 2016 cycle. He combined an impressive resume with youthful vigor and a clear comfort with being on the trail. Oh, he also had the best campaign ad of the cycle. But it wasn't enough to unseat Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). And on this episode, he discusses what it might take for a progressive to win in a red state.

  • How A Tea Party Darling Was Undone By Hubris, Drugs, and Washington D.C. (But Mainly Drugs)

    Jul 26 2017

    Trey Radel had a promising congressional career ahead of him -- before it all came crashing down one night after he attempted to purchase cocaine from an undercover agent. In that moment, he became a cautionary tale and a pariah within his party. Now removed from office, he reflects on the missteps made and has some pointed pieces of advice for future "rising stars."

  • How A Conservative Writer Became A Target For The Alt-Right

    Jul 19 2017

    David French never thought he'd run for office, let alone the White House. But in the spring of 2016, as the Never Trump movement was growing desperate for a candidate, his name was floated by conservative stalwart Bill Kristol. French, a writer for the National Review, took the idea seriously. But he soon discovered all the horribles that come when you're thrust into the ring.

  • What It’s Like to Campaign Against Donald Trump And Vladimir Putin At The Same Time

    Jul 12 2017

    When Donald Trump won the Republican presidential primary, most Democrats cheered their good fortune. Not the Clinton campaign. They worried about an unconventional opponent who had already humiliated one establishment favorite (Jeb Bush). Little did they know just how insane the campaign would be.

  • How One Senator Found His Calling In The Wake Of Tragedy

    Jul 05 2017

    Chris Murphy never thought much about gun control when he was serving in the House. In fact, he often parroted the NRA's talking points out of political expediency. But shortly after he won election to the senate in 2012, 20 first graders were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary school. The tragedy took place in Murphy's old district and it fundamentally transformed him and his career. But it didn't change gun laws.

  • The Incredible Inside Story Of How Bernie Sanders Raised $218 Million Online

    Jun 28 2017

    When Bernie Sanders launched his presidential campaign, he needed someone to do his online fundraising. He chose the team at Revolution Messaging (or rather, they chose him), and together, they turned a candidacy that no one expected to go all that far into the biggest grassroots money machine in U.S. political history. On this first episode of Season Two of Candidate Confessional, the folks at Revolution Messaging speak out for the first time about how it all happened. We talk to Tim Tagaris, R...more

  • Coming Soon: Candidate Confessional Season 2

    Jun 21 2017

    Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis will go back to look at some of the biggest stories from campaigns past - the scandals, the policy battles, the failures and everything in-between. Each week, Stein and Cherkis sit down with some of the biggest names in politics. Highlights from this season will include Hillary Clinton's Communications Director Jen Palmieri, National Review Writer and near-presidential candidate David French, former Congressman Barney Frank, and Rielle Hunter, the videographer who had...more

  • BONUS: The Rise And Fall Of James Comey

    May 11 2017

    Candidate Confessional season 2 approaches! In the meantime, host Sam Stein sits down with Huffpost's senior justice reporter Ryan Reilly and former Department of Justice spokesperson Matthew Miller to discuss recently-fired FBI director James Comey: his career, and how it came to this. Enjoy.

  • BONUS: Huffpost's All-Star Trumpcare Panel

    May 05 2017

    Candidate Confessional Season 2 is on the way! But in the meantime, we assembled a panel of Huffpost healthcare reporters to chew on yesterday's legislative bombshell: the House's passage of an Obamacare repeal/replace bill. Sam is joined by Huffpost reporters Jeff Young, Jonathan Cohn, and Matt Fuller to talk about what all this means.

  • The Man Who Tried To Help Al Gore Win The White House

    Jun 06 2016

    The 2000 presidential election was 16 years ago. But for Ron Klain, a lawyer for Vice President Al Gore, the loss still hurts. Klain sits down with Huffington Post's Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis to explain the intricate process of the Florida ballot recount.

  • Gary Johnson On His Run For President

    May 29 2016

    Gary Johnson was the governor of New Mexico before he decided to embark on a presidential run in 2012. Johnson talks to Huffington Post's Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis about his presidential bid as a libertarian, and why he separated himself from his republican counterparts.

  • An Obama-Backing Democrat On The Craziness Of Those First Two Years

    May 23 2016

    Tom Perriello eked out one of the closest wins in the 2008 cycle. But rather than tack to the ideological middle once in office, he chose instead to back virtually all of Obama's big priorities and then defend them vigorously back home. What he discovered is that conviction politics works. But it can still be overwhelmed by obstructionism from the other side.

  • Jesse Jackson On His Two White House Runs

    May 16 2016

    In 1984, Jesse Jackson grew convinced that for black Americans to advance their political causes, they needed a black candidate for president. The problem was, no one wanted to do it. So he took on the task, running a historic campaign for the White House and doing it again four years later. Jackson faced death threats, pushback, and doubt from fellow activists. But he also inspired a generation of politicians, including a guy named Sanders and one named Obama.

  • Sandra Fluke On Her Run For State Senate

    May 08 2016

    When Sandra Fluke was called a "slut" by Rush Limbaugh, simply for advocating for insurance coverage of contraception, she faced a choice: step back from the spotlight or fight back. She chose the latter, in the process launching a political career that saw her speak before the Democratic Party's convention in 2012. But when she tried to run for office herself two years later, she discovered that it was trickier than taking on a bombastic radio host.

  • Jeb Bush's Communications Director On His Run For The White House

    May 01 2016

    Jeb Bush's campaign for the White House ended far more disastrously than many people predicted. In the latest episode, Bush's communications director, Tim Miller, offers several reasons why. He also offers unique insights and reflections on Jeb's time on the trail: from the early gaffes to the debate showdowns with Donald Trump, to the missed opportunities.

  • Clay Aiken On His 2014 Congressional Campaign

    Apr 25 2016

    When Clay Aiken ran for Congress in 2014, most people assumed it was a vanity project: a former American Idol star trying to hack it in politics. But the campaign became defined by incredibly sensitive issues, from being a gay man in the south to an unexpected death on the trail. Aiken relives his run on this week's episode.

  • Jon Huntsman On His 2012 Presidential Campaign

    Apr 18 2016

    Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign never took off in 2012, despite being the candidate that President Obama feared most. Looking back, the former Utah Governor has several theories why, foremost among them that his Republican Party had grown too angry for a politician like him.

  • The Pain Of Losing By Four Votes

    Apr 11 2016

    When Karl Kassel was recruited to run for a state Senate seat in Alaska, he had no idea just how historic his race would be. Out of 10,000 votes cast, Kassel ended up losing by just four -- one of the closest losses in American electoral history. In the latest Candidate Confessional, he explained all the drama, emotion and, ultimately, heartache that comes with falling just short.

  • Martin O'Malley Opens Up About His Presidential Campaign

    Apr 04 2016

    Martin O'Malley brought an impressive resume to his 2016 White House run: a young, former governor with progressive results. But it never seemed to stick. He was overwhelmed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and overshadowed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In his first major interview on the race, O'Malley dissects what went wrong and dishes out a bit of blame.

  • Anthony Weiner Relives His Run For Mayor Of New York City

    Mar 28 2016

    When Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011, his career in politics appeared over, crushed by a scandal in which he sent lurid tweets and texts. But less than two years later, Weiner surprised many by launching a run for mayor of New York City. It was a tumultuous ride. Weiner briefly led the polls before scandal struck yet again. In the latest Candidate Confessional, he relives the race, and all its emotional highs and lows.

  • Richard Carmona On His 2012 Senate Campaign

    Mar 20 2016

    For years Richard Carmona resisted pleas from both parties to run for office. He was a former U.S. Surgeon General under George W. Bush, a one-time police officer and public health administrator. His reputation was sterling and he didn't want to muck it up. When he finally decided to run -- for the U.S. Senate in Arizona as a Democrat in 2012 -- he quickly realized why he had declined all those prior overtures. Simply put: he hated his campaign.

  • How The Hell Do You Lose To Rob Ford?

    Mar 14 2016

    Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto, is known for many things: an outlandish personality, offensive language, and, of course, the times he was caught smoking crack. He is also a formidable politician who has managed to be elected to office despite these foibles. In the latest podcast, we talk to one of the candidates Ford defeated about just how hard it is to take down the infamous mayor.

  • Newt Gingrich's Odd And Wonderful 2012 Campaign

    Mar 07 2016

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is one of the most dramatic and divisive political figures in modern U.S. history. And when he ran for president in 2012, he didn't disappoint. In the latest Candidate Confessional, Gingrich recounts all the stumbles and triumphs that he endured on the trail. And he shared some sage advice for this year's White House aspirants.

  • A Republican Dishes On The Dangers Of Being Bipartisan

    Feb 29 2016

    Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) got along well with the opposition throughout his career. He had good relations with Democrats and appeared on shows like Bill Maher and The Colbert Report. But when he ran for the Senate in 2014, he quickly realized that being mild-mannered -- and even remotely interested in bipartisanship -- was a serious liability.

  • Relive One Of The Worst Booings In Political History

    Feb 22 2016

    During his campaign for mayor of Toledo in 2009, Ben Konop delivered a speech that became Internet lore. Appearing on the street where his mom grew up, he was booed, mercilessly, by a man sitting on a nearby porch. The video went viral, viewed 850,000 times on YouTube and lampooned by South Park. In the latest episode, Konop details that excruciating moment and how he moved beyond it.

  • Former RNC Chair Michael Steele On His 2006 Senate Campaign

    Feb 15 2016

    Before he became an MSNBC personality; before he became chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele ran for the U.S. Senate in Maryland. One of the best known African-American Republicans in the country, he nearly won. But he was done in by a terrible cycle for his party (thanks, George W. Bush) and, he argues, some subtle and not-so-subtle racism on the trail.

  • Tim Pawlenty On His Presidential Run

    Feb 08 2016

    Tim Pawlenty had everything a Republican presidential candidate should have. He was a governor with a blue-collar conservative brand and the best operatives in the business. But his campaign for the White House in 2012 is remembered now for a poor showing in a straw poll, a major debate flub, and a swift exit. In this episode, he explains why everything went so wrong, so quickly.

  • Wendy Davis On Her Run For Governor

    Feb 01 2016

    Wendy Davis became an icon in 2013 when she stood on the floor of the Texas Senate for nearly 13 hours to beat back anti-abortion legislation. Although the legislation ultimately passed, the moment catapulted her to national stardom and paved the way for a run for governor. It didn't go as planned. Her campaign proved to be a brutal reality check for those who hoped to turn a deep red state, purple. She tells that story in vivid detail.

  • Mitt Romney's Top Aide On The White House Run

    Jan 25 2016

    Mitt Romney's run for the White House in 2012 featured incredible highs (a boffo debate performance against Barack Obama) and excruciating lows (a widely-panned trip abroad). Behind it all was Stu Stevens, his senior strategist. In this episode, Stevens details those and other episodes as well as the pain Romney's high-profile defeat caused him.

  • Michele Bachmann On Her Run For The White House

    Jan 18 2016

    Former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was one of most provocative conservative in Congress. She parlayed that reputation into a brief stint as a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. It didn't last long. In this episode, she recounts how her campaign fell apart as well as some of the more unsavory moments of life on the trail.

  • Howard Dean on His Presidential Campaign

    Jan 14 2016

    In the 2004 campaign, Howard Dean went from being a little known governor of Vermont to a leading Democratic presidential candidate, surging on his opposition to the Iraq war. And then, it all came crashing down, culminating in his infamous scream speech in Iowa. Twelve years later, Dean recounts in detail his rise and what precipitated his fall.

  • Welcome To Candidate Confessional

    Jan 11 2016

    Everyone loses. But some losses sting worse than others. This is a podcast about tough defeats. Hosts Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis talk to candidates who came up short in their bid for president, governor, senator and other elected office; those defined by YouTube moments and others who fell by painfully close margins. Looking back, these candidates give the listener an unvarnished, often-emotional picture of what life is really like on the campaign trail.