During most of the nineteenth century, presidential candidates were not expected to play a public role in the national campaign. The lack of efficient transportation made it difficult for candidates to interact with voters outside their immediate regions. Not until 1928 did national speaking tours by both major party candidates become a staple of the presidential race. The only significant exception to this general inertia was the whirlwind eighteen-thousand-mile speaking tour in 1896 of the Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan.

President Franklin Roosevelt delivers a radio address, 1936.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivering a radio address, 1936. Our thirty-second president was the first Chief Executive to make extensive use of radio to communicate with American voters.

The technological progress of the twentieth century brought profound changes in the style of the national presidential campaign. By the 1930s, radio carried the voices of the candidates directly into millions of American homes. Within a generation, television had completed the picture by providing the voters with visual images of the candidates. Thus presidential politics had merged with the media revolution. It was now desirable that candidates have both a polished speaking voice and a photogenic quality if they were to be successfully marketed to the electorate.

Televised debates between the major party candidates became a part of the national presidential campaign in 1960. Historians and political scientists continue to study the electoral impact of televised debates, and millions of voters watch them each election year.

Kennedy-Nixon debate, 1960.

John F. Kennedy (D) and Richard M. Nixon (R) debate on national television, 1960.

More recently, television introduced the "electronic town meeting" to the presidential contest. In this increasingly popular broadcast forum, candidates answer questions from voters across the nation. Presidential politics have even moved into the realm of cyberspace. Major and minor parties have eagerly set up World Wide Web sites to disseminate their candidate's views on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues.

These changes remind us that the process of electing the president will no doubt continue to evolve, as it has over the past two centuries. In a manner befitting a free and open society, Americans will determine how to select those most qualified to compete for our nation's highest office: the presidency.