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Watch Episode 7 of The Contenders — 16 for '16

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Why you should care

Because you can’t understand today’s candidates without listening to yesterday’s.

Learn more about the men and women who have run the ultimate political gauntlet in pursuit of the most powerful job on Earth by watching THE CONTENDERS - 16 FOR ’16, a new TV series from OZY airing every Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST this fall on PBS.

Prior to Hillary Clinton’s historic 2016 nomination, just two American women have served on the ticket of a major U.S. political party: vice presidential nominees Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin. Both trailblazing candidates would energize their parties and tickets before ultimately coming up short in November.

A former elementary school teacher and prosecutor, and a formidable congresswoman from Queens, Ferraro helped breathe new life into the 1984 campaign of Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, energizing the party faithful, particularly women. Just a week after being chosen as the first woman on a major party U.S. presidential ticket, Ferraro gave a powerful speech to the Democratic convention in San Francisco, and thanks to his new running mate, Mondale pulled close to Reagan in the polls after the convention.

Ferraro’s presence on the campaign trail drew large, excited crowds as she helped to rally progressives and women voters to Mondale’s campaign, and her ability to stand her ground against the sitting vice president, George H.W. Bush, in debate won her positive reviews as well. In the end, the Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost all but one state in one of the most lopsided contests in U.S. history, but Ferraro’s trailblazing candidacy would have a lasting impact.

Arizona Sen. John McCain’s surprise selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the first woman to appear on a Republican presidential ticket, as his running mate similarly helped remake his 2008 campaign. A former television sports reporter, basketball star and beauty queen, Palin served as the mayor of her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska before becoming the state’s first female chief executive in 2006.

Palin’s selection immediately turned the tables on McCain’s opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, and her electrifying speech at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota a week later quickly made her one of the party’s most popular figures, injecting McCain’s campaign with a new energy and excitement and boosting its fortunes in the polls. In the ensuing weeks, however, a series of disappointing media appearances and embarrassing miscues would raise questions about her experience and qualifications, and her candidacy became the target of late-night comedians and shows like Saturday Night Live. Ultimately, the McCain-Palin ticket would fall to Barack Obama’s historic victory in November.

OZY2016

The route to the White House: news, stories and analysis from on and off the presidential campaign trail.