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Chapter Twenty-eight: Wrapping up in Lafayette and the Central Part of the State

 

I taped a radio interview with Mike Seavey of Shreveport station KEEL-AM at 9.00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 3rd, from my motel room in Alexandria. Several large-circulation newspapers south of the city remained to be visited that day. The most important was Lafayette’s Daily Advertiser. I had a promise from its managing editor that reporter Lou Rom would do a story about my campaign.

Another paper not to be ignored was the Bunkie Record (and Avoyelles Journal) in Bunkie 25 miles down U.S. highway 71. I spoke with its editor, Garland Forman, after waiting for a time in his office. He gave me the bad news first: Monday had been the deadline for the last issue before the primary. Even so, we had a good discussion about my economic ideas. The subject of jobs was important to people in that area. It was a shame that I hadn’t stopped by sooner. A Libertarian candidate, for instance, had visited Bunkie and received coverage in the paper. Forman advised me to go to Lafayette without further delay.

While driving south that day, I was mulling over the election results from “Super Tuesday”. North Carolina Senator John Edwards announced that he was dropping out of the race. This meant that John Kerry was the only serious contender left for the Democratic nomination. That being the case, primary season was effectively over. It was over for the people who were hoping to be nominated though, of course, not for me who was running for other reasons.

What to do now? I thought I should send a message to Louisiana voters that they consider voting for me in the primary even though John Kerry would be opposing President Bush in the general election. Yes, that was the formula: Vote for McGaughey in the primary and for Kerry in the general election. I would change the advertisements accordingly.

I also thought I needed stronger advertising support now that Kerry’s nomination was assured. While driving that day, I composed a second one-inch ad which might run on the same days as the other one. It began with a catchy phrase. The ad read: “We can’t innovate, educate, or incarcerate our way out of this ‘jobless recovery.’ Try employer-specific tariffs. Vote for Bill McGaughey in the Louisiana Democratic primary and for John Kerry in the general election.” The first ad was changed to: “Vote for Bill McGaughey in March 9th Democratic primary. He’s for tariffs on imports from low-wage countries. Send a message on trade. In November, vote for John Kerry.”

In both ads I was signaling my loyalty to the Democratic nominee while asking people to vote for me in the primary. Why? Because of the trade issue. I was for tariffs, not the wishy-washy solutions proposed by other candidates. Send them a message.

While we were at it, why not advertise also in Monroe, Louisiana’s eighth largest city? That would give coverage to Louisiana’s nine largest cities. (Kenner would be covered by an ad in the New Orleans paper; Bossier City, by one in the Shreveport paper.) Monroe was a special case because of the State Farm job loss. Instead of my boilerplate ad, I composed the following: “Life after State Farm? Save our jobs. Stop job loss to low-wage countries with employer-specific tariffs. Send a message on trade. Vote for Bill McGaughey in March 9th Dem. presidential primary and for John Kerry in the general election.”

I called the sales representative at the News-Star in Monroe. Yes, I could place this ad in his paper but it would not fit in one column inch. My proposed ad would require three column inches of space. The price per insertion was $272.00. In other words, the Monroe newspaper, which had a weekday circulation of fewer than 40,000 readers, was proposing to charge me almost as much for a single insertion as the Baton Rouge paper did for three insertions including Sunday; and The Advocate in Baton Rouge had a weekday circulation of more than 100,000. True, the proposed copy for the News-Star ad had six more words than the longer of my ads in the other newspapers, but there was no way it could require three times as much space.

This time, I put my foot down: Reduce the ad to one column inch or it’s no deal. The sales representative said he would double-check. In the late afternoon, I reached his assistant who confirmed that three column inches would be needed for my ad. Therefore, I did not advertise in Monroe.

I reached Lafayette in the early afternoon. Lou Rom was available to interview me for the Daily Advertiser. I was in a feisty mood in defending my trade proposals. Rom was equally fired up. Here was a news reporter, much like Kevin Diaz, who was candid and to-the-point. What was the source of information in my flyer about overtime having risen by one third? I said the news clipping was in a folder in my car.

After we had talked about issues, Rom said I had to give him more personal information. Add a little color to the story. I thought Rom might be interested in my picking up the hitchhiker outside Lafayette and driving to the Mardi Gras parade in Lake Charles. That episode did not make the cut. What did was that I had once taken a literature course from Robert Penn Warren at Yale. The Louisiana connection was, of course, to Huey Long.

As always, the focus of Lou Rom’s story was: What was I doing in running for President? What was my motivation? The personal color took the form of reporting, among other things, that my car had 138,000 miles on it, that I wore “thrifty clothes (with) a short, fat circa ‘70s tie that stops a foot short of his belt buckle”, and carried “a forest green tote bag stuffed with papers.” This candidate was not exactly a “spring chicken”, as they say. Rom wanted a picture of me standing at my car next to the magnetic campaign sign. He and a photographer accompanied me to my parking spot a block away.

That mission accomplished, I was off to Opelousas and then to Ville Platte. In Opelousas, I visited radio station KSLO-AM, following up on a contact made two days earlier. A broadcaster named John Wright took me into the recording studio where he asked me to say something about myself and the campaign. I talked non-stop for five minutes. Wright thought that this was what he wanted.

Then, as an afterthought, he commented that not many politicians visited the station - except once when the governor, a U.S. Senator, and a Congressman all showed up unannounced at the same time. He also said I might enjoy hearing a recording that a colorful sheriff had made in the same studio during a reelection campaign in 1964. This sheriff was a home-spun character who, in his broadcast, referred to the use of government employees as campaign “volunteers”. It was good for a laugh.

My last stop of the day was in Ville Platte. I spoke at the counter with an employee of the Ville Platte Gazette in the newspaper’s offices on Court Street, so-named because the Evangeline Parish court house was on the corner. The editor, Carissa Hebert, handled this type of interview. She was not in. The employee wrote her name and number on a green slip of paper, urging me to come back tomorrow. I left literature and a photo in case that was not possible.

Then I drove back to Lafayette to spend the night at the Motel 6. Along the way, I called the Fort Polk Guardian at the military base outside Leesville. The editor said that, being a military publication, she was not allowed to report events involving political candidates. What about President Bush’s visit, I was tempted to ask?

I also called Ed Anderson of the New Orleans paper. It was then that he told me that Keith O’Brien, another Times-Picayune reporter, had been trying to contact me for some time. I called New Orleans immediately and spoke with O’Brien. He was working on deadline but would have more time to talk with me after 6 p.m. When we did talk, O’Brien went through basic questions about my campaign. He would see if some of this material might be included in a wrap-up story about the Louisiana presidential primary before election day. The night’s news focused on John Edwards’ withdrawal from the race.

Next morning, Thursday, March 4th, I prepared for my final visit to a newspaper office. The Daily World in Opelousas was one of the few dailies in the state not yet covered. Fortunately, this city was only 24 miles north of Lafayette on I-49. I had also called the Leesville Leader but could not make arrangements. For a person who had been to Opelousas the day before, I was extraordinarily inept in locating the newspaper office. It was along a service road paralleling I-49 on the south side of town. No reporters were available when I arrived early in the morning. Some were expected in an hour. So, as I had done in Covington Monday morning, I sat in the car calling radio stations. The time went by quickly.

This round of telephoning brought bad news from Brittany Shay of Baton Rouge station WFMF-FM. They probably would not use me. If they did, it would be Monday or Tuesday morning next week. On the other hand, when I called another Baton Rouge station, I spoke with Jim Engster, producer and host of a morning interview show. He asked me to call back at 10:15 a.m. When I did, Engster said he would put me on the air at 9:50 a.m. on Tuesday, March 9th, which was the date of the primary election. I wrote down both times in my notebook. The failure to label them properly would cost me dearly.

I also managed to reach Marsha Shuler by phone in her state-capitol office for the first time since February 6th. No, The Advocate still hadn’t run anything about my campaign. Perhaps the material would be used in a wrap-up story about the primary which would appear next Tuesday. I tried to press upon her how hard I had been campaigning in the state; I had traveled 7,000 miles and visited 60 plus cities since the campaign began a month earlier.

Returning to the office of the Daily World, I was assigned a reporter named Stephanie Kirk. She interviewed me in a conference room near the front door. We covered the standard topics. She had a picture taken of me. I was gone within twenty minutes. This was my last newspaper visit of the campaign.

The day’s most important event, I thought, would be the taping of Jeff Crouere’s interview on WLAE-TV’s “Ringside: Politics with a Punch.” Yes, I was a political candidate with a punch to deliver; or was I, by then, merely punch drunk? In any event, I took the engagement quite seriously. Television was the best way to connect with voters and I had ten full minutes on a New Orleans station with a well-known political personality.

Jonathan McIntosh, the producer, had requested that I be in the Metairie studio at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday. The show would air on Friday at 8:30 p.m. and then again on Sunday evening. The WLAE-TV studio was on the campus of New Orleans University - Jefferson. Although its parking lot had no empty spaces, a security guard allowed me to park by the building in a reserved spot, seeing that I was a guest on the television show. After waiting in the lobby for several minutes, I was led to a back room where Jennifer, a make-up artist, prepared me for the interview.

Jeff Crouere was interviewing the first guest of the evening, a columnist who wrote for the Times-Picayune. I sat by myself near the studio monitors in another room. In my green canvas bag were copies of three books that I had published on economic subjects. I planned to use them as props. In the meanwhile, there seemed to be a delay in taping the second segment, the interview with me. The first guest picked up his belongings near my chair. On the monitor, I could see Crouere relaxing in his seat in the studio, leafing through some sheets of paper. Characters on the screen told how viewers could order videotaped copies of the show by contacting WLAE-TV.

Then, disturbingly, I saw another announcement to the effect that today’s show would air on March 12th. What? The primary election was on March 9th. What was the point of doing this show if it would air after the primary? When I ran into McIntosh in the hall, he confirmed that there had been a scheduling mixup. The March 12th date was correct. However, Jeff Crouere was also the host of a radio talk show on New Orleans station WTIX-AM. He might arrange to put me on his radio show before the primary.

The interview itself was OK although I have lots to learn about television appearances. Crouere seemed pleased that I had approached the show’s producer because I had seen “Ringside” on cable television in my motel room in Slidell. He was a skilled interviewer. On the other hand, I may have tried too hard to force what I had to say into the discussion framed by Crouere’s questioning. He let me go into my monologues for only so long before pulling me back to another subject. I never did find an occasion to display my books.

We went through some of my arguments on trade and on the need for shorter working hours. I tried to explain why my presidential candidacy was worthwhile for Louisiana voters. Now that Kerry was effectively nominated, that motive for voting in the primary became less important while “sending a message on trade” made increasing sense. However, since the “Ringside” show would air after the primary, this appeal was itself less relevant. Crouere did confirm, however, that he would invite me to participate in his radio call-in show next week.

It was early evening. I drove back to Port Allen to spend the night once again at the Motel 6. Angel was at the front desk. First, however, I indulged myself in another dinner at Shoney’s. While pulling into the restaurant parking lot, I took a cell phone call from Lou Rom. He was putting the finishing touches on his story about my campaign. Did I know how many delegates Louisiana had at the Democratic convention? Embarrassingly enough, I had hardly thought about this question. Rom said he could find out. He asked about Robert Penn Warren. I suggested, once again, the story about me and the desperate hitchhiker.

Rom said his article would be appearing in the next few days. If we were lucky, it might run in Sunday’s paper. He proposed that I call him if I came to Lafayette again. Perhaps we could have coffee.

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