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HATS IN THE RING -
Deeply concerned over the conservative drift of the Republican Party, especially with the possibility of former California Governor Ronald Reagan becoming the Party's presidential nominee in 1980, Congressman John Anderson of Illinois decided to seek the Republican nomination. Though one of the longest shots in the race, Anderson found a niche with many moderate and liberal Republicans and Independents with his straight talking, fiscally responsible, socially liberal line of thinking.
Anderson was a rare breed of Republican in that he fully supported a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion. He even spoke in favor of supporting federal funding for poor women who needed the procedure. He also was for the Equal Rights Amendment and gay rights. On fiscal issues, he stated that he would not allow any tax cut before the federal budget was balanced. Anderson also called for a ban on the production of nuclear power plants until a permanent nuclear waste disposal system was in place.
Anderson continued to set himself apart in debates in Iowa and New Hampshire because of his support for President Jimmy Carter's grain embargo against the Soviet Union because of that nation's invasion of Afghanistan. All of the other Republican candidates opposed the embargo, playing to the farmers in Iowa who were losing money because of the action. Anderson's debate performance and general straight-forward demeanor caused a groundswell of support for him as he attempted to be the liberal alternative to Reagan. An example of this reaction was cartoonist Garry Trudeau's devotion of two weeks of his comic strip, Doonesbury, to the campaign and its shoestring budget.
Because of the low-budget nature of the Anderson effort, the campaign essentially skipped the Iowa caucus and focused their efforts in New Hampshire. Anderson felt he would have a better chanced in New Hampshire, where unlike Iowa, it had a reputation for supporting maverick candidates who refused to tow the party. In November 1979, Anderson was placing fifth with three percent in the Granite State behind Reagan, Bush, Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, and former Texas Governor John Connally. In Iowa, former Texas Congressman and Ambassador to the United Nations George Bush had been building an outstanding organization and surprised almost everyone by beating Reagan in the state. With his win, Bush received what he called "Big Mo," by carrying most of the liberals and moderates in the party.
Reagan came back to win the New Hampshire primary based on his conservative anti-tax platform, but also because of a shrewd political move he made at the Nashua Telegraph debate three days before the primary. Reagan and Bush were the only candidates invited to the debate, much to the dismay of Anderson and the other candidates. The forum was surmised to be an illegal contribution to Bush and Reagan, because this donation was by a company, not an individual and the benefits to the two candidates would be more than the $1,000 limit established b y the Federal Election Commission. Reagan, wanting to debate Bush one-on-one, picked up the tab for the event.
However, at the last minute, Reagan invited the outcast candidates to appear and participate in the forum. Bush, wanting a clear shot at Reagan without the others, vigorously protested and as a result, looked childish and petty. Beagan won the February 26th New Hampshire primary with 49.6 percent of the vote to Bush's 22.7 percent. Anderson placed in fourth with 9.8 behind Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, who had 12.1 percent. As a result of Bush's loss, Anderson was given an opening to emerge as the new alternative to Reagan.
Anderson's message sold well in the following primaries which were held in the Northeast. In his best showings of the campaign, Anderson placed a close second behind Bush and Reagan in the Massachusetts and Vermont primaries, respectively on March 4th. In Massachusetts, he lost to Bush by only .3 percent, a margin of less than of 1,400 votes. In Vermont, Anderson was further behind, but only by a little over one percent, 30.1 percent of Reagan and 29 percent for Anderson. After these Northeastern contests, there were four consecutive primaries in the South, all of which Anderson virtually bypassed, because he was fairly confident the South would not support his candidacy. Nevertheless, he received almost 10 percent in Florida and Georgia in their March 11th primaries. Anderson was biding his time and money for the Illinois primary where he hoped his home state appeal would carry him to victory there. With this win under his belt, he would be deemed a contender for the nomination.
In Illinois, Anderson was leading in the polls and became a target for the other candidates. He was hit by Bush and Illinois Representative Phil Crane for not being conservative enough to lead the Republicans. Reagan, who was civil to Anderson, was coming off his wins in the South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Georgia primaries. Reagan now rode Big Mo to victory over Anderson in Illinois by over 11 percentage points, 48.4 percent to 36.7 percent.
After Illinois, the Anderson primary campaign was all but over. However, he continued campaigning in a few other states, usually placing third, which culminated in a final stand in the April 1st Wisconsin primary. He hoped that the state's progressive reputation would be able to carry him to victory. Again, Anderson found himself in third place, receiving 27.4 percent to Reagan's 40.2 and Bush's 30.4 percent. Though the Anderson campaign for the Republican nomination was nearly finished, the independent Anderson campaign was now taking root.
Buoyed by polling that he was attracting a great number of liberals and Independents, Anderson began to seriously contemplate running as an alternative to the failed presidency of Jimmy Carter and the conservative hard line of Ronald Reagan. After considering the move for about three weeks, John Anderson, on April 24, 1980 dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination and began his effort to win the White House as an Independent.
Polls in April and May indicated that Anderson had between 20 to 30 percent support for the electorate in the general election. The press discussed the possibility of the election going to the House of Representatives, because neither Carter, Reagan, or Anderson would have a majority of 535 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency. Money was now coming into the campaign like never before, even though the amounts were still relatively small. These heady days of late April and May would be the high point of the Anderson campaign.
Carter had been weakened by the poor economy and the months-long ordeal of the Iranian hostage crisis. On the campaign trail, the magic from the 1976 campaign seemed to be a faint memory. People saw him as an ineffective leader and many acknowledged they desired a change in the White House.
In Summer of 1980, the Anderson campaign spent most of its efforts getting on the ballot in all 50 states. This was a feat that few thought they could accomplish, given the difficult and individualized state ballot access laws. Despite these hurdles, they fulfilled their goal. Unfortunately, while the efforts for ballot placement were in high gear, fund-raising and general support-building fell to the wayside. Later in the summer, the Democrats and Republicans held their conventions and Americans saw themselves fitting into one of the two options. Without a convention to cast a spotlight on his campaign, Anderson had trouble receiving television air time. He could not afford to air campaign commercials in any consistent fashion. He was able to report on the Republican National Convention in July as a correspondent for NBC's Today show. He did so from Europe, as he traveled overseas and met with world leaders in an attempt to show foreign policy acumen.
In August, Anderson chose former Democratic Governor Patrick Lucey of Wisconsin as his running mate to begin the general election season. Lucey had strong ties to labor and was acknowledged to be a skilled campaigner. A Republican choosing a Democrat as his running mat increased credibility to Anderson's effort. Despite the minor boost the Lucey announcement gave to Anderson's campaign, the media brownout continued into the fall. In addition to the greater media coverage, both party nominees had more money than Anderson, each receiving over $29 million from the government to run their campaigns. Anderson raised a little over $17 million for the general election. These factors resulted in the view that a vote for Anderson was a wasted vote and was beginning to take hold with the electorate.
The League of Women Voters proposed three debates including Anderson, with the caveat that he had to be at 15 percent or better in the polls at the time invitations for each individual debate were issued. Before the first debate on September 21st, Anderson was garnering exactly 15 percent in the polls, compared to 39 percent each for Carter and Reagan. Carter refused to take part in any debate that included Anderson because he did not consider him to be a viable candidate. The statement was part of a strategy to paint Anderson as a minor factor in the campaign. Many viewed Carter's refusal to participate as small. Even without Carter, Anderson saw the debate as a great opportunity to increase his visibility before a national audience. At the event, which took plate in Baltimore, Anderson more than held his own with Reagan. After the debate, both Reagan and Anderson moved up slightly in the polls.
Anderson did not receive an invitation in Early October to participate in the second debate later that month. According to most polls, Anderson had fallen slightly and was at about 12 percent, although at least one poll placed him at 16 percent. Anderson claimed that the League bowed to pressure from Carter and said that the 15 percent criteria was too subjective. Carter accepted the debate invitation, while Reagan declined, refusing to take part in any debate where Anderson was not involved. However, Reagan capitulated and he and Carter met in Cleveland on October 28th. At the time of the debate, Carter was leading Reagan 42 percent to 41 percent, while 12 percent of the voters supported Anderson.
Members of the Carter Administration pressured Anderson to withdraw from the campaign, because if the vote was close between Reagan and Carter, Anderson would likely take more votes from Carter than Reagan. To the charge that Anderson was a spoiler, he replied, "What's to spoil?" It appeared that there was no love lost between Carter and Anderson. Carter assailed Anderson's viability and credibility, arguing he never won a primary in the Republican nomination fight. Anderson stated that Carter "has demonstrated a total inability to chart a clear common-sense policy." He also joked that while Carter's 1976 campaign slogan was "Why Not The Best," it had changed in 1980 to "Well, he isn't the worst." Anderson also criticized Reagan's budgetary and military policies and his refusal to look at more progressive ideas, claiming Reagan was "largely wedded to the past."
During his campaign, Anderson could be inspiring and dour, as well as enthusiastic and cranky. Supporters felt that his booming voice and white hair gave him and his ideas a divine aura. Anderson's 300-page platform promised, "an untraditional program that responds to new challenges in new ways." It contained his positions he had advocated during the primaries as well as some new ones. In order to increase employment, he proposed exempting newly hired workers and employers from Social Security takes. In addition, he called for a 50 cent per gallon tax on gasoline to encourage energy conservation. The proceeds of the tax would go to pay for lost revenue caused by the decrease in Social Security taxes. It was Anderson's hope that these bold positions would make him a genuine and viable third choice. However, many thought he had not spent enough time defining the "Anderson difference," instead of criticizing Carter's effectiveness and Reagan's conservatism.
Despite his diminishing support and talk that he should bow out of the race, Anderson persevered and continued his effort, determined to campaign until election day. The campaign continued to be short on funds, though. To remedy the situation, Anderson thought of a novel concept. He asked his supporters to loan the campaign money, which it would pay back after receiving retroactive federal matching funds at the end of the election. The catch was that Anderson would receive the federal money only if he received five percent or more of the vote. With the help of the loans, the campaign saved enough money to put on an advertising blitz in the final week of the campaign. The commercials insisted that a vote for Anderson was not wasted and was one that Americans should be proud to make. However, Anderson continued to lose voters who thought he could not win. At the same time, Reagan was emerging as the front-runner. When a last-minute deal to free the Iranian hostages fell through, Carter's fate was sealed. Reagan won with 50.7 percent of the vote with Carter receiving 41 percent. Anderson received 5,720,060 votes, which translated into 6.6 percent of the national vote total.
Congressman Anderson is currently teaching law at the Nova Southeastern Law School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He also serves as President of the Center for Voting and Democracy. In the earlier part of this year, he considered running for the 2000 Reform Party nomination.
The discussion with Congressman Anderson begins with his discussion of his 1978 House race, which he won by a narrow margin.
JA: I went to many a fund-raising dinner back in the old days when I was running every two years for the House. I had ten terms and the primary was mainly going through the motions until the last time in '78. Then I had a very tough race with a very right-wing preacher. [Don Lyon]. He was on television every Sunday and rattled his tambourine and played a guitar and I don't know what else he did.
BK: How close was that race?
JA: It was close really, for a fella who was running for his tenth and what proved to be his final term. He got over 40 percent of the vote. I won with 53 percent, which put me in the marginal category. So he got 47 percent obviously. It was too close for comfort. I think, as I look back on it, I wouldn't say that it was a principal reason why I decided to run for president. But it was a factor in the sense that it confirmed in my mind, which I had felt ever since Barry Goldwater's run really, in 1964, which was when I was running for my third term in Congress, that the Republican Party was slowly migrating away from the center towards a very rightist position on the issues that had come to mean the most to me, which was civil rights.
[T]hen in that '78 primary and then with the nomination of Ronald Reagan, when that became clear, a certainty really, after the end of March, 1980 with the Wisconsin primary, which had really held the last of my hopes that I could recover after losing in Illinois, my home state. Although I did respectively well, in retrospect, for a fella who had no real base outside of Northwestern Illinois. Even though I had been in Congress for many years, I certainly was not a statewide figure really. But then, when I lost the Wisconsin primary, it was obvious that Reagan was the party's choice and he had made it apparent even that early in his campaign that he was really going to carry the party so far to the right that I felt torn loose from its historic moorings, going back to Lincoln.
BK: Because you had that serious challenge in 1978, were you concerned that there might be another one in 1980 for your seat?
JA: Not really. I think I was confident enough having survived that challenge. He spent a lot of money. He spent really a little bit more than I did. He spent about $300,000, which although is less than half of what the average expenditure was I think in a congressional campaign in '96, it's still a huge amount of money back in 1978 dollars. I raised something like $275,000. But having survived that heavy challenge, I can honestly say that I did not run for president like a man clutching for a life preserver to maintain his political career.
I think I had developed enough self-confidence in my campaigning
ability and in my network of contacts in the seven counties that made up the
district that I thought I could do it again. But by that time, my vision had
enlarged to the point where I saw a role for myself on a larger scale and a
larger stage and I was not prepared to simply go quietly into the night and
give up the seat in Congress without trying to put a stamp on the party and to
speak up for what I felt was a much more moderate point of view. Many people
back then, in retrospect, when the election was over, said that Anderson was
moving left while the country was moving right. That was the fundamental error
in judgement that I made. But I knew that I could see which way the winds were
blowing. In a sense, it was to sail against the wind, to try and leave a mark
as somebody who was trying to warn the party that they were being carried too
far to the right that I got into the fray. It's why when it was all over that I
didn't feel a great sense of loss. Ten terms in Congress, after all, was a
substantial contribution I felt to public life. I have been involved in enough
important legislation and really two of the most dramatic decades of the 20th
Century, it seemed to me. Between the civil rights struggles of the '60s, the
Vietnam War, the assassinations and all of that, I felt that I had sailed
through some pretty stormy waters in the country's history and participated in
some fairly significant historical events.
BK: You stated that you needed a larger stage. There was an open Senate seat in Illinois that year, Senator [Adlai] Stevenson III was leaving, that wasn't large enough?
JA: I was either going to run for the House again or I was going to run for the presidency. That was in any event the larger channel. Because as you will recall, four years earlier [in 1976] when Jerry Ford was nominated at the convention, in I think it was Kansas City, that was a very close convention vote. I think that Reagan came within 80 votes [in his primary challenge]. It was only because of [State Republican Chairman] Clark Reed of Mississippi, a rather unlikely protagonist for moderation, coming from that state, but Clark Reed held the Mississippi delegation for Ford in the convention and without that he might have stumbled and lost the nomination to Reagan. So I had plenty of time, I think, between '76 and when I actually announced on the first of June in 1979 that I would run for the Republican nomination. I'd had plenty of time to think over what was happening within the Republican Party.
BK: Was one of your fears while you were sitting there in the convention of '76 that Reagan was definitely going to be back in '80 and you were afraid of what was going to happen then?
JA: There wasn't any question about it. The shock troops laid down their weapons to try to elect Ford over Carter but they were ready to spring into action when he unfurled the banner again, when Reagan raised the standard. So there were nine candidates, as you will recall, originally, and then they all dropped one by one. The last major candidate was Bush, who in a sense made the most telling comment of all when he talked about Reagan's 'voodoo economics,' which had been the great gist of my campaign. To talk about a one-third cut in taxes and huge increases in defense spending, because he [Reagan] said we were in such an emaciated defense posture that we had to do that. He was going to do something with smoke and mirrors, because it couldn't be done.
BK: Now was part of the plan as you were going into it, thinking that Reagan, Dole, Connally, Crane, Bush were going to split the conservative vote and that you with liberal and moderate support could get the nomination?
JA: Yes, I felt that I was really singular in that regard. That I could attract the people who felt as I did that the party should not be sold off, lock, stock and barrel to the conservatives in the party. But that was obviously a miscalculation. They were a vanished breed. They talk about how Northeast Republicans feel just totally alienated today from the rest of the party. That thesis is that the Republican Party has become totally the captive of the Southern wing and has become a Southern party. To that extent they are going to lose in their ability to retain a majority in the presidential race, because that leaves out the Northeast altogether and certainly the Far West, California and Washington and Oregon and other parts of the country as well.
BK: So much attention is focused on Iowa, these days anyway. You chose not to put forth that big of an effort in Iowa.
JA: Except for the [Des Moines Register] debate.
BK: Even though Illinois is Iowa's neighbor directly to the east? What was the thinking behind that?
JA: Well, the pragmatic judgment was that it was caucus state, as you well know. I don't know how many hundreds or thousands of caucuses there were, but they meet in very small rooms all over the state on a snowy night in January or early February. Our still nascent effort back in January of 1980 certainly didn't have the manpower or the womenpower to build a network of support that could go out to speak at each one of these caucuses and hope to win. Reagan had such a built-in advantage and Bush and others like that, that we should husband our resources for a primary state. That's why we did try very hard to do something in New Hampshire. My wife even moved up there and lived in a back woods cab in with somebody that took her in for a while to try and encourage the fact that we were there, present on the ground. I had less time than that to spend in New Hampshire, but I did spend quite a bit of time and did develop some support. A state senator from Concord, Susan McClain, was kind of the head of our troops there and we just came agonizingly close to the 10 percent that would have given us at least one delegate or some delegates. I think we ended up with 9.9 percent and actually filed a lawsuit, in vain it turned out, to say that we came so close that we had really met presumptively, the threshold that you had to reach. So we did make an effort there, but that was an open primary and it was so widely covered. That was the other thing, that New Hampshire was so covered by the national press that it was the real barometer, the bellwether state. I remember meeting Walter Cronkite, for example, standing on the edge of a crowd that I was addressing in some little dinky town up there during the campaign. The national press, 'the big feet,' as they called themselves, columnists were all there, opining on who was going to be the ultimate winner of the Republican nomination. So that was why. It was just a pragmatic judgment that we would do poorly [in Iowa].
BK: Soon after that [debate] you became sort of a trendy candidate. Garry Trudeau dedicated two weeks of his Doonesbury comic strip to your campaign around that point. Was that kind of a setting off point for you, after the debate, were you got some recognition?
JA: Well, that was also a debate that gave me an opportunity to show my candor, which I did when I answered [columnist] Mary McGroy's question at that debate. She was one of the panelists. She asked as I reviewed all of 20 years at that time in the Congress, was there one decision that I would remake or redo? I said it certainly was to vote for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964. That I felt that really launched us. The Turner and the Maddox, those two gunboats, that were involved in that dust up in the Gulf of Tonkin. It was unfortunate that we didn't look down the road. In the House, there were practically no votes in opposition, and I had said that I had, in retrospect, felt that was a fatal error judgment on my part, that I should have early on seen the folly of Vietnam.
Garry Trudeau, that was one of those unexpected little benefits that
come to a candidate that you don't really anticipate. It probably did account
for the excitement that a lot of young people had for my campaign, because that
was the bulwark of our ground forces, college age youth who volunteered for the
campaign. I think they were obviously impressed that Doonesbury took a liking
BK: In New Hampshire, you talked about your solid core of liberal to moderate Republicans, the 'Concord Caucus' as they were called. Bush won Iowa and he was, I guess, maybe second to you, the most moderate of the candidates. Did you feel that he took some of the support from you? If he hadn't won Iowa, would you probably have crossed that ten percent threshold?
JA: Well, yeah. After all, we used to kind of make fun of George because he couldn't quite make up his mind what his home state was. He was actually born in Milford in Massachusetts, so he claimed that as his home state. Then he really grew up in Connecticut, and that was his home state. Then he went to Texas and that was his home state. But sure, I think he did drain some of the support from us that he wasn't really entitled to because he went on then to accept the nomination for vice president from Reagan and embrace his economic philosophy that he himself had called voodoo economics. I thought he was sailing under false colors really to pretend to be a fellow moderate when he was really desperately scrambling all the time to win the same base of support in the Republican Party that furnished Reagan with his victory.
BK: The major event in New Hampshire was the Nashua Telegraph debate. Reagan challenged George Bush one-on-one to a debate, thinking that if he got Bush one-on-one he could finish him off, and Bush was obviously looking for more recognition. So they went ahead and agreed to that. It was sponsored by the Nashua Telegraph. The FEC ruled that that would be an in-kind contribution to the campaign if the Telegraph supported it. So Governor Reagan paid for the whole thing. He contacted you and three of the other candidates?
JA: Actually it was [Reagan's Campaign Manager] John Sears who contacted me. I don't think he contacted me directly. I think he contacted David Garth or somebody in my campaign and said, ‘You know we all ought to troop up there and protest this effort. After all, there are all these other candidates in the race for the nomination, not just two.' And we did.
BK: Was the effort to sort of zing Bush or to put him in a corner?
JA: yeah, I think, at that point. Yeah, at that time he looked like the fella that had to be knocked down and it was a New England primary and he was claiming New England to be his home base after all. Yeah, I think it was pretty much the desire to do that.
BK: I wasn't sure. I was sure that was Governor Reagan's desire, but I didn't know how much a part of it with the others.
JA: I think we sensed that this would be a good opportunity, the other candidates. Crane was still in at that time and Howard Baker was still in. He didn't limp away until after Massachusetts, the end of February or early March. When was the Massachusetts primary? Early March, I think. I did very well in Massachusetts, came within about 1000 votes of winning. I did well in Vermont, which was another New England state.
BK: I was looking at the actual vote totals and they were just agonizingly close.
JA: Well, I remember that after those two New England primaries, there was a story in the right hand column of the New York Times front page that said, ‘Anderson was emerging because of the strength that he had shown in these two primaries, that he was emerging as a realistic candidate and as one who ought to be looked at as a genuine contender for the nomination.' That's why Illinois, which followed so shortly thereafter on the 20th of March was such a make or break. Then of course, I lost by about 11 percentage points. I had about 36 percent and Reagan got about 47 percent, as I recall it of the primary.
BK: But also important in the interim after Massachusetts and Vermont were on March 4th, were Florida and Georgia the next week. You hadn't put up any effort at all in the South and you got, I believe, 10 percent of the vote in both of those, 56,000 votes in Florida and about 60,000 in Georgia.
JA: Yeah, that was really amazing. We had just assumed, and I after all having been in the House for 20 years had seen the strength of the conservative movement in that part of the country. Of course it was Democratic, the Southern Democrats, and then the Republicans began to emerge in those Southern states, but they were all such true blue, dyed in the wool conservatives. I made no bones about the fact that I was running not as the proto-typical conservative candidate but as something new. I wanted to see something new in the Republican Party that the conservatives didn't offer. So that was why we just really took a pass entirely on the South.
BK: So obviously you had that movement in the South, you had Massachusetts and Vermont and in a couple of weeks you were going into Illinois. Where were you at this point? Was it really a boost and you thought that maybe you could do it?
JA: Well, yeah, there were polls, you can go back and check the press for that period, there were polls in late March and April and they showed me with about 25 to 30 percent.
BK: For the primary or for the Independent race?
JA: Well, this was as an Independent. That had to have some prior foundation and some of that feeling certainly existed in my mind. My theory was that it was essentially a three person race between Reagan, Bush and myself and that Reagan and Bush might well knock each other out somewhere along the way, just as Bush had kind of provided a little upset in Iowa and [Massachusetts]. Then I could begin to come up very strongly in the minds of the universe of voters who made up the primary and convention voters of the Republican Party as the logical alternative to either one of those tarnished two.
BK: You had gotten second place in a couple of states and maybe third in another. But you had to have a win somewhere under your belt. So I assume your thinking was that's what Illinois could provide.
JA: Right. That was my home state where I had made my political reputation and based my career and that was really make or break, although I continued on through the Wisconsin primary two weeks later. But that was really the final knock-out blow. But after Illinois, I certainly began to wonder that my fate was destined to be in the race for the Republican nomination.
BK: You had some meetings with your staff who stated that maybe you shouldn't be focusing on Republicans because of all the support you were getting from Independents and from some liberals. Did that plant the seed in your head that maybe you could go out and do this as an Independent?
JA: Right. That's really about the way that the flow went.
BK: When was the final decision made to go for it?
JA: Well, after the Wisconsin primary I was quoted as saying that I had 'gone to sit under a eucalyptus tree in California.' I went out, and [television producer] Norman Lear, who was a very fervent supporter of mine in the primaries had a friend [with] a very nice little chateau down right there on the shores of the Pacific in Malibu. So I went out there and stayed and Norman and a few others would wander by from time to time to offer encouragement and advice. It was really after that little sojourn in California, after the Wisconsin primary, that I knew that if I was going to run as an Independent there were only about six months remaining between then and the November election, six or eight months. I couldn't sit and dither forever. Either I had to decide to make a dignified withdrawal because I clearly wasn't going to win the Republican nomination or fun as an Independent. Increasingly I felt so strongly that I was right and that those in the Republican Party who were campaigning on big military budgets and tax cuts and a balanced budget, that this was fudging so outrageously, the real issues that were going to confront the country in the future. I came to closure on the notion that I would run as an Independent. Then going back to what I said a minute ago about the polls, there were people that in a three-man race, and I remember specifically a Harris poll that matched up Carter, Reagan and Anderson and I came up with between 25 to 30 percent of the vote. Then there was another poll that showed in the eight states with the largest number of electoral votes, almost a majority of the Electoral College, I was ahead of Carter. So increasingly in my mind there arose the possibility that if I ran as an Independent and as the campaign wore on that Carter would slip because he was becoming increasingly unpopular. If you remember in April, they had the failed rescue operation of the hostages when the helicopters crashed into each other in the Iranian desert...I was pretty well committed to the idea that his was a failed presidency. Therefore as the campaign worn on, he would falter even more than he had up to that point and then I could then become a real contender and that the country would say as between the ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan and John Anderson that there's a world of difference here and a lot of Democrats would desert Carter and come of my Independent campaign. So I could pull votes from both Reagan and Carter.
As I said, there was that Harris poll that was very comforting to me in late March that this was not you know, a lot of people as time went on said, 'Don't you feel like Don Quixote? You're out there simply tilting at windmills without a chance of winning.' When I started I thought it was a realistic proposition. After the two national conventions, we started to sink in the polls because the polls began to reflect the country in a more traditional fashion which was shifting its attention to the two national party campaigns and their respective candidates.
We had a meeting in July. At that time the attorney for the campaign
was Mitchell Ragoven, who had handled a number of the lawsuits. We had been
involved in nine or eleven, I forget the exact number, of federal court cases
to get on the ballot. There was a meeting in his downtown offices right here in
Washington, D.C. 'Shall we go on? Shall we incur the risk of debt, in a
campaign that you can't possibly win?' There was serious consideration at that
time, given to the thought that maybe by July after the conventions that the
war was lost. But it was my decision alone to make and I said, 'No. I am not
going to disillusion.' I had been out across the country now from June '79 so
this was about thirteen months later. In that year, I had met with thousands of
people and thousands of people had made small contributions. The average
contribution to the campaign when they factored it all out was about 23 bucks.
'These people have invested something in me and even more important than the
money, their faith and their time and their trust and I'm going to carry
through with this and I will not quit until the last vote has been counted on
BK: You maintained that position until the end, because there were increasing calls for you by the press and by President Carter. I don't think President Carter ever really said it, but Vice President Mondale did, that you should get out because you're going to take votes away from Carter. So your resolve did not change. Did you become even more resolved?
JA: I thought Carter was going to lose anyway. I was so convinced, as I said a moment ago that his was a failed presidency, and that my staying in the race wasn't going to alter that fact one way or the other, so yes. I became a very good friend of Mondale after the election and even campaigned for him in 1984 and headed Independents for Mondale and Ferraro. So he bore me no ill will I'm sure, but he did make that very fervent declaration that I could only harm their cause.
BK: You mentioned money a minute ago. Let's talk about the finances of the campaign. Carter and Reagan each received $29 million from the American taxpayers and you did not get anything until you were able to get some retroactive funds from the federal Election Commission.
JA: Right on the basis of getting better than five percent of the vote. I then paid off David Garth, the lawyers and a few other people.
BK: You did so some commercials after the Republican Convention, as well a final four-day blitz right before the election. What was the general gist of those spots?
JA: I think pretty much that you do have a real choice. You do have a real choice in 1980. I wish I could recall more accurately and maybe could think of it if I put my mind to it. I do remember going up to New York and filming some stuff. I think it was pretty much the idea that you don't waste a vote when you vote for an Independent. I was trying to shore up support and to answer the argument that was one you just mentioned about how, ‘Well, you're wasting a vote, I mean this guy can't win anyway.' ‘That a vote was an act of conscience and vote your conscience and if you believe that Anderson is the kind of forward-looking candidate who really is going to launch us into this new decade of the '80s, with a new kind of leadership, a new politics that isn't wedded to the past.' Pretty much that kind of general theme, that it wasn't a wasted vote.
BK: I think late in the campaign, maybe in October, you initiated a program to get loans from people. You would send direct mail out and would ask for a loan to the campaign that you would pay back when you received your federal matching funds. How successful was that?
JA: That was quite successful. Because we got the five percent of the vote, we could pay the loans.
BK: If we could go back to the spring again, you spoke about the polls where you were placing between 20 to 25 percent. Did you feel feared by the party structure that either A) you could win this thing or B) throw it into the House of Representatives?
JA: Yeah well, that was used against me of course. That I would split the vote in such an untidy fashion that no one would have a majority in the Electoral College and that that would be the result. Somehow, I just never really accepted that idea, that the vote would end up in the House of Representatives. I felt that the voters would make up their mind either for me in sufficient force, that I would win and win a majority convincingly in the Electoral College, or I would not be a factor. But I well remember that argument being used against me and that fear being threatened. But I guess I just never accepted the plausibility of that notion.
BK: In the summer, you tried to build up some more foreign policy credentials and you made a trip to Europe.
JA: I was doing that during the Republican convention as I recall, because otherwise we would have just been totally blacked out. I t was really mu campaign staff, David Garth, and people at that level in the campaign that came up with this idea that a foreign tour would enable me to meet with foreign dignitaries, which I did. I met Margaret Thatcher and I met the President of France. I met Prime Minister Begin in Israel, and I sat one whole evening with Helmut Schmidt in the Chancellory of the German government. So I really had access. Anwar Sadat. I went down to Alexandria to meet him. So I made some wonderful contacts and tried to buff up my credentials as a foreign policy person. Stemming from my very brief, but nevertheless, very exciting tour of duty in the foreign service myself way back between '52 and '55. So I enjoyed foreign policy as an issue and talked about it in the campaign. But it was also the practical idea that you'd get a little TV coverage.
BK: If we could talk about the choice of Governor Lucey for a second. You did pick former Democratic Governor of Wisconsin, Patrick Lucey as your running mate. How did you arrive at that choice? You knew that he was sympathetic to the cause?
JA: Well, it was very much a collegial decision. It was not my decision alone. I know we spent a lot of time talking about it at the staff level. We felt that because of his foreign policy credentials, as a former ambassador under Carter to Mexico and because he had been a two term and very successful and very popular governor- -I liked him as a person and I felt that he would be a good campaigner. He interacted well with people and liked campaigning, was very lively and good. I had thrown out some names, everybody from Shirley Chisholm, put a black woman on the ticket, I thought that would really rock a few people back on their heels. We talked about Kevin White, who was then the Mayor of Boston and a Democrat. Thought it was very important that I get a Democrat, a Democrat of some prominence to show that this was a national unity ticket. That was kind of our slogan, the National Unity Party, even though it wasn't really a party campaign, but the National campaign. To bring unity in the country, you ought to have a former Republican now an Independent working with a Democratic helpmate, in the form of his vice presidential candidate. So that came together fairly quickly and it was, as I say, a collegial decision based on very pragmatic considerations that he would be an assistance to the ticket.
BK: You mentioned it was called the National Unity Party, but it really wasn't a party. Was there logistical concerns that made you run as an Independent and not set up the party.
JA: Yeah, yeah, there wasn't time. Many of the states' laws then required a rather intricate process of having petitions filed and then a convention and electing district delegates from districts around the state to nominate party officials, state central committee and so on. There just wasn't time to establish the fairly elaborate infrastructure of a party organization.
BK: In September, you were able to participate in a debate with Governor Reagan in Baltimore. You had gone through the summer and your poll numbers were moving down a bit. Was this something that you were looking to get a jump start from?
JA: Well, there was a nationwide television audience. The only network that didn't carry it was ABC, which showed the film Midnight Cowboy, much to my irritation. But you had NBC and CBS and PBS carrying that debate. It was this desperate grasp to get some national attention, not to just be blacked out of the picture because the Republicans and the excitement that they had ginned up in their convention by nominating Reagan formally. Then the coming Democratic convention. I didn't want the country to get the impression that somehow I had disappeared in between. I was trying very hard and hoped that out of that debate people would draw the contrast that should have been drawn between myself and Reagan, that he was the far right conservative and I was the moderate fellow with progressive ideas that were not so radical as to be out of the political ballpark, but yet, that I was on the cutting edge of the future and that Reagan was a fella that was really looking to the past. So, very simply the reason why we were to happy and why we were correspondingly devastated when the League of Women Voters finally caved in because they wanted to have one more debate and the only way they could get Carter into the ring with Reagan was by excluding me.
BK: They did so on the basis that you weren't receiving 15 percent in the polls. There were some polls around that time that had you above 15 percent and some said that you were below. They kind of pulled the run out from under you.
JA: I was very bitter. I was very bitter. And never quite forgave, well I did forgive them. They are a good organization and stand for most of the things that I've been campaigning for since the 1980 election. But at the time, it was a very sore point with me. I thought that they were manipulating, frankly, the figures to make them come out with the right answer, which was to have a debate they could only have if I was out and Reagan and Carter were in.
BK: How much overt pressure was put on the League by the President's people? Did you feel that they were pushing the League?
JA: Yes, yes, yes. Very definitely. I told Ruth Heinerfeld, who was at that time, President of the League, exactly that I felt that they were being manipulated and we protested as vigorously as we could and had written communications with the League and with her and anybody else that we could think of. So we strove mightily, if unsuccessfully, not to get shut out of that debate.
BK: Well, Governor Reagan was tacitly in support of your participation. Do you feel that it was genuine, that he really wanted you to be there? Or was it just kind of to be a different view than Carter's?
JA: Well, it was to his advantage to portray Carter as the spoiler and he played the good guy. It was a good cop-bad cop and he was the good cop. So, I think his endorsement of my participation was in part, political, but on the other hand, I don't think he had any great fear. He was so sure that he had the solid backing of the Republican and I was just kind of a little fly in the ointment. He didn't worry too much about me. Carter was the one, he was the one that thought I was going to drain his huge--because I did have, not only a Democrat as my running mate, but I had some very prominent Democratic support. Some prominent Democrats in various places who just thought that Carter's was a failed presidency.
BK: You mentioned the debate and issues. Let's talk about some stands that you made. Obviously, you were for a balanced budget. You thought that was very fiscally responsible. And you wanted to slow the growth of Social Security, which now they're talking about. But then, it was certainly just a very taboo subject that just wasn't talked about.
JA: Well, I wanted to reduce Social Security taxes. Part of the 50-50 plan, which was a 50 cent gas tax and then a 50 percent reduction in Social Security tax. I anticipated Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan by a few years on that one, because he's been talking about how high Social Security taxes are and as we all know for many taxpayers they pay more in Social Security tax than they do in income tax. But the gasoline tax, obviously hard to sell a 50 cent tax on a gallon of gas. But after the oil shocks, it seemed to me that after the two oil shocks that we had in '73 and '79, that we should really make a national effort to implant a conservation ethic in the minds of the American people.
BK: Would you call that your most visionary proposal?
JA: Probably. It was the one that attracted the most attention. So, probably that was the most dramatic proposal that we made, because it affected Social Security and part of proceeds, the other half of the proceeds were to reduce the debt. So I was visionary in the sense that I was worrying about actually reducing the load of debt, which was long before Ronald Reagan came in and in two terms tripled the debt over what it had been before he first took office.
BK: So you had the debate against Governor Reagan and unfortunately your poll numbers really didn't move that much after that.
JA: No they did not. By that time the die was really cast.
BK: I think you were around ten percent.
JA: I had been hoping that there would be a great boost and it just didn't come. The traditional two party mind set had taken over at that point. The flowers of springtime had bloomed with the 25 and 30 percent polls, now the frost had set in.
BK: Was there one defining moment where you knew that it wasn't going to happen or was it gradual?
JA: No, I think it was more a gradual thing. I don't think there was any epiphany on that. But you know, I sojourned on, buoyed by the feelings that were generated in me when I got good crowds and young people particularly who were enthusiastic about being involved in the campaign and didn't sit around muttering a t great length about, 'Well gosh, are we going to win or are we going to lose.' You know, that was not a great concern. So I kind of absorbed a little of that same spirit myself, that after a while we might lose this particular battle but that there was a more important objective and that was to give people a real choice that they wouldn't otherwise have between the two major parties. So I guess that's when I really saw it as a long-term challenge to the duopoly of power that had been exercised for 130 years by the two parties. I didn't run in '84 because it was 'Morning in America' [Reagan's campaign slogan] and it was, in a sense, as the results proved when Fritz won Minnesota and D.C. I could see that coming and felt if I would run and get two percent of the vote, when I had gotten 6.65, rounded off to seven percent in 1980, that it would be a real blow to the idea that we could someday really challenge the two-party system. But there was no real defining moment. It was just kind of a drawing realization that despite whatever we might do, it wasn't just going to be. Not yet. Someday.
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