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Chapter Twenty-seven: Scouting Campaign Spots, More Newspaper Visits

 

The weekend which followed was a low point in the campaign from the standpoint of using my time productively. As always, this was “down time” with respect to calling radio stations or visiting newspaper offices. In my estimation, it was not close enough to the date of the primary election to have a campaign event which local television crews might be interested in covering. That would be a possibility for the following weekend.

The best use of my time, I thought, would be to scout locations for next weekend’s events. Baton Rouge and New Orleans would be the places offering the greatest voter exposure. I could pass out leaflets in both places but, more importantly, decide where most advantageously to hold campaign events when the television crews might cover them next week.

Saturday morning, February 28th, I returned to New Orleans from Baton Rouge. I first drove through Metairie to look at locations for an event on the following evening. There seemed not to be enough pedestrian traffic. Next I scouted the downtown area. Canal Street seemed to be my best bet. The area above Magazine street was lined with stores that attracted many customers. The blocks toward the river were filled with tourists coming in and out of the hotels. I could not find Woldenberg Park on my map; however, I did make note of the entrance to the Riverwalk at the foot of Canal Street. A pelican statue marked the spot. A block up Canal was Harrah’s Casino. These places seemed to have plenty of people wandering about on foot who might have time to talk with me.

A piece of unfinished business was to buy that print of Robert E. Lee from the fine-arts store. Unlike yesterday, there were no parking spots available in the French Quarter. I drove around for some time until I found an open space beyond Esplanade Avenue near the corner of Dauphine and Pauger. Then I walked ten blocks or so down Royal Street to the fine-arts store. The Lee print from yesterday was still unsold. While the sales person was wrapping the print in tissue paper before rolling it up and inserting it into a cardboard cylinder, I told her that I was a distant relative of Lee’s. She treated me like a minor celebrity, shaking my hands warmly. I then told her that I was a candidate for President. Now she seemed to think I was nuts. Too many startling pieces of information at one time may be difficult to swallow.

Art work in hand, I walked back to my car. I knew the location since I had written down the street names on a scrap of paper. But the car was nowhere to be seen. I walked up and down Pauger street for several blocks. The signs on the street had said that I was parked in a “two-hour residential parking area”. Did “residential parking” mean that only residents of the neighborhood could park there? Had the New Orleans police towed the car? Or had I been a naive tourist who would leave a car packed with gear on the streets in a high-crime city? Hopefully, car thieves would not want a 1995 Plymouth Acclaim. In any event, a sense of panic struck me. Eighty-five miles away from the night’s confirmed motel reservation, I was standing on the streets of New Orleans with a cardboard cylinder in my hand, keys to a vanished car - and a cell phone.

This cell phone was my link to the civilized world. I dialed information for the numbers of the city’s impound lot and the police department. I did know my license-plate number. No, the impound lot did not have a red Plymouth Acclaim with Minnesota plates displaying that number. Then I called the New Orleans police to report a “possibly stolen” car. What did “possibly stolen” mean? Was the car stolen or not? I did not know. The interrogator took some information about me and the car and said an officer would get back to me in a while. Then I walked around the corner to Dauphine Street. There, half a block down, my bright red car sat undisturbed at the side of the curb. I notified the police of this fortunate turn of events, turned the ignition key, and was on my way.

It was now around 4:30 p.m. I no longer felt like passing out leaflets. I had enough street-name information to write a press release which would not embarrass me. My main mission was accomplished as I drove back to Baton Rouge that evening.

Sunday, February 29th, was an unusual day in that this date appears on the calendar but once every four years. It made me feel lucky that I had an extra day for campaigning. As I had checked out locations for campaign events in New Orleans yesterday, so on this day I drove around Baton Rouge. The southern approach to the state capitol was one place that might be suitable for distributing political literature. The downtown area, several blocks away, was another. A third area, which I scouted first, was the campus of Louisiana State University - Baton Rouge.

I drove past the entrance to the Student Union off Highland Road. Several students were tossing frisbees on the lawn. On the other side of Highland near Dalrymple was a movie theater next to some food places. The sidewalk was crowded with young people. Was that just because a film was now letting out? Along Nicholson Drive were numerous people bound for the LSU Tiger stadium to watch a baseball game. Would a game be played also next weekend? Would college sports fans be receptive to a presidential candidate seeking to interest them in political literature? My uncertainty about this plus the lack of nearby parking spaces convinced me to seek a location elsewhere. Downtown Baton Rouge seemed largely deserted on Sundays except for church goers who would not want politicians to leaflet them after the service. That left the state capitol.

Small groups of people were walking up and down the marble steps that led to the front entrance of the capitol building. Most were Louisiana residents; some were from out of state. My campaign effort was directed at Louisiana voters. I went inside the building past the metal detectors. Cautiously, I asked a woman at an information booth what time of the day most people visited this place. I had to be cautious. If I phrased this question the wrong way, she might think I was a terrorist. To disclose that I was a presidential candidate might also set off alarms.

The answer that I got from her and from the security guards was that on Sundays people usually visited the state capitol after church. The building closed at 4 p.m. Any time between noon and closing time would be fine. The state capitol had one advantage over other Baton Rouge locations: Visitors to this place would be interested in politics and, therefore, be less likely to be annoyed if a political candidate approached them with literature. Yes, this was the place for next week.

After ten days’ lodging in Port Allen, I decided to spend Sunday night in Slidell to be closer to Monday’s planned events. That decision led to one of my best campaign opportunities. The cable-television selection at the Slidell Motel 6 included the New Orleans public-television station, WLAE-TV. One of that station’s programs on Sunday evening was a political interview show called “Ringside: Politics with a Punch”, hosted by Jeff Crouere. That night, Crouere was interviewing a woman by phone concerning Mel Gibson’s film, “Passion of the Christ.” Crouere also did personal commentary on political issues, personalities, and events.

I liked the boxing theme as a metaphor for politics: It reminded me of my late friend in Minneapolis, Ray Whebbe, editor of the Watchdog, who was a wrestling and boxing promoter as well as a political journalist. I therefore made a note of this show.

Monday morning, March 1st, I drove west from Slidell on interstate 12 toward Covington on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. I would have only two days left to visit the weekly newspapers before their deadlines for the last issue before the primary. Such visits were the backbone of my campaign. In Covington, the editor of the St. Tammany Farmer was not yet at work when I arrived. This was not, however, an unwelcome event since it gave me time to catch up on a neglected chore.

I began calling radio stations for interviews later in the week. These cell phone calls from the front seat of my car took nearly an hour. In the end, I had no firm commitments for interviews, just a request from a radio station in Opelousas to call when I came to town. By that time, Danny Nowlin, the editor of the Covington newspaper, was in his office. He interviewed me for fifteen minutes and took a photo. Then I was on my way to the second stop of the day.

I was bound for the Plaquemines Gazette in Belle Chase on the southern edge of the New Orleans metropolitan area. The quickest route to that place was to take the Pontchartrain causeway across the lake. I had wanted to do that for some time. The twenty-five-mile trip went fast and soon I was entering Metairie. The producer of the “Ringside” show, Jonathan McIntosh, had suggested that I send him a sample of my campaign literature. Fortunately, I was now able to deliver it in person at the studios of WLAE-TV on Causeway Boulevard. I then took I-10 through central New Orleans, turned onto I-49, crossed the Mississippi River bridge, and took the exit for Belle Chase. The newspaper office was about seven miles down this busy highway.

I arrived at lunch time. Gervais Joubert, the political reporter, was out on assignment. Did I care to wait? Fortunately, I was scheduled to be interviewed at 1:00 p.m. by Jayson Lee of the Thibodaux college radio station KNSU-FM. We had half an hour. I ordered a hamburger and soft drink at a nearby McDonald’s and waited in the car. The cell-phone interview from the rear parking lot went well. I was able to make a smooth presentation of my economic proposals without sounding preachy or hurried.

I then returned to the office of the Plaquemines Gazette two blocks away. Mr. Joubert had still not returned. I was looking through my papers when this reporter suddenly appeared. He explained that the paper was short on staff but he could write something about my campaign. I spent another ten minutes talking with him.

My final destination for the day pushed the envelope. I drove more than one hundred miles down I-49 and then north on highway 1 to reach one more newspaper office before the work day ended. This was the Assumption Pioneer in Napoleonville, which had a circulation of only 2,600. At one point, I despaired of reaching this town by 5:00 and called the editor, Philip Gianelloni, to tell him so. He said they’d be working late that evening, and I could decide if the trip was worthwhile.

A kindly older man, Gianelloni took the time to talk with me as a female employee tried to figure out Quark, which was computer software used to lay out the paper. No, I did not know Quark; I had some experience with Pagemaker. Economic issues were important to the readers there. Gianelloni told me that politicians had great plans for revitalizing the local economy by turning this area into a transportation hub. A new airport would be the key. I took leave of him and the employee at the computer and drove back to Port Allen by way of Plaquemine. Then, looking over my next day’s schedule, I decided to drive an additional 110 miles to Alexandria.

Realistically, this was my last day to visit community newspapers before the primary. On the morning of Tuesday, March 2nd, I set forth from Alexandria bound for Jonesville on highways 28 and 84. The office of the Jonesville Catahoula News Booster had been closed when I last visited this town on February 13th. The editor, Will Clifton, talked with me in his office. There was time to put something in the paper before tomorrow’s deadline.

I was not so lucky at the next place, Jena, 23 miles up the road. Sammy Franklin, editor of the Jena Times Olla-Tullos Signal, greeted me warmly and introduced me to his son. He remembered the message that I had left for him two weeks earlier. Unfortunately, the deadline for the last issue before the primary had passed. I left literature anyhow.

Two African American newspapers in Monroe, another 75 miles north, remained unvisited. The person who answered the phone at the Monroe Dispatch told me that they were not interested in a visit from me. At the other paper, the Monroe Free Press, I was told that I needed to speak with the publisher, Roosevelt Wright, and was given his home phone number. Wright’s wife answered. Wright himself soon called back to report that he was tied up in a conference running into the afternoon. He might be free around 3 p.m. If so, he would call me and we might meet somewhere. I never did receive a call.

By that time, however, I was traveling along country roads in the same northernmost parishes that I had visited on the first day of my campaign in Louisiana. Farmerville was the first stop. Unfortunately, the paper’s next issue came out on the Wednesday following the primary.

Then I drove west to Bernice. I stopped at the city’s Tourist Information office to receive directions to Boyett road where the office of the Bernice Banner-News was located. Boyett road, named for the paper’s publisher, was a small road off U.S. highway 63 two miles north of town leading back half a mile toward town. The newspaper was published in what looked like a farm house. A middle-aged woman in the office, who was the advertising manager, kept me engaged in pleasant conversation for twenty minutes. She was a Democrat from Arkansas who had known Bill Clinton personally when he was governor. She definite opinions on various subjects.

The editor, Jesse Boyett, arrived twenty minutes later. Her husband had been the editor until he had retired several years earlier. Now the newspaper was run by two women. Didn’t I agree they put out a good product? Yes, I did. Jesse Boyett remembered having received my email. She also remembered some of Louisiana’s recent political campaigns including the gubernatorial race a decade earlier where the choice was between a former Ku Klux Klan official (David Duke) and a man now serving a prison sentence (Edwin Edwards). These two women were well informed about politics. They gave me a copy of their newspaper before I departed.

If I was lucky, I thought I might catch one more newspaper before closing time, the Springhill Press. This newspaper I might have visited on the first day of my campaign had the receptionist been more encouraging. Springhill was sixty miles west and north of Bernice by way of Homer. I almost missed the newspaper office as I drove through town. Today was the paper’s deadline. I handed a person at the counter my campaign leaflet along with a photo, trusting that something could be done before the primary.

Next I called the office of the Caddo Citizen in Vivian in the northwest corner of the state. It was too late; their publishing deadline was yesterday. Then, sitting in the car across the street from the Springhill newspaper office, I made a number of cell phone calls.

Most calls were to radio stations. I lined up an interview with the Shreveport station KEEL-AM for the following morning. I left messages for Captain Glen in Houma and Wandell Allegood in Opelousas. Other calls, however, were made to the advertising departments of newspapers where I planned to place paid ads. One-inch ads would be run Sunday, March 7th, through Tuesday, March 9th, in six different newspapers: New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles, and Alexandria.

It was time to nail down Shreveport and Alexandria. In both cases, I encountered an unexpected obstacle. The rates previously quoted were invalid because someone had determined that, being a national political candidate, I needed to pay the national advertising rate. For three days, a one-inch ad in The Times of Shreveport would cost me $272.00 rather than the $165.00 previously quoted. Sputtering into the phone, I told the sales representative to cancel the whole order. However, Shreveport was just too important to dismiss this way. Calling back later, I agreed to run the ad on Sunday only for $146.00. Likewise, the sales representative at the Alexandria Daily Town Talk quoted me a price at the national advertising rate that was higher than what was previously quoted.

These people were stick-up artists. I drove through Shreveport and back to Alexandria to spend the night.

That evening, the results came in for the “Super Tuesday” primaries held in a number of states. John Kerry won convincingly in all contests. Little did I know then that this day’s primaries would seal my own fate as a candidate in the Louisiana primary election that would be held the following week. A decision made by the man from North Carolina sucked the air out of the race.

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