Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Pangs of nostalgia for candidates past

As the curtain falls on this election season, political junkies everywhere are no doubt growing a bit nostalgic. Some may be panicked about how they will fill their time in December.

I will be among those who will miss the hustle and bustle. What I will remember most were the losers in the race.

It doesn't seem like the nearly two years it has been since I walked with Ohio Congressman John Kasich and his pollster, Ed Goeas, along the streets of Fort Dodge, Ia., ducking into insurance agencies and bookstores to shake hands and chat about the state of the country.

It was a bitterly cold day, with strong winds and drifting snow falling from a slate gray sky, but it is a fond memory, and a reminder that presidential campaigns look an awful lot like city council races when they first begin.

I remember thinking that someone with such an easy way with people as Mr. Kasich would do well in the race for the White House, if only he could raise enough early money. But he couldn't, so he quit the race and threw his support to a Texan named George W. Bush.

If Mr. Bush wins tomorrow, look for Mr. Kasich, who is retiring from 20 years in the U.S. House after rising to the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, to return to Washington as the head of the administration's Office of Management and Budget.

I also fondly remember a campaign stop made by publishing magnate Steve Forbes to tiny Grinnell, Ia., a couple of days before the Iowa Caucuses. I watched this multimillionaire from New Jersey share a meal with 100 local farmers, some of them still in their overalls. He has been called a geek, but he seemed to understand these people and was able to relate to them. Of course, Mr. Forbes did not win the nomination he was seeking, money notwithstanding.

Vice President Gore didn't do too much mingling this time around, largely because his Secret Service detail wouldn't hear of it. But he still stumped across Iowa and New Hamsphire, battling against challenger Bill Bradley. Later in the general election campaign, he would lunch with students at their schools from time to time, but those appearances were mostly contrived for television cameras.

A surreal moment in Iowa came the night before the caucuses, in an old dance hall in Des Moines, where Alan Keyes whipped a crowd of hundreds into a frenzy in no time at all.

Smoke hung heavy in the dim hall as Mr. Keyes, a fire-and-brimstone orator who has never let go of his outrage over social injustices he sees across America, went on for more than an hour. With no where to sit, the crowd stood the whole while on the old wooden dance floor, cheering him at every phrase he turned. I fought the feeling I had been transported back 50 years.

While others quit when it was clear they had no chance of winning and no money left, Mr. Keyes kept going. Part of the reason is he was running a really low-budget race, and after a good primary showing here or there, he would get huge inflows of cash - hundreds of thousands of dollars - from supporters. He also held most of his campaign stops at churches, where he would have to pay no hall rental and where they were well-rehearsed in the practice of taking offerings, which they did on his behalf at every stop.

One campaign aide told me at a stop in Michigan that they usually cleared enough in the offering to pay for their trip there and for the next leg of the campaign. That being the case, they could leave their other campaign contributions in the bank to gain interest.

Mr. Bradley didn't campaign much in Ohio, but he did make several trips to the state to raise money. At an early stop in Cleveland, he entered a room for a press conference, but greeted the handful of reporters with such disdain it was almost as if he thought he were still an NBA basketball star and we were going to ask him why his jumpshot wasn't falling.

Nothing was said about his arrogance that day, but voters spoke loud and clear. He didn't win a single primary.

And then there was John McCain, who hit his pinnacle in Michigan earlier this year when he knocked off Mr. Bush with a surprise upset in the GOP primary. I remember hordes of people pouring into site after site he would visit around the state, despite the February chill.

Most notable was the morning rally in Traverse City just before the vote. Snow was piled five feet high on the sidewalks, but hundreds of people packed into a local hotel to hear him urge people to join a “cause bigger than your own self interest.”

Some did, but not enough. So we are down to the end, and just a few names on the presidential ballot. Not to worry. In a few months, we'll start it all over again. After all, the next election is just four years away.

Fritz Wenzel covers politics for The Blade. Email him at

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