Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 13 – ‘Election’

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Election, Ken Kercheval

Smear campaign

If ever anyone questioned the politics of “Dallas’s” first families, “Election” should clear things up.

Cliff runs for state senate on a pro-environment, anti-corruption platform. Martin Cole, the candidate the Ewings recruit to run against him, is described as a churchgoer who opposes gun control, abortion rights and higher taxes.

Could it be clearer?

When “Election” begins, the liberal Cliff is cast in a better light than the conservative Ewings. In the first scene, he rejects a big campaign contribution from a sleazy oil industry emissary – even though his shoestring campaign desperately needs cash.

Contrast this with J.R. and Jock. When Cole’s campaign flounders, they resort to dirty tricks, exposing the fact that when Cliff was younger, his pregnant girlfriend died after a botched abortion.

But ultimately, “Election” takes a cynical view of all politics. In the final scene, after Cliff has lost his race, he calls top aide Peter Larson and tells him he’ll run again – but in his next campaign, he’ll take the oil industry’s money. “Peter,” Cliff says, “I just became a realist.”

This is a turning point for Cliff – the moment he decides the ends (beating the Ewings) are more important than the means (honoring your principles). These are the values that will define his character through the rest of “Dallas’s” run.

Of course, “Election’s” harsh judgment of politics shouldn’t come as a surprise. Other early episodes make it clear “Dallas” doesn’t hold politicians in high regard.

“Digger’s Daughter” introduces Bobby as Ewing Oil’s “road man,” who supplies state legislators with broads and booze to get them to vote the company’s way. “Spy in the House” features a state senator who takes bribes. In “Old Acquaintance,” another senator’s mistress jeopardizes his appointment to a federal job.

Crooked politicians like these seem as realistic today as they did in the Watergate era, when “Dallas” debuted.

Just as timeless is “Election’s” references to the importance of television advertising in politics, although Jock goes a little overboard when he urges Cole to buy more airtime. “I want to see your face every time I turn that damn thing on,” the old man barks.

It’s the only thing in this episode that doesn’t really ring true. I mean, has anyone ever wished for more political ads on TV?

Grade: A


Bobby Ewing, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Election, Ken Kercheval, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

Welcome to the real world


Season 2, Episode 8

Airdate: November 5, 1978

Audience: 11.5 million homes, ranking 48th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Rena Down

Director: Barry Crane

Synopsis: Cliff’s run for state senate divides Pam and Bobby. After J.R. exposes skeletons in Cliff’s closet and he loses, Cliff vows to play dirty during his next campaign.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Norman Bartold (Evans), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Joshua Bryant (Peter Carson), Allen Cae (Martin Cole), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Buck Young (Seth Stone)

“Election” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Cliff? Anti-corruption? It’s hard to remember him as such an idealist.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I watched this episode on DVD this evening and it is one of the finest episodes of the first two seasons. It was a well crafted and well acted episode. Victoria Principal’s acting is stellar as she conveys a range of emotion from uncertainty about Cliff’s proposal to have her work for him to sheer rage when she finds out what J.R. has done.

  3. Lloyd Ferrigon says:

    It was a wonderful episode. Its also the first time we see Bobby and Cliff in a scene together. I could have done without Bobby threatning Cliff however.

    • I like “Election” a lot too. A really strong entry from the second season.

    • Bobby and Cliff already shared scenes in episode 11 (when Pam’s “other husband” showed up and they had to prove the marriage had been annulled or something like that)
      But yes it is a wonderful episode. And yeah, that’s our Bobby though, always shoving people around or threatening to punch someone… or actually punching someone lol.

  4. Dan in WI says:

    I disagree this episode was the turning point for Cliff in the ends justifies the means department. This was established pretty much from the word go in episode 3. Even then he painted the picture of a crusader against corruption it wasn’t true. Julie Grey found out that was all a ruse. It was targeted crusade against the Ewings. That is why he was so giddy about the dirt Julie gave him about Wild Bill Orloff. He didn’t really care that Orloff was corrupt. He only cared Orloff was corrupted by the Ewings. So in this episode I was actually surprised he refused the Big Oil money. That might have made the difference in the election and let’s face it: that election was also about getting the Ewings.
    Of course even though the episode shows Cliff resolving to take the Big Oil money for the next election it never actually happened. The next time he would run for office JR was pretty much his only donor. Then after that he would go on to become an oilman and even had a chance to become a part of Big Oil in the form of a job offer from Jeremy Wendell. Yeah he turned that down but it wasn’t because of principle.

  5. One of my favorite episodes! I think this is the first time we see this much of Cliff, and I can never get enough Ken Kercheval screen time. I think this is the first time we see how much range he has as an actor, because this script really puts Cliff through the paces in terms of experiencing different emotions, we see him furious when he thinks Pam sold him out, we see him really hurting and close to tears as he breaks the news to his campaign workers.


  1. […] the Ewings needed a candidate to run against Cliff for state senate, they recruited Cole, a Fort Worth city councilman who had the right platform […]

  2. […] loved the striped hoodie, olive pants and knee-high tan boots Pam wears during the “Election” scene where Cliff persuades her to hold a fashion show fundraiser for his state senate campaign. […]

  3. […] “Election,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, Bobby and Pam (Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal) are in […]

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