• U.S.

Going Out with a Flourish

7 minute read
Jacob V. Lamar Jr.

Two troupers conclude what may be their final races

For Ronald Reagan, the genial former actor who came to personify populist conservative appeal, it was the final week of his final campaign. As he coasted through a five-day, 15-city concluding tour, he touted the themes and exuded the comforting confidence that have served him so well on the political stage. For Walter Mondale, the protege of Hubert Humphrey who has nourished the flame of Democratic liberalism, it was also likely to be, for those who believe the polls, his last week stumping for the nation’s highest office. He, too, culminated his campaign by calling forth the core ideals of his career, displaying the tenacity and “Fighting Fritz” passion he seems to reserve for life-or-death political situations.

The President, though, was reluctant to wax nostalgic. Paying a last visit to his campaign headquarters on Capitol Hill, he joked about his work habits with the staffers and volunteers. “I know that some of you were up all night,” he said. “And I can only tell you that if I could manage it, I would schedule a Cabinet meeting so that we could all go over and take a nap together.” Some 2,000 White House and campaign workers gathered on the South Lawn to bid him farewell. To honor the occasion, most of Reagan’s top aides accompanied him on the trip and posed for a photograph on the steps of Air Force One. Asked how he felt about his last tour, Reagan said, “You could have mixed emotions about that. There’s one that says enough’s enough.”

Reagan’s swing seemed aimed at the audacious goal of a 50-state sweep. Confident that his natural base in the West and the South was politically safe, he headed for Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Illinois. “We are going into the Democratic heartland to solidify a great victory,” said Political Director Edward Rollins. Reagan devoted considerable energy in the final week to providing coattails for such needy House and Senate candidates as Roger Jepsen in Iowa and Charles Percy in Illinois. The President told a crowd in Media, Pa., “If a gypsy looked into a crystal ball and said, ‘You can win this election with a lot of votes or win by just a few votes but get a sympathetic Congress,’ I would choose the latter.” With a cock of the head and flashing his folksy grin, Reagan added, “Help spread the word, get out the vote. And if you can, well, win those races for the Gipper.”

Reagan also used the trip for a valedictory summation of his tried-and-true themes. He reminded audiences that “during these past four years, not one inch of territory has been lost to Communist aggression.” He ticked off his accomplishments in cutting taxes and lowering inflation and interest rates. He claimed credit for creating 6 million new jobs. And he invariably concluded with an ode to youth and a paean to the American spirit: “We were born to a special place between these two great oceans with a unique mission to carry freedom’s torch to a tired and disillusioned world. We have always been a light of hope, where all things are believed to be possible.”

Mondale, meanwhile, visited 21 cities and made 22 speeches during the final whirlwind week. He was forced to expend valuable time fortifying core support in such Democratic strongholds as Chicago, New York City and, yes, even his home state of Minnesota. Like Reagan, he reached back to the battle-tested traditions of his own political experience, reveling most notably in the torchlight parade through downtown Chicago that has been an election-year custom for Democrats since 1948. Flanked by the leaders of the city’s two feuding factions, Mayor Harold Washington and Alderman Edward Vrdolyak, Mondale basked in the protective glow of oldtime ward politics. Mondale’s enthusiasm was matched by that of the 50,000 onlookers.

During a jampacked rally following the parade, Mondale recalled Harry Truman’s march in a similar parade 36 years ago and how the paradigm of presidential underdogs had found sustenance in the crowds, if not in the polls. “There’s something stirring,” Mondale said. “The people are listening . . . They’re concerned. They’re involved. They’re ready to vote, and we’re going to win this election.” Brandishing a facsimile of the November 1948 Chicago Daily Tribune that carried the premature headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN, he mocked that paper’s equivocating endorsement of Reagan this year by quoting the editorial’s long list of qualms about the President.* Mondale and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, joined some of New York’s most prominent Democratic politicians for another traditional party rally—held every election year since the turn of the century—in Manhattan’s garment district. The crowd of 100,000 stretched for five blocks. It was the largest, most enthusiastic rally that the neighborhood had witnessed since John Kennedy’s in 1960.

In the final week, Ferraro concentrated more on women. In a Los Angeles speech she said, “My candidacy is not just for me. It’s for everyone. It’s not just a symbol. It’s a breakthrough. It’s not just a statement. It’s a bond between women all over America.” Ferraro also appeared on Phil Donahue’s morning talk show, a program regularly viewed by a predominantly female audience of some 7 million. The interview became tense when Donahue pressed the candidate on whether she had cried when confronted with newspaper reports of her family’s financial and legal troubles. “Does it make any difference to anybody here whether I cried or not?”Ferraro asked. “There are certain things, Phil, that are personal.”

Mondale aides say their candidate has been buoyed by the exuberance of his crowds and curiously liberated by his underdog status. And he has certainly been showing more personal emotion.

During a speech at the University of Minnesota at Duluth last week, he started to tell one of his most affecting campaign stories. “My father died, and my mother raised the last three boys, and I was one of them,” he said. “And she put every dime she had into her kids . . .” A group of Reagan supporters in the balcony moaned “Awwww” in mock sympathy.

In the past, Mondale has reacted good-naturedly to hecklers. This time, however, he shot back, “Shut up, will ya.” The audience roared its approval.

Despite his big lead, Reagan could not resist tossing some zingers at Mondale that particularly pleased his partisan crowds. A sample: “If my opponent’s campaign were a Broadway show, it would be Promises, Promises.” But Mondale had his own parting shots.

“When you open the door and hear them shout, ‘Tricks or treats,’ ” he said at a rally on Halloween, “remember they are describing the Republican tax plan—treats for the very wealthy and the big corporations, and tricks for everyone else.” Even if it had not been the most edifying of campaigns, the two candidates seemed determined to go out in Style.

—By Jacob V. Lamar Jr. Reported by Sam Allis with Mondale and Douglas Brew with the President

* Among the other papers endorsing Reagan: the New York Daily News, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Sun-Times. Among those endorsing Mondale: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Detroit Free Press.

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