Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Presidential Campaign

On election night 32 years ago, I was eagerly watching the presidential returns, primarily because my final paycheck depended on it. After graduating in the spring of 1980, I landed a paid position as a field coordinator with the presidential campaign of John B. Anderson. He was a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, ten-term Republican congressman from Illinois, who initially ran in the GOP primaries. Once Reagan had secured the GOP nomination, Anderson ran as an independent to offer a third choice for president (yes, he was “mavericky” long before that term was coined).

As an idealistic 22 year old, right out of college, it was a whirlwind campaign year. Initially, I worked in the Charleston office, getting Anderson on the West Virginia ballot. I’ve previously shared the story of how I got to meet singer/songwriter James Taylor, an Anderson fan who came to perform a benefit concert at the Municipal Auditorium (I “saved” the concert that night because he broke his guitar string in the hotel room, and I had to run to Gorby’s Music Store and get him a replacement).

Later, I worked petition drives to secure ballot access in Oklahoma during June, Missouri during July, and Alabama during August. It was hard work but lots of fun seeing parts of the country I had never seen before. I fondly recall my trip inside the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the flat interstate between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and the high-tech town of Huntsville compared to the old South feel of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

For the fall months, I was the coordinator for the southern half (also known as “downstate”) of Anderson’s home state of Illinois. Our main office was in downtown Springfield, Illinois, across from the historic old State Capitol, and less than a block from Lincoln’s law office (I learned a lot about Lincoln during this time). We also had offices in Champaign/Urbana (home of the University of Illinois), Alton (suburban St. Louis on the Illinois side of the river), Carbondale (home of Southern Illinois University), and Charleston (home of Eastern Illinois University). I should point out that this was in the era before personal computers—telephones and 3x5 index cards were the preferred methods in those days.

I got to travel all around this area, and coordinated a few visits with Anderson’s wife Kiki and his daughter Eleanora Anderson Kettler. Kiki traveled with Secret Service protection, and it was interesting to work with her officers, who did all the driving around the state with Kiki and me in the back seat. I got to talk with her a good bit, and this paid off at the end of the campaign.

The last day of campaigning before election day, Anderson came back to his alma mater and spoke that evening at the University of Illinois. As I greeted him on the steps of the auditorium, he asked me if I would come to Washington, DC, and work the remainder of his term in his Congressional office. Holy cow! I was amazed and thrilled at this unexpected job offer.

It turns out that Kiki had learned from several days of traveling with me that rather than staying in hotels, I was saving the campaign money by living on a cot in the back of our office (along with the other staffer in the office) in what had been dressing rooms when the building was used as a clothing store. We purchased cheap memberships at the local YMCA and walked down the street each morning—not to work out, but simply to take our showers. Kiki also was aware that I had worked on Capitol Hill during the fall of 1979, and thus knew my way around the House Office Buildings and the Capitol itself. Finally, she knew that I had won a fellowship to grad school at WVU, and could take a job that would only last from early November to early January. It was apparently at her urging that I was rewarded with a new job.

So after an exciting campaign season, I got to continue working for John Anderson by joining his Congressional staff his final few months. It was a great experience! [It also dawned on me that if Anderson had actually won the presidency, I would likely have landed a job in the White House!]

But my stint on Capitol Hill came after spending a tense election night at our campaign office near the University of Illinois, on folding metal chairs filled with many “Fighting Illini” students who had supported our cause. Even though Anderson had earlier been pulling strong double-digit polling numbers, they had dropped from being in the twenties down through the teens and below as the election day approached (the race was seen as going down to the wire and folks didn’t want to waste their vote on an independent candidate who couldn’t win). However, he was still popular with college students and intellectuals. Thus, on election night 32 years ago, I was just hoping we would get at least 5%, because my final paycheck was dependent on qualifying for Federal Election Commission matching funding, and 5% was their threshold number. Luckily, we got over 7%, and I got paid.

I’m sure the paycheck was important at the time, but it was really the experience itself that was most valuable. On nights like this, it is nice to reminisce about my personal presidential campaign, and the close camaraderie that comes with such quixotic efforts. Oh to be young again!

Congressman John B. Anderson


  1. I'd forgotten about him. I see why you wouldn't have, though!

    Didn't know you used word verification or I wouldn't have clicked "follow!" ;-)

    1. Thanks for reading my blog! I'm not sure what you mean by your comment about "word verification"--it may be something that blogspot does automatically. I'll do some more research on it later.