The following is an excerpt from Rick Ridder’s book "Looking for Votes in All the Wrong Places: Tales and Rules from the Campaign Trail."
There is a moment in a campaign when it is time to acknowledge that all is lost. It is not necessarily when poll numbers show your candidate in single digits with three weeks to go, or when the heat has been cut off in the headquarters for lack of payment, or when paychecks have trickled to the nonexistent level, or when the staff is cooking lunch on camp stoves in the office and selling the cooked food to the other staffers to make rent money. (My wife still wants her wedding gifts back from this use of our pots and pans.)
No. It is when you observe more campaign staff resumes than campaign schedules or press releases in the printer tray.
All of these conditions existed at the Washington-based national headquarters of Gary Hart for President in early February of 1984. With the Iowa caucuses two weeks away and the New Hampshire primary in less than three weeks, it appeared to all of us, and to the national pundit community, that the Gary Hart for President campaign would cease to exist in less than a month. Although the campaign had been airing TV ads in Iowa and New Hampshire for two weeks, the buy was anemic and there was some question as to whether there would be any money to sustain it for the next three weeks.
Late one afternoon, walking by the only printer we had, I heard Ginny Terzano, the receptionist/office manager/assistant press secretary, scream down the hallway from the front desk, “Ridder, telephone call. It’s the Secret Service.”
I got that dreaded sinking feeling in my stomach that this was not going to be a good call. The campaign had been assigned a Secret Service detail a month earlier, and this was certain to be another installment in the weekly ritual of the Secret Service informing the national field director (me) of the Iowa field staff ’s recalcitrance in accommodating the Service’s protocols.
I, of course, had heard from the Iowa field staff of the unreasonable demands of the Secret Service, and was told directly by one of the field staff, “Tell them to cool it. I can’t do my job with them around.”
I did no such thing, but did suggest in the weekly colloquies with the Secret Service that changing the behavior and organizing techniques of our team would be an “ongoing effort, and I hoped the Service could be more flexible in letting my staff do their job.”
My request was always met with a very cordial, “No. We do this to protect the candidate. That’s our job.”
I picked up the phone, and before I could say “Hello,” the agent began, “Mr. Ridder. This is Agent Johnson. I need to see you and the campaign manager, Pudge Henkel, right away. I have already spoken to Doug Wilson, the campaign’s liaison with the Service, about all of us meeting as soon as possible.”
“Sure. Sure. When?”
“Tomorrow, nine a.m. at your offices.”
“Okay, I will tell the campaign manager, and we will expect you.”
“Thank you. Goodbye.” He hung up.
So, now they were coming in person to discuss the Iowa staff. No more Mr. Somewhat-Nice-Guy on the phone. This would certainly be a full-blown dressing down in front of the campaign manager.
I walked down the hall to check with Doug Wilson. “Did you get the call from the Secret Service?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “Did you get one? He said he was going to call you.”
“Yeah. Did he tell you what this was about?”
“No. Generally when they call it’s about the schedule or timetables or about the Iowa field staff. This time he wanted to make sure that you, me, and Pudge would be at the meeting.”
“That’s all he said to me, too. I’ll go tell Pudge.”
The next morning, Doug and I entered Pudge’s office at eight fifty-five to prepare for our nine o’clock meeting. We were both wearing ski parkas as the office temperature hovered in the mid-fifties due to the campaign’s failure to pay the office heat bill. Pudge wore a tweed jacket but benefited from a heating pad draped over the back of his desk chair. He was always leaning back in the chair.
Promptly at nine, Agent Johnson entered Pudge’s office. Before any of the Hart team could say a word, Agent Johnson stared directly at Pudge Henkel and began, “This campaign is about to take off, and you’re not ready for it.”
Silence as three jaws dropped to street level, two floors below. We could acknowledge the second half of the statement, but the first? Finally, I stammered, “And . . . just what makes you think that?”
Johnson looked at me. “People are coming up to Hart and want to touch him.”
“What?” Wilson asked.
“Look, “ Johnson said, “ I was in Iowa with Senator Hart three weeks ago, in mid-January, and there was nothing going on. But I was back there for the last four days. People are coming up to him. They want to touch him.” He stopped briefly to take a breath. “I have to keep people from pushing him and trying to get a piece of him. This is always the first indication that something significant is happening for your candidate.”
“Now, let me talk about your Iowa team,” he said, shifting to look directly at me. “First, they are very nice kids. Very smart and working extremely hard. In fact, you are highly understaffed for what is coming. But they have got to listen and do what we tell them.”
Pudge leaning forward off the heating pad. “What do you mean, specifically?”
“Okay, here’s an example. On Saturday night, there was that Carole King concert in Des Moines, at a theater. Good crowd. We told the campaign staff that Hart could walk down the aisle to the stage but Hart could not, not, go back the same way through the crowd. After the concert, the field staff took him right back down into the crowd. Exactly what we told them not to do.”
“Well I’m sure they wanted him to meet other possible supporters who he’d missed before.” I said.
“Yes, and a couple of weeks ago, it was of far less concern. But not now. Here is the problem with what they did. An assassin will often not pull the trigger the first time he or she gets near a candidate; he’ll have second thoughts. But when you give him another chance by going back, then you’re in trouble. Just talk to Governor Wallace about this. He will tell you that if he had followed our directions and not gone back into the crowd, he would be walking today.”
Johnson stood up. “I’ve got to go,” he said, “but I think you really need to prepare for something that you have not been expecting. You need to get your staff ready now.”
We stood up and said good bye and thank you. Then Pudge turned to me. “Rick, you better call the Iowa and New Hampshire staffs and tell them to be a bit more cooperative with the Secret Service. Doug, perhaps we should get some Advance staff ready—for free, of course.”
Then we stood there in silence, looking at the floor, shaking our heads. Three weeks later Gary Hart won the New Hampshire primary.
Looking for Votes in All the Wrong Places: Tales and Rules from the Campaign Trail, distributed by Radius Book Group, is available here.