back to: On the Ballot  to: political odyssey


Chapter Thirty: Weekend Preening for Television


When I bought a copy of the Times-Picayune Saturday morning, March 6th, I was startled to read an article by Keith O’Brien about a presidential candidate named Bill Wyatt who was challenging President Bush in the Republican primary. This article occupied an entire page of the newspaper - page A-14. Why couldn’t it have been me?

Wyatt was a 43-year-old tee-shirt manufacturer from California who had entered several primaries. He had received only 153 votes in New Hampshire but, in Oklahoma, had captured nearly 10 percent of the vote as President Bush’s sole challenger. O’Brien’s article covered some of Wyatt’s campaign activities during his week spent in Louisiana. He had talked with customers at a 24-hour diner on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans. He attended a candidates’ forum at a sorority house. He hadn’t been to Shreveport or Baton Rouge yet but was making plans. Why couldn’t I have done that? How did this publicity bonanza come Wyatt’s way?

I learned the truth only after returning to Minneapolis. There among my accumulated email messages was a note from Keith O’Brien, dated February 3rd. After identifying himself, O’Brien wrote: “I am interested in doing a story about you, and the other lesser known candidates, who will be campaigning for president in Louisiana next month.What I was hoping to do is follow you around when you come here, if you are planning to come here, and essentially be a fly on the wall of your day, or days, on the road in Louisiana. And then write a story about it. So when you get a chance, drop me an e-mail, call me at the number below, or let me know how I can reach you on the road.”

Had I delayed my departure from Minnesota for one day, I might have received this message. Had I bothered to access my email messages on the road from Earthlink’s web message center, I might still have reached O’Brien in time for him to write a story. I assumed, however, that Ed Anderson was my link to the Times-Picayune. I had failed to cover all the bases.

This day, Saturday, was the day to spend in New Orleans. In my faxed press release, I had promised to spend six hours walking along Canal Street between Magazine Street and the entrance to Riverwalk in my white cowboy hat. I had long since decided not to lug the sign and metal stand around with me. I would, however, be carrying a canvas bag stuffed with campaign leaflets and with a bottle of water and a few snacks. I would be wearing my usual campaign uniform which included a sports coat and the plastic badge identifying me as a presidential candidate. Saturday parking was no problem. Instead of seeking out my favorite spot on Perdido Street, I found something a block off Canal on South Villere.

The pedestrian traffic was brisk on Canal Street. I approached a group of Christian street musicians preparing for a performance. They asked if they could pray with me. In a small circle, we held hands and said a prayer. I then gave my campaign pitch for a minute or so. I spoke with numerous people on the sidewalk, mostly blacks, and handed them campaign literature. Most people were friendly. Some were quite interested in talking with a presidential candidate.

Below Magazine Street, I encountered mostly tourists. That meant that a majority of persons approached there were not eligible to vote in Louisiana. In theory, I was wasting their time. Therefore, I had to begin my campaign pitch with a question: Are you a Louisiana voter? Most were not. Yet, this is where I had committed myself to be when the television crews tried to find me. I was doing this for television coverage.

Six hours on New Orleans’ main street was tiring business. My energy level waxed and waned throughout the afternoon. I wandered around the Riverwalk area and saw the place where John Kerry had held his campaign rally on the previous day. I saw a Kerry flier announcing that event inside USA Today’s locked newspaper stand. Now that’s a candidate who has the inside track, I mused.

I talked with a young Chinese man who was attending LSU in Baton Rouge. He and his family posed for a picture. I spoke with a man from Memphis, Tennessee, who promised to give my campaign literature to some of his Louisiana friends. On Riverwalk, I walked down the boardwalk toward a cruise ship moored at the dock in the Mississippi river and read the many signs which told of Louisiana’s history and culture. A magnificent fountain celebrated Spain’s contribution to the history of this area. And, of course, 2004 was the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana purchase made by our far-sighted third President. Still no television crews showed up to cover my campaign.

Around 4:30 p.m., I found Woldenberg park. It was the stretch of Riverwalk heading in the opposite direction from the cruise boat. Yes, this was a good place for campaigning. Benches filled with people tired of walking who were hopefully not too tired to talk with me about politics lined the walk way. But I was exhausted. I bought a $3.00 bottle of beer and then a $14.00 ticket to view a film about the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the Audubon I-Max theater starting at 5:00 p.m. The theater was cool and the beer relaxed me thoroughly.

So here I was in New Orleans watching an adventure story about an early 19th Century exploration of a river in the Upper Midwest - my part of the country - my presidential campaign put on the shelf. I was now counting the days before my own great adventure would come to an end.

Right after this, I walked up Canal Street, had a good dinner at Popeye’s fast-food restaurant, saw a new type of Amhoist crane (my former employer), made a few cell-phone calls in the car to people in Minnesota, glanced down Basin Street for the last time, and then drove back to Baton Rouge.

Sunday morning, March 7th, started the three-day run of the campaign’s newspaper ads. My day’s project was to purchase copies of the newspapers from as many of the cities as I could find. Copies of the Times-Picayune and The Advocate Sunday papers were available from the news rack outside the Port Allen Motel 6 or across the road at Love’s gas station. Since I would drive to Shreveport that day, I was also able to pick up copies of the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, the Daily Town Talk in Alexandria, and, of course, The Times in Shreveport. That left only the Lake Charles American Press unaccounted for. Yes, the newspapers were honest in running the ads. They delivered what was promised, each with its own creativity.

In my motel room, I reflected upon the campaign. Even though yesterday’s campaign event was disappointing, I was still optimistic. I was telling people that I expected to receive 5% to 10% of the primary vote. I wrote in the notebook that my main hopes for a good result were: (1) the 60 newspaper offices that I had visited, (2) the ads run in the state’s largest-circulation newspapers, (3) the radio interviews already had with several more scheduled on the last day, (4) the personal handshaking and leafletting that I had recently done, and (5) the fact that some Louisiana voters would resent that Kerry had locked up the nomination so soon and want to vote for someone else on the ballot just to show that their vote counted.

Today’s campaign effort was modest. I had committed myself to campaigning on the front steps of the Louisiana state capitol between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Compared with yesterday, the crowds were modest. Maybe one or two people passed by every ten minutes, worse than the previous week. My hopes were lifted when a mobile unit belonging to Baton Rouge station WAFB-TV (channel 9) parked in the state capitol lot not far from my car. However, the reporters ignored me. They were there because the Governor was convening a special session of the legislature that evening to consider tax reform. I later learned that Governor Blanco was hosting a reception at her mansion for John Kerry’s wife, Teresa. Once again, my principal rival had the inside track.

In an afternoon lull before closing time, I again chose to indulge in tourism, making a repeat trip to the state capitol’s 27th-floor observation tower. The gift shop was open. I bought some more Louisiana souvenirs, including a videotape of Ken Burns’ documentary on Huey Long’s career.

Out on the balcony I struck up a conversation with a Baton Rouge couple who had taken my campaign literature on the front steps. They reminisced about Louisiana politics. Huey Long’s brother, Earl K. Long, was mentally unstable. More than once, he was committed to a mental hospital but, being the Governor, he checked himself out. (Another version of this story is that he fired the hospital superintendent.) Residents of Louisiana, including this couple, were proud of the state’s athletic accomplishments. LSU teams had won national championships both in football and baseball.

No Baton Rouge reporters covered my event at the Louisiana state capitol. I had a long drive ahead of me. The night’s motel reservation was in Bossier City where I had stayed during my first few days in Louisiana. There were 276 miles to drive before I would sleep. Fortunately, interstate driving would take me most of the way there. I went west to Lafayette on I-10 and then north on I-49 past Alexandria all the way to Shreveport, picking up Sunday newspapers along the way. I pulled into Shreveport well after dark, gassed up, and checked into the Bossier City Motel 6.

This would be my last chance to attract television coverage. Despite past disappointments, I felt that Shreveport and Monroe might come through for me where New Orleans and Baton Rouge had failed. I told myself that the serious political candidates do not just hang around the big population centers of southern Louisiana; they also spend time in the north.

To next chapter

back to: On the Ballot  to: political odyssey