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Chapter Three

Presidential politics

 

Michael Bloomberg

In January, 2008, the Independence Party of Minnesota was focused on the possibility that Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, might run for President as an independent candidate. The state party held a convention in Bloomington to consider a proposal to join “the Independence Party of America”, an umbrella group that would encompass independent third parties in several states. Specifically, it would support the Bloomberg candidacy for President.

The advantage was that, besides being mayor of the nation’s largest city and enjoying a good reputation, Michael Bloomberg had a personal net worth in excess of $10 billion. He would spend perhaps $2 billion of this fortune on a presidential campaign if he ran. Bloomberg’s election as President would give a major boost to third parties around the country. If voters were fed up with bipartisan bickering and negative ads, he would have a good chance of winning.

Frank MacKay, chair of the New York Independence Party, was Bloomberg’s point man in organizing support for a presidential race. Party members were invited to meet MacKay at a poolside reception at the Sheraton hotel in Bloomington. I knew the New York party as a result of having traveled to New York City in January 2003 to attend a gathering of third-party activists sponsored by a group called “Committee for a Unified Independence Party”. Lenora Fulani, a former presidential candidate, headed this organization. The New York Independence Party, a mainstay in CUIP, had given Michael Bloomberg critical support in his first election as mayor of New York City.

At the gathering in Bloomington, however, I learned from MacKay that there had been a falling out between Fulani and her group and the Independence Party of New York, due to anti-Semitic remarks by her quoted in the newspaper. The party itself, however, had hundreds of thousands of members. It was solid and strong.

I was impressed. I thought the Bloomberg candidacy offered Independence parties in Minnesota and elsewhere a real opportunity to gain stature and win elections. We were one of the nation’s premiere third parties by virtue of Jesse Ventura’s election as Governor of Minnesota in 1998, but had since failed to elect candidates to any major office. I supported the proposal for our state party to affiliate with the Independence Party of America. I also gave a copy of my book, “On the Ballot in Louisiana” to Frank MacKay, who was interested in gaining ballot access for Bloomberg in that state.

The party did vote to affiliate with the proposed national organization at the special convention held on January 26, 2008. A month later, however, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would not be entering the race for President. I promptly announced on my website that I was supporting Barack Obama.

Mitt Romney

There was another presidential race that interested me. In late 2007 and early 2008, Mitt Romney was a leading Republican contender for President. My father had been George Romney’s (Mitt’s father) publicity man at American Motors in the 1950s. (My father was vice president in charge of communications; George Romney was CEO.) Back in the 1960s, I was excited by the possibility that George Romney, my father’s boss and friend, might be elected President. I had joined the Minnesota Young Republicans for the purpose of supporting a Romney candidacy. He lost out to Richard Nixon.

Mitt was seven years younger than I was. I knew his older brother, Scott, fairly well and also knew the parents. Now, as former Governor of Massachusetts, head of the Salt Lake City Olympics Committee, and a successful venture capitalist, Mitt Romney had become a front-running candidate for the Republican presidential nomination on the strength of his political savvy, millionaire status, and telegenic image.

I did not care for Mitt’s right-wing views on the Iraq war and some other matters but rationalized them as something that any Republican candidate these days had to embrace to stand any chance of being nominated. If the younger Romney was being accused of “flip-flopping”, so much the better. He was, I thought, essentially a pragmatist who might be effective as President, if elected.

Mitt Romney’s religious faith (Mormonism) undermined his campaign among evangelical voters. Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister, beat Romney in the Iowa caucuses. A second blow to the Romney candidacy came a week later when Sen. John McCain beat him in the New Hampshire primary. Romney had been leading in both states. I watched in anger as commentators on CNN derided him and his campaign. I decided to do something about this. The Michigan primary was January 15th.

On the spur of the moment, I decided that I would help the Romney campaign by driving to media outlets in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan - Mitt Romney would not have time to visit those remote locations - trying to drum up favorable publicity. I would remind Michigan voters of his illustrious father’s career. As a visual prop, I had a clay model of the “gas-guzzling dinosaur” that George Romney once had exhibited in commercials for the Disneyland television show as a plug for fuel-efficient Ramblers. I also had a celluloid of Mickey Mouse signed by Walt Disney himself and also my father’s ID badge at the Automotive Council for War Production signed by its executive director, George Romney, in 1943. All this hearkened back to Michigan’s golden age.

It would be a day-long project. In the late afternoon of Thursday, January 10, I drove from Minneapolis across northern Wisconsin in light snow to the Michigan town of Menominee on Lake Michigan. I spent the night at the Econo Lodge on the Bay motel. This would give me a head start to visit three newspapers on Friday: the Eagle Herald in neighboring Marinette, Wisconsin; the Daily Press in Escanaba, Michigan; and the Upper Peninsula’s largest newspaper, the Daily Miner, in Marquette. A woman at the desk of the motel had a relative working at the Eagle Herald. She arranged for an appointment with a reporter for the next morning: Off to a good start.

Actually, my project was unsuccessful. I was interviewed by a reporter at the Marinette (and Menominee) newspaper. A story may or may not have appeared. At the Daily Press in Escanaba, I was told that there had to be a local connection to warrant a story. Otherwise, it was considered free advertising for the Romney campaign. Beth Jones at the Escanaba television station, WLUC-TV, seemed interested, especially when I showed her the Walt Disney celluloid. However, this visit was also inconclusive; she was busy working on another assignment.

Finally, in the mid afternoon, I paid a visit to the Daily Miner in Marquette. Dave, the editor, took a few minutes to talk with me. Again, he cited a policy against news articles that lacked a clear local connection. He thought I should talk with people at the Marquette television station, WLUC-TV, channel 6. This editor did tell me, however, that there were few Republicans in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Most UP voters were Democrats favoring John Edwards. Mitt Romney had planned to fly to Marquette last weekend for a campaign stop but had cancelled, realizing its futility. Dave said he agreed with that decision.

My final stop of the day, at the offices of WLUC-TV, again failed to gain publicity for the Romney campaign. However, a young man who worked in the station’s advertising department, Rick Rhoades, came out to talk with me. He was an active supporter of the Mitt Romney for President campaign. Rhoades gave me some Romney stickers and literature, urging me to distribute these in Minnesota. I ended the day of campaigning by putting a Romney bumper sticker on my car and driving back to Minneapolis. I arrived home shortly before midnight.

As luck would have it, Mitt Romney did win the Michigan Republican primary. Family ties plus Mitt’s unwillingness to give up on Michigan’s industrial jobs (unlike “straight-talking John McCain) probably gained him the victory. This event kept Mitt in the race through “Super Tuesday”, the primaries and caucuses (including Minnesota’s) held on February 5, 2008.

On February 1, 2008, the Romney organization in Minnesota sponsored a campaign stop at the Frauenshuh company headquarters on 78th Street in Bloomington. I stood in a packed crowd for an hour waiting for the candidate to arrive. After Mitt Romney’s speech, I managed briefly to shake hands with the candidate; then I went out into the corridor for a double dip. This time, while shaking hands, I told Mitt Romney, knowing that he had gone to the same high school as I, that I had graduated from Cranbrook School in 1958. Mitt said: “You have me beat; I graduated in 1965.” I told Mitt Romney that I had known Scott. “Yes, he’s a great guy”, said Mitt, in a hurry to leave the building, perhaps not realizing that I was talking about his brother.

To my pleasant surprise, Mitt Romney gained the most votes in the Minnesota caucuses on the following Tuesday, But John McCain won the crucial primary in Florida, cinching the nomination. Mitt Romney promptly dropped out of the presidential race. He remained a leading prospect for McCain’s vice presidential running mate until about a week before the Republican national convention in St . Paul, when John McCain picked Sarah Palin instead. By that time, I was engaged in a campaign of my own.

Barack Obama

When Bloomberg decided not to run for President and Mitt Romney dropped out of the race, the best choice seemed to me to be Barack Obama. I was not a Democrat but, in fact, someone who had been critical of Civil Rights-type politics. Obama’s call to bridge the racial divide was appealing. He seemed to be a thoughtful, even-tempered man, someone suited for the Oval Office. When I read that Julie Nixon Eisenhower had contributed money to Obama, I saw that his campaign had broad appeal. Many of us, including Julie Eisenhower apparently, were fed up with what the Bush administration and the Republicans had done to our country in the past eight years.

Truly it was time for a change; and Obama did represent change on several levels. So I was now backing Barack Obama for President, and said so on my campaign website. But I did not have much contact with the Obama campaign despite the fact that support for him was strong in Minnesota. Mayor Rybak was one of his earliest supporters.

On June 29, 2007, Barack Obama held his first Minnesota event on Glenwood Avenue at the International Market Square. It was a fundraising event. I did not attend although I did view the crowds lining up for at least a block. That was nothing compared with the crowds in St. Paul a year later after Obama had cinched the Democratic nomination. For some reason, the nominee decided to accept the nomination, informally of course, at the soon-to-be site of the Republican National Convention, which was the Xcel Center on Kellogg and West Seventh Avenues in St. Paul.

Sensing the history of it all, I made an effort to attend. I drove to St. Paul and parked my car in the neighborhood behind the Cathedral. When I approached the Xcel Center, a St. Paul officer said that the line to get into the Center started over by the St. Paul farmer’s market on Jackson Street, perhaps fifteen blocks away. It was around 6:00 p.m. I followed the line for about three blocks until I realized the effort was pointless. The Xcel center would not hold all the people who wanted in. So I drove home and watched the event on television. Obama began speaking after 9:00 p.m. and finished a half hour later. I was now on his email list having registered for a free ticket.

I never saw Barack Obama in person. The same is true of John McCain and of the two vice presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. After Bloomberg and Mitt Romney, the closest I came to a politician of national stature was to a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Norm Coleman or Al Franken, at one of the candidate debates, and, of course, to celebrities in my own Independence Party.

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