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Nation: The Right of Every Citizen

4 minute read

One press conference in a slightly troubled campaign

The lounge at the Town Tennis Club on Manhattan’s East Side was carefully arranged for the press conference. A long table held a portable public address system. The candidate’s campaign brochures were stacked neatly. It was just one of thousands of such meetings between reporters and presidential candidates this year and next. But this one last week was different. The only reporter present was TIME National Political Correspondent John Stacks. His report:

The empty chairs do not faze Larry Pressler, 37, the smiling Senator from Humboldt, S. Dak. He launches into his pitch as if the room were overflowing. He is running for the Republican presidential nomination, he says, because the other candidates have not been offering specific solutions to the nation’s problems. One of his own solutions is the increased use of alcohol as a gasoline supplement.

Pressler has brought along an inventor named Alexander Hamilton and his homemade “gasohol” still, an odd assemblage of galvanized buckets and tubs and funnels. Hamilton (no kin to the patriot) is a pleasant man with wire-rimmed glasses, mutton-chop whiskers, and the dirty fingernails of a chronic tinkerer. As Pressler watches proudly, Hamilton pours fermented corn mash into his contraption, plugs in an electric cord, and begins adjusting valves. A tiny stream of alcohol squirts into a plastic bucket. The odor of the alcohol mingles in the room with the disquieting scent of dementia.

Pressler, of course, has absolutely no chance of becoming the next President of the U.S. Yet he at least dresses for the part. He is wearing a nicely cut black pin stripe suit and a black tie with small white polka dots. “It’s a very big thing to run for the presidency,” says Pressler. “It’s a very big country, with all the different states. You need a whole staff just to figure out the rules in the different prima-ries.” Pressler has a campaign staff of one.

“We need to elect a President in the prime of life who has broad national and international experience,” says the candidate. “I have had eight years of experience in agriculture, in keeping profit-and-loss records on livestock.” He is also well educated: he is a Rhodes scholar and holds a master’s degree in publicadministration and a law degree from Harvard.

Every two years Pressler has been running for public office and winning. Now he is going for the big brass ring of American politics. Says fellow South Dakotan George McGovern: “People will think there is something in the water out there that makes us all want to run for President all the time.”

When Pressler was beginning his candidacy, a reporter asked South Dakota Republican Chairman Dan Parish what he thought. Said Parish: “I can sum it up in three words—ha, ha, ha.” But the junior Senator from South Dakota does not think his candidacy is a joke. “When I ran for Congress in 1974,1 started with one volunteer. But I ran an idealistic campaign and stayed with the issues. Some day, and maybe it won’t be me, someone will run an idealistic presidential campaign based on the issues.”

The quixotic quest of Larry Pressler has not yet gripped the nation. He has raised $35,000 compared, say, with John Connally’s approximately $8 million. This leaves him well short of the total of $100,000 from 20 states he will need to get federal matching funds. “I do not seem to send the blood of my countrymen rushing to their heads nor their hands rushing toward their checkbooks,” he confesses.

Some of his colleagues in the Senate are laughing at Pressler and his vaulting ambition. True, the Senate is a breeding ground for presidential candidates, and ambitious men are not unknown in its halls. Many look around at their colleagues and decide, in the words of one incumbent: “If he’s good enough to run for President, then, by God, so am I.” But Larry Pressler has not even had time to take a good look around. He has yet to finish his freshman year.

As the press conference continued, Pressler rattled on about why he should be elected. Outside the large windows of the tennis club, players looked in curiously from time to time to see what the lack of fuss was all about. Finally it was over. Larry Pressler set off to conquer other worlds, and Alexander Hamilton pulled the plug on his gasohol still.

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