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Chapter Thirty-three: Going Home to Minnesota

 

The morning of Wednesday, March 10th, began the first day without pressure that I had experienced in many weeks. I had only to drive home to Minnesota. Before leaving Louisiana, I bought newspapers from several different cities to check the election results. None gave statewide totals, reporting instead at the parish level. My vote count in Alexandria (Rapides parish) was disappointing in view of the time spent here and coverage received in the Daily Town Talk. I received 1.35% of the votes here compared with 2% statewide. I checked out of the Motel 6 and was on my way home.

There was one minor sightseeing objective before leaving the state. Having run out of film to shoot the Bonnie and Clyde monument, I wanted to return to that location with film in my camera. I drove north on I-49 as far as Natchitoches and then took Louisiana highway 1 to Armistead near Coushatta where I took U.S. highway 371 through Ringgold to the highway 516 turnoff. That led straight to the place where the monument was located. Passing through a small town and rustic landscape, I felt the peacefulness of nature.

The monument to human violence was still there with the same graffiti. Andrew Griffin called just as I was pulling up to the site. I took some photos and then continued my journey. A few miles up the road, I joined I-20 heading west and, at Minden, exited to U.S. highway 371. There was a truck stop where I bought gas and local newspapers including Shreveport’s. Then it was a quick journey to Springhill and to the Arkansas border. My last stop in Louisiana was at a Wal-Mart to replenish film and buy some snacks.

My plan was to take a different route through Arkansas than the one (U.S. highway 71) previously taken along the western side of the state. Hope, Arkansas, was a name I recognized. Why not drive through the home town of the last Democrat to be elected President? U.S. highway 371 from Springhill did not go to Hope. The most direct route, I thought, was to take several small roads (Arkansas 53 and 313) to the town of Lewisville, where I could join Arkansas highway 29 leading to Hope. The problem was that, as I approached Lewisville, a line of cars and trucks was backed up on highway 29 waiting to cross a bridge. A man with a stop sign in his hands was standing at the entrance to the bridge.

I waited for twenty minutes before realizing that this was not a normal construction delay. I left my car and walked up to the traffic controller to inquire how much longer we would have to wait. He could not say but suggested I take an alternative route north. Glancing at the map of Arkansas, I thought I might take a small road behind me which seemed to head north. I drove several miles down this barely paved road until I reached a small town. There were no highway signs at all. Realizing I was lost, I decided to cut my losses by returning on the same road to the bridge at Lewisville. The line of traffic was just starting to move when I arrived.

While I was driving back to Lewisville, my cell phone rang. The call was from Seth Fox at the Bossier City newspaper. He congratulated me on the election results. I had polled about 1,000 more votes than either Kucinich or LaRouche, he thought. Was I planning any more political campaigns? I told him that I had no such plans but might do something to promote my trade proposals. Perhaps I would lobby people in Washington. Still, this call made me think.

Previously, I was feeling disappointed with the election results. I had predicted 5% to 10% of the vote and had fallen well short of that goal. But Fox was telling me that the glass was half full. What sort of politician was I in thinking it was half empty? I needed to do some further thinking about how to interpret the election. Was my claim to fame that I had beaten Kucinich and LaRouche in Louisiana? I had no animosity or “killer instinct” toward either of them. They were, in fact, candidates who were much like me - little guys, persons serious about our issues. My only advantage in this race was that I had spent five weeks campaigning the state.

Hope, Arkansas, did not leave much of an impression. There no signs at the city limits saying that this was the home town of President Clinton. I did see a community college. Of more practical significance, interstate 30 ran by Hope, two miles north of town. I could enjoy fast, smooth driving on this highway in a northeastern direction for more than a hundred miles and, then, at Little Rock, find roads which, though winding, would head due north. This way, I would be driving in a northerly direction through the middle of both states, Arkansas and Missouri, on my way back to Minnesota by way of Iowa, of course. It would offer new scenery, new places where I could say I’d been.

The drive around the west side of Little Rock was somewhat stressful because of road construction and afternoon rush-hour traffic. I then took interstate 40 to Conway, where I joined U.S. highway 65 which ran to Des Moines, Iowa. The road from Conway started to become difficult thirty miles farther north. I was again passing through terrain associated with the Ozark mountains. There were long, steep climbs followed by descents. I was driving through this rugged, beautiful country when the sun set. One after another, the towns on my map were passed until I reached Harrison, Arkansas, the area’s largest city. At a gas station there, the sales attendant told me that, heading north into Missouri, I could expect another twenty miles of such driving but then the roads would become straight and fast.

I crossed over into Missouri and shortly afterwards passed by Branson. This was the famous Branson, Missouri, which country western fans like to visit. It had a definite bucolic appeal, so accurately captured in tourist brochures. But it was late at night and I was driving home to Minnesota. Should I stay at a motel in the area? No, I would continue my practice of driving through the night and catnapping wherever a suitable opportunity presented itself. For me, that opportunity came near the small town of Buffalo, another eighty miles up the road. I turned right off U.S. highway 65, drove several hundred yards to a gravel road, turned right again, parked the car and put the seat back. There I would not be disturbed.

These cat naps are never totally restful. After several hours I woke up and continued my journey north through farm country. Although it was a two-lane highway, the driving was not too difficult. Traffic was light. I passed through Sedalia and then Marshall, after crossing under interstate 70, the east-west highway between St. Louis and Kansas City. After that, U.S. highway 65 went north in crooked directions through towns such as Chillicothe and Trenton into an area adjoining Iowa. There fatigue overcame me again. I catnapped in a rest area just south of the state line. Missouri was now largely behind me.

As I woke up, it was morning. I entered southern Iowa and thought of stopping at a small-town cafe for a cup of coffee. One such opportunity presented itself in Lineville, near the border, but afterwards I never saw another such cafe. I settled for gas-station coffee. In the town of Lucas, there was a museum honoring John L. Lewis, a labor titan during the New Deal era. The association with this small town seemed incongruous, but Lucas was his birth place.

I began to think that in small towns like this, as well as in Iowa’s larger cities, the outcome of the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination had effectively been decided. John Kerry won here and he never lost his lead. A bare two months ago, one might have seen Kerry, or Gephardt, or Howard Dean visiting towns such as these in the winter time. Farther north a short distance was Des Moines, the center of that universe. Political attention had now shifted elsewhere, but this was the place where Kerry won the nomination. And I was a bit player returning home from a battle which was much too late.

At Des Moines, I thought I might continue on U.S. highway 65 toward Mason City but somehow took a turn that brought me to I-35, a few miles west. I could see the golden dome of the Iowa state capitol in the distance. Now I was on familiar ground. I had made this trip numerous times - all in connection with a political venture which was now ending. As I continued my northward journey on I-35, my speedometer swung wildly between the settings. Often it stayed on zero even with the car traveling at a high rate of speed. I noticed that, in this case, the odometer did not function. Therefore, not all the miles traveled on this expedition to Louisiana would be counted.

I had begun the trip with 132,608 miles showing on the odometer and ended it in Minneapolis with 141,331 miles showing. Ignoring the effect of the failed odometer, I had traveled 8,724 miles on the trip. Roughly 1,100 miles each way were required for travel between Minneapolis and the northern Louisiana border. The rest pertained to campaign travel inside the state during the five-week period.

I arrived back in Minneapolis around 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 11th. My cat greeted me as it were someone who had returned from the dead. There were trays of mail held by the post office, many recorded telephone messages, and over 500 email messages waiting to be read. The most important of these was the February 3rd message from Keith O’Brien offering to follow me around on the campaign trail and write a story. Now this was all water over the dam.

I did manage to buy a copy of Wednesday’s Star Tribune. There on page three was a box score giving the results of the four presidential primaries held on March 9th - in Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas. My name was listed among the Louisiana contenders. In round numbers, I had two percent of the vote, compared with one percent each for LaRouche and Kucinich. For a newspaper which had failed to print the results of my 2002 Senate race, this was outstanding coverage. Several friends saw it.

My wife returned from China in the evening of Sunday, March 14th. My step-daughter and I greeted her at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I wore several strands of Mardi Gras beads around my neck and surprised my wife upon our meeting at the airport by wearing the feathered mask that was purchased for her. Now the family was back together again. I had to do income taxes and many other things.

Kerry went on to continuing success in the Democratic primaries. The race was now between him and President Bush. Kucinich, LaRouche, and Sharpton slogged on. One night, I watched Dennis Kucinich on the David Letterman Show. He was giving the “top ten reasons” how he could get elected President. One was that, if 300 other people died, the succession might fall to a certain congressman from Ohio. The top way, though, was to find good sex scandals involving the other candidates. Kucinich, the issues man, was learning to adjust to the politics of entertainment. I empathized with him and wished him well.

The National Democratic Committee held a “unity dinner” to honor John Kerry on March 24th. Kucinich was pointedly not invited. Party officials were miffed that he had refused to drop out after his chances of winning the nomination became hopeless. Evidently, these were the same DNC creeps who had knocked me off the South Carolina ballot. Their mission seemed to be to shoot the stragglers. I wrote a letter of protest to Kerry, copying Kucinich and Terence McAuliffe. A Kerry volunteer answered the letter thanking me for my support.

For whatever it’s worth, I do support John Kerry’s election to the Presidency in 2004. He is a seasoned political leader with knowledge on a wide range of issues and a moderate temperament. What the Bush campaign derisively claims is a tendency to “flip flop” on the issues is, to my mind, a personal strength. Kerry makes up his mind on a case-by-case basis. While his stump speech may not be as inspiring as what Howard Dean could deliver, we are looking for an intelligent, balanced, and sober decision maker as President. John Kerry fits the bill.

I do not fault Kerry for not being as forthright on certain issues as I might have been or for being slavishly faithful to the Democrats’ special interests, if that’s what it takes to win the nomination and election. This year, it’s important to remove George W. Bush from office - not that I have anything against the President personally but that it was a terrible thing to invade someone else’s country and it’s also quite negligent to preside over the destruction of our country’s industrial base and let the federal budget run amok. Let Kerry take over the White House then. My role in the Louisiana primary was to lay a foundation for more pervasive change in the future.

I had a bright idea. Considering that President Bush had raised over $200 million for his reelection campaign and much of this would be spent on anti-Kerry television commercials, I thought that individuals supporting Kerry might take to the streets and sing patriotic songs. The theme of this event would be: “Sing past the Bush attack ads.” I would myself be willing to sing and to organize others to gather at particular places and times. Ed Eubanks and I drove to St. Paul to present this suggestion to Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) state party officials in charge of volunteer activities. We wanted to rent (or preferably be given) a table at the DFL state convention, where Ed would be a delegate, for the purpose of recruiting other volunteers. We were told that no tables were available. The idea was passed on to the Kerry state campaign where it has sat.

So, as a former presidential candidate, I have quickly sunk back into the deep layers of personal obscurity in which my campaign began on June 20, 2003. Before it becomes a fading memory, I have tried to relive the experience in writing this book.

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