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Chapter Seven: The Kick Off on June 20, 2003

 

In America, almost anyone can run for President. The Constitution requires only that one be a U.S. citizen who is at least thirty-five years and was born within the territory encompassed by United States.

The immediate cause of my running was the fact that the chairmen or chairwomen of Democratic state party organizations would be meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 20th and 21st, 2004. This event would be a showcase for the Presidential contenders. If I were a candidate, I could not afford to miss this opportunity; it forced me to make a quick decision. First I needed to make a ten-day trip to the East Coast to visit my father and brother, both in nursing facilities. On June 5, 2003, I sent a letter to Mike Erlandson, chair of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, announcing that I would be a candidate for President seeking the Democratic nomination. I sent him a copy of my Independence Party book. Copies of this letter and the book also went to three newspaper reporters in the Twin Cities.

In the letter, I brashly declared that “I am running because I believe that the Democratic Party has lost its way and none of the other candidates for President are addressing the core issues.” My letter also stated: “While seeking the Democratic nomination, I remain a member of the Independence Party of Minnesota. If I win the nomination or an important primary, I will immediately switch affiliation to the Democrats. I wish to affiliate with a political party whose orientation roughly matches that of the Democrats in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time. I would urge the Democrats to focus upon the security and well being of average working people and to abandon the politics of gender and race.” I asked to be included on the list of candidates scheduled to appear before the Association of State Democratic Chairs.

After returning from my trip on June 18th, I printed fliers announcing my candidacy and had a picketing sign made by a commercial printer. On one side, the sign said: “Meet Bill McGaughey, another candidate for President seeking the Democratic nomination.” The other side presented a reformulation of the Senate campaign’s themes: “McGaughey’s politics of TWO ENDS. (1) An end to Class Warfare, especially by the Rich. (2) An end to the Politics of Gender and Race.” Having secured this prop, I faxed a press release to twenty-five newspapers or radio and television stations in the Twin Cities which said that I would be announcing my candidacy for President of the United States outside the Radisson Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul, site of the Democratic party officials’ meeting, at 10:45 a.m. The first candidate presentation, Howard Dean’s, would begin at 11:00 a.m.

I drove to St. Paul from my home on Friday morning, June 20th, parked in a ramp near the public library, and walked several blocks to the hotel. The other candidates’ supporters were out in force. Howard Dean had the largest and most vocal group of supporters. The Kucinich and Kerry campaigns were also well represented. However, no newspaper reporters or television crews seemed to be looking for me. I glanced at my watch - it was 10:45 a.m. I was then completely surrounded by boisterous Dean supporters standing near the hotel entrance. No one paid the slightest attention to me. To tell the truth, I made no campaign announcement. I simply stood there with my sign, taking in the scene. It was an inauspicious beginning to what I had hoped would be a rip-roaring campaign.

As the day progressed, I overcame my initial embarrassment and began to talk with others gathered on the sidewalk. In addition to supporting the candidates, many who carried signs were promoting a cause such as gay rights or peace in Iraq. I gave them my literature and they gave me theirs. A young black man named Craig who said he was with the District of Columbia Democrats was interested in my view of racial politics. I gave him a copy of my book with its provocative cover. Hurrying to the airport to catch a flight home, he graciously accepted the copy.

The candidate appearances themselves, held in the hotel’s downstairs ballroom, were closed to the public. However, a Dean coordinator told his supporters that she thought the event organizers would let some of them in to hear the presentations. I followed this crowd down the escalator and into the ballroom. Evidently, the plan was for each of the leading candidates to make 45-minute presentations to committee members. After placing my picket sign against the wall, I stood with others in the back of the hall listening to Howard Dean. He seemed to be doing well. The ballroom was packed, with a few empty chairs in the back.

As I said, Dean was the first presenter. Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton also attended the event in person. Two of the presidential candidates, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, who were being kept in Washington to cast a vote on the prescription-drug-benefit bill, made presentations by satellite. Rep. Dick Gephardt also appeared before the group by satellite. The other three - Bob Graham, Carol Mosely Braun, and John Edwards - did not participate. Interesting as this was, however, my purpose was to have meaningful interaction with the other candidates, the press, or other significant individuals. My best bet for such an encounter was not in the ballroom but outside the hotel entrance. Howard Dean, a smirk on his face, had already greeted his supporters there. I was hoping that others, especially Al Sharpton, would come outside to greet the crowds. I went back outside the hotel.

During one of the dull moments spent standing on the sidewalk, I saw Walter Mondale walk past me, engaged in conversation with another man. Soon afterwards, a vivacious, blonde-haired woman with a compact video camera approached me. “Isn’t that Walter Mondale?,” she asked. Indeed it was, I said. This woman evidently wanted to talk with Mondale. She went off in pursuit but he evidently escaped. Then she came back to me, showing interest in me and my sign.

She said her name was Alexandra Pelosi. She was a documentary maker for HBO who was traveling around the country covering the 2004 presidential race from a human-interest standpoint. Yes, I admitted, I was a candidate for President of the United States. This was the first day of my campaign. What were my campaign plans, she asked? Did I intend to enter any of the primaries? In truth, I did not yet have any plans. However, I answered that I thought I would go to Iowa. “Oh, can I go with you?,” she asked. Though startled, I had the presence of mind to say “yes”.

I later learned that this was the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. What’s more, she had made a name for herself when she had followed George W. Bush around on the 2000 campaign trail and had produced a critically acclaimed documentary. I did not know anything about that then. Ms. Pelosi soon demonstrated her talent for staging scenes. A cinematic agent provocateur, she recruited nearby persons to engage in discussions with me, the presidential candidate, who presumably wanted to get votes. The hotter the controversy, the better. I had to prove my campaign skills on the spot.

The first recruit was a shirtless, blond-haired young man who ranted about abortion. The Democrats were the pro-abortion party, he said; and, since I was running as a Democrat, I obviously favored that position. I weakly protested that abortion was not my issue. It did not matter. The Democrats were for abortion, and one of their motives might be to kill off as many black babies as possible for population-control purposes. In a loud voice, he demanded a response from me. As Pelosi diligently recorded the scene, I tried to state my own “moderate” position on abortion. None of my answers satisfied. Eventually, this man grew tired of browbeating me and went away.

Pelosi next brought over two middle-aged black women who were officials with a state party organization. I let them know that I was an Independence Party member who was seeking the Democratic nomination. “You can’t do that,” one of the women said. I was confident that I could, having consulted with the FEC on this matter. So I boldly responded: “If I can’t run for President while remaining an Independence Party member, I might as well drop out now. My campaign is over.” From behind the camera, Alexandra Pelosi teased: “This is your first day of campaigning and already you’re through.”

We also talked about race. One of the women challenged me to give a single example of white males being harmed or victimized by the system. After a moment’s reflection, I told her of my own experience. I was an inner-city landlord in a racially mixed neighborhood with predominately black tenants. A number of years ago, my neighbors persuaded the city to condemn my building because of alleged criminal activity there. The drug dealers and gang members were predominantly black. Instead of focusing on the criminals, the politically liberal neighborhood group went after me. I thought race might have something to do with that. It’s OK to make crime an issue, I said, if you put a white face on it, but not to focus on the black criminals. My answer did not please this woman. She went away in a huff, refusing to talk with me any more.

Pelosi commented that I had struck out with these first two sets of voters; I would have to be more persuasive than that. I next went up to a mild-looking young white man with glasses and explained the situation to him. I went into a sales pitch covering the basic points of my campaign. Pelosi asked him if he would consider voting for me. He would. Wow, I now had a one-out-of-three batting average.

There was a short recess when I was allowed to relax. Pelosi then reappeared with a graying, kindly-looking man whom she introduced as Art Torres. This was State Senator Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party. Evidently taking me for a white racist, he began by observing that Hispanic people, too, were white. I responded that I was not against anyone, black or white. We talked about my candidacy. I had come from the Independence Party, I said, but would be willing to switch to the Democrats if I won the nomination. “That’s mighty generous of you,” Torres remarked.

Despite this exchange, we had a pleasant conversation. I liked Torres. He was open and direct, and he gave me his business card. I, in turn, gave him a copy of my paperback book, The Independence Party, which he asked me to autograph. My inscription, in part, read “toward a better Democratic Party”. I also gave a copy to Alexandra Pelosi, who at first was reluctant to accept it, as journalists sometimes are. Pelosi did not have a business card on her but she wrote down her phone number and email address at HBO in my notebook. Then she gave me another address at “journeyswithgeorge” which she thought might work better.

After this exhilarating experience, I went back inside the hotel for a cup of coffee. Some of Gephardt’s campaign staff manned a hospitality room off the main lobby. I introduced myself as a candidate. They politely responded that they were already committed. I ran into several old friends and acquaintances - the grandson of my old landlady from thirty years ago and an old-guard member of the DFL state central committee from north Minneapolis where I live now. Dennis Kucinich passed by, pursued by reporters.

I went back downstairs to try to get back into the ballroom. This time, party staff would not let me enter. I hung around the exhibit tables in the hall. Then, carrying my sign, I ran into the Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar whom I knew from activities related to the landlord group. Except for criminals, of course, she always makes people feel comfortable. There were a few others whom I also recognized. At length, I went back outside hoping to run into Al Sharpton or another candidate. Dennis Kucinich was meeting with his supporters. He gave a fiery stump speech and then shook people’s hands, including mine. I thought he was squinting to read my sign as he gave his speech. His supporters included many of the Wellstone type of Democrat. Sharpton never appeared.

It had been a satisfying day but I was growing weary. I returned to the parking lot to grab another copy of my book. However, the crowd was thinning out by then. I spotted WCCO-TV State Capitol reporter Pat Kessler near a truck with a satellite dish. In my fatigue, I greeted him as “Skip Loescher”, a Twin Cities television reporter of twenty years ago. He said his name was “Kessler”. I knew that. In fact, we had spoken during my Senate campaign. Pat Kessler was jotting something down in a note pad. Even so, he took time to talk with me and accept a copy of the “Independence Party” book, which I autographed. Now the crowd was really thinning out. I walked back to the parking lot and drove home.

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