In a political game where image is everything, one wrong move can sink a promising campaign. Mitt Romney’s comment about the “47 percent” has put his campaign on the back foot. If he is lucky, he will be spared the fate of other politicians whose gaffes sunk their campaigns.
(Editor's note: Gordon Brown was leader of the British Labour Party. Jean Chrétien suffered from Bell's palsy. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier online version.)
The football flub
The Canadian Conservative leader stopped in North Bay, Ont., to refuel during his 1974 election. He was effortlessly tossing a football around to pass the time, but a single fumble was captured by Globe and Mail photographer Doug Ball – then published on the front page. The negative image stuck and Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau marched to a majority.
'I had no option'
In the televised leaders debate in 1984, the Canadian Liberal leader accused PC leader Brian Mulroney of setting up a patronage system in advance of his expected victory. Mr. Mulroney took the opportunity to hammer Mr. Turner for working with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to appoint more than 200 Liberals to patronage positions, including the Senate. Mr. Turner fumbled his reply, saying he “had no option” to let the patronages stand, lest he abandon forming a government. Mr. Mulroney's replied, "You had an option, sir – to say 'no' – and you chose to say 'yes' to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party." The debate was won by Mr. Mulroney, as was the election.
'Does this look like a prime minister?'
The Canadian Progressive Conservative leader wasn’t fast enough in pulling attack ads highlighting Liberal leader Jean Chrétien’s mouth, partly paralyzed by childhood Bell's palsy, and asking “Does this look like a prime minister?” Mr. Chrétien later retorted at a campaign stop, to great applause, "It's true that I speak on one side of my mouth. I'm not a Tory, I don't speak on both sides of my mouth." Ms. Campbell also sunk her 1993 election chances by saying that an election campaign was the wrong venue for the discussion of serious issues.
The Dean Scream
At a rally during the 2004 U.S. presidential primaries, the Democrat emitted a red-faced, vein-popping yelp – dubbed the Dean Scream – that was replayed hundreds of times on cable and broadcast news shows, inspired a series of mashups and killed his up-and-comer status.
'A sort of bigoted woman'
Gordon Brown, then-leader of the British Labour Party, had none of the charisma of his predecessor Tony Blair, and proved it during the 2010 campaign when a live mic caught him calling the voter he’d just glad-handed a “bigoted woman.”
U.S. Senator John Kerry says 'There is a real threat that the market will look at Washington again on Monday and say, You can’t get the job done.' Reuters
The flip-flopping candidate
In early 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was already being defined as a flip-flopper by his Republican rivals. Then, while on the hustings in West Virginia, he tried to explain the nuances behind his waffling support for the Iraq war: "I actually did vote for the $87-billion, before I voted against it." The sound bite was devastating to his campaign.
'You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska'
Having failed to gain sufficient speed in his campaign, Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his strategists turned to unknown Alaskan governor Sarah Palin for help. At first, she seemed like a golden running mate next to Mr. McCain, who had yet to secure the Republican base. But soon after her debut at the Republican National Convention, a series of interviews helped paint Ms. Palin as a confused fish-out-of-water, whose scant knowledge of foreign affairs and unusual interpretation of the English language (later dubbed "Palinisms") defined the McCain-Palin ticket. While it's difficult to pinpoint a single gaffe among the deluge, the most memorable might be her contention that her foreign policy experience is bolstered by Alaska's proximity to Russia.
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry, gestures while answering a question at the CNBC Republican presidential debate in Rochester, Michigan, November 9, 2011. MARK BLINCH
One word: oops
When he announced his bid for the presidency, Texas governor Rick Perry had all the makings of a successful nominee. A socially conservative politician from the South, he was heralded as the answer to Republican prayers. Then he opened his mouth. His campaigned was quickly derailed by a litany of goofs and gaffes, none more damaging than the "oops" moment: Perry forgot the third government agency he would eliminate if elected and stammered for several awkward moments in a vain attempt to remember. (It was the Department of Energy.) He capped off his answer by saying, quite sheepishly, "Oops." Unlike his previous debate flops (his bungled attack on Romney's flip-flopping positions was bad, but not damingly so) he couldn't recover from this one. His campaign lost steam and he dropped out of the race on Jan. 19, 2012.