On the Campaign Trail with Tom Eagleton and Walter Mondale (Part Three of Three)

The midterms are coming! The midterms are coming!

Plus Helsinki, Paris, Lagos and pics of Rita.


July, 1978 – Topeka: Mondale’s visit to Topeka was both official (dedication of a power plant) and political (a fundraiser for Dr. Bill Roy). Roy was a former Congressman who gave up his seat in 1974 to run against Senator Bob Dole. He lost to Dole and was back to try again, this time against Nancy Kassebaum. Roy lost again.

The advance man sent in to assist me in Topeka was Paul McGinn from Boston – I think it was his first assignment. I also got some help from Rita who drove over from KC (she took the photo below of Mondale and me).


Mondale’s staff was impressed with Rita and recruited her to go to an “advance school” that was in the works. She signed up and became a member of the part-time staff. Those participating in the school attended a reception at the VP residence, and Rita got this nice photo.


September, 1978 – Las Vegas (Part One): I flew out to Vegas for a Mondale rally for the Nevada midterm elections. I had not been there long when I got word that the trip was cancelled. Mondale was instead headed to Camp David to join President Carter for the Camp David Accords. Below in the photo: Israel Menachem Begin (folder in hand), NSA Brzezinski (center), Carter (partially hiding Mondale) and Israel Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan (with eye patch band). Egypt President Anwar Sadat must have been caucusing in another room.

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October, 1978 – Youngstown: My advance assignment in Youngstown, Ohio, was a quick in-and-out stop. Wheels down for Air Force II at 1:30, fundraiser at a church hall, then a rally downtown, and wheels up at 3:30. Only two hours, but enough time to raise funds and get press for incumbent Congressman Chuck Carney.

In an October 16, 1978, article in the Washington Post, Mondale was credited with leaving “a trail of brimming campaign kettles across the country and at the same time a growing list of politicians just a little bit more committed to the Carter administration.” The article noted that he was well received in places like Topeka (“said absolutely all the right things”), and at the stop in Youngstown, a city “still suffering from layoffs…Mondale does not dwell on the Middle East peace negotiations. ‘This town is stricken,’ he said, “That’s what they want to hear about, how we can help them.’”

The Post article also has some lines that an advance person loves to read: “When Mondale arrives for a campaign appearance, this politician does everything right. He doesn’t call a state senator a mayor or a mayor a councilman. He knows whom he’s supposed to praise, what he’s supposed to praise him or her for and how to pronounce the name. When he leaves, often after just 10 or 20 minutes, no one is embarrassed. They have raised thousands of dollars, gotten loads of free publicity, and revved up their campaigns.”


October, 1978 – Las Vegas (Part Two): I returned to Vegas for the rescheduled fundraisers being held by the Clark County Committee at the Dunes Hotel. The Dunes had a casino, so the Mondale overnight would not be there – we stayed at a Holiday Inn. Part of my preparation was dealing with Morris Shenker, part-owner of the Dunes (a reminder – Eagleton’s first race for the Senate in 1968 was aided by his opponent’s ties to “mob-lawyer” Shenker).

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Shenker had moved from St. Louis to Vegas after he bought the Dunes with money borrowed from a Teamsters pension fund. He had been Jimmy Hoffa’s long-time lawyer, but that ended when Hoffa vanished in 1975. The Feds considered the Dunes to be one of the mob casinos in Vegas. My key instruction from the VP staff was to keep myself between the press photographers and Shenker when Mondale arrived at the hotel. The goal was to have no photos of them together. To my knowledge, it worked.

My favorite memory of the trip was being shown around town by Dan Chandler, a local involved in Democratic politics. Dan’s father was Happy Chandler, the baseball commissioner who was instrumental in Jackie Robinson breaking the color line. Dan worked as a “host” at Caesars Palace, and as we worked our way down the Strip, he was clearly well known. I Googled Dan while I was preparing this piece and found that he died in 2004 at age 70. The obits were effusive: Dan was one of the best hosts for bringing in “whales” for big spending binges…the “Casino City Times” referred to him a legendary casino host who raised the expression “My Man!” to an art form in gaming circles…his friends remembered him as a “Damon Runyon character with a Southern heritage.”

[Dunes Trivia: In Part One, I wrote about George Lehr winning his 1974 race for state auditor while running statewide with Tom Eagleton. In 1981, Lehr was appointed to oversee the scandal-plagued Central States Teamsters pension fund that financed many Vegas casinos. As part of his acclaimed cleanup effort, Lehr pulled the casino loans. Shenker ended up in bankruptcy and was also charged with several crimes, but died before going to trial. The Dunes was eventually acquired by Steve Wynn who demolished the Dunes and replaced it with the Bellagio. Wynn’s new luxury hotel and casino opened in October of 1998, right at 20 years after Mondale was on the site.]

October, 1978 – San Francisco: Mondale’s stop in Las Vegas was the second in a 9-stop campaign swing through states in the West. I also had an interest in the Sacramento stop. Rita was there helping lead advance Steve Jacques. Two years earlier, while Rita and I were working on the Jim Symington campaign, Steve had been the regular driver for primary opponent Jerry Litton.

After Rita and I ended our respective trips, we headed to San Francisco for some R&R. We met up at the Buena Vista Cafe, the renowned Irish coffee bar, and fell into conversation at a communal table with a brother and sister. The brother was from Boston and was visiting his sister who lived in San Francisco. They were very friendly and were giving us some ideas about things to do in the city. This is when Paul McGinn walked into the Buena Vista. We were pleasantly surprised to see the advance man that had worked with us in Topeka.

Paul headed right over to our table to say hello…to the brother and sister. The brother was Chuck Campion, a friend of Paul’s in Boston. They had also been part of the Mondale 9-city swing. Chuck had advanced Eugene, Oregon, and Paul had advanced Oakland. The photo below with the trolley car was taken by Chuck’s sister. Chuck is on the left and Paul on the right. Small world.


1978 Midterm Election Results: As often happens in a midterm election, the party of the president lost some seats in Congress (three in the Senate and fifteen in the House). But it is the most recent midterm election where the president’s party retained control of both houses of Congress.


1979 – Law Firm Change: I made a career change on January 1, 1979. Mike White was leaving office, and we both became partners with four classmates from UMKC law school. Eagleton’s crack staff had sent him a clip from the KC Star that was headlined “Longtime Ally of White to Join Same Law Firm.” Eagleton was famous for his humor and his handwritten notes. I got the benefit of both with this message written on the newspaper clip:





Easily my favorite piece of Eagleton memorabilia.

March, 1979 – Kansas City Election: Mondale and Eagleton were back together in Kansas City in March of 1979. Although the city races are non-partisan, each candidate for mayor was well known by party affiliation – Bruce Watkins as a Democrat and Dick Berkley as a Republican. I was working on the Watkins campaign, as was Charles Curry, the founder of the CCP. We thought it would be a coup if  Vice President Mondale came to Kansas City to campaign for Watkins. We enlisted Senator Eagleton to help.

There were potential negatives for Eagleton getting involved in the non-partisan city race, but loyalty no doubt came into play. Watkins was part of Freedom, Inc., which had given a crucial endorsement to Eagleton in 1968. As had Curry’s CCP. Mondale decided to come, and we worked with an advance team led by Steve Jacques. The rally, fundraising and press coverage were all quite successful. The election for Watkins was not. But a door was opened in Kansas City that led to successful runs by three future black mayors. The third, Quinton Lucas, was sworn in yesterday.


The next month, I headed to Europe for a Mondale trip in Finland.

1979 – April in Paris: Mondale did a Nordic tour in 1979, a nod to his heritage. My assignment was Helsinki, but on my way, I detoured to Copenhagen – Rita was working that stop for Joan Mondale. I also got a chance to say hello to Jim Terman who was lead advance for Copenhagen. Below, Rita with Joan Mondale on that trip.


As for my Helsinki trip, it was a whirlwind. One day, three major events. The others on the advance team were Boe Martin, a Dallas attorney, and Bev Lindsey who had been at advance school with Rita.

There is a small world story about Boe and me that I did not know until I started writing this piece. When I Googled him, I found a “Super Lawyers” article that touched on how he got involved in advance work. He was at the 1976 Democratic convention when Walter Mondale got the nod to be Jimmy Carter’s running mate. Boe ran into an old friend, Gene Godley, and they had a conversation on the convention floor:

“What’s next?” Martin asked him.

“Going to work for Mondale,” Godley responded. “I’ll be running their advance operation.” Then: “You want to get involved in this?”

Martin was taken aback. “I’ve never been an advance man in my life.”

“Neither have I, but we won’t have to tell anyone that.”

This is exactly what happened to me, except my chance meeting was at a political event in Kansas City. As noted in Part One, I ran into Gene Godley who was leaving Senator Eagleton’s staff to go to work for the Mondale campaign. I was looking for “What’s next?” – and suddenly I was on the Mondale advance staff. Long live serendipity.

Mondale arrived in Helsinki on April 20 at 10:20 a.m., and I boarded the plane to brief him. Then, we began a series of motorcades for three official visits: lunch at the Presidential Palace, meetings at Parliament and a state dinner hosted by the Prime Minister. There were also private meetings and a session with the local American community. After 12 hours of constant activity, we ended the night at our hotel (in advance/airline jargon, RON, remaining overnight). Early the next morning, the VP entourage flew to Amsterdam. I was allowed to hop on Air Force II to get a head start to my next destination.

I spent part of the day in Amsterdam, and my primary memory is seeing Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” at the Rijksmuseum. I then headed to Paris to meet up with Rita who had finished her Mondale duties in Copenhagen.

It was April in Paris.

November, 1979 – Denver: After being a major player in George McGovern’s campaign, Gary Hart won a Senate seat in Colorado in 1974. In November of 1979, I advanced a trip to Denver where Mondale was the draw for a couple of Hart fundraisers. I brought along my friend and Jackson County legislator Doug Young to help with the events. Good money was raised and Mondale and Hart were all smiles.

[The rest of the story: Hart went on to win a narrow victory for a second term in 1980. This put him in a position to run in the Democratic primaries for President in 1984…against Mondale. Hart’s “New Ideas” campaign propelled him into a close race with Mondale. Many thought Hart’s plans were superficial, and Mondale found a way to capture that thought. When Hart touted his new ideas in a debate, Mondale countered with “Where’s the beef?” – the then-popular slogan for Wendy’s. Hart responded in later debates by holding up large reams of “new idea” papers, saying “Here’s the beef.” It didn’t work. Mondale won the nomination.]


1980 – Final Advance Trips: I was in my second year at my new law firm and needed to cut back on advance work. In March, I did a trip close to home in Kansas City, Kansas. In April, Mondale did a swing through Missouri, hitting St. Louis, Kansas City and finishing in Springfield where he attended Jackson Day, a major annual statewide event for Democrats. I did not advance on the trip, but got a perk – a seat on Air Force II from KC to Springfield.

I did my third international trip in July, to Lagos, Nigeria. Just two years prior, I did not have a passport – now I was on my third new continent. One interesting piece of news coincided with the arrival of the advance team in Lagos: Ronald Reagan won the presidential nomination at the Republican Convention.

Lagos was the third stop on a four-nation tour of West Africa. The emphasis was on increased trade and investment, and Nigeria was particularly important because it was the second largest source of oil for the United States. On the diplomacy side, it offered an opportunity to work with the new civilian government that had replaced the military regime.

There was also the difficult topic of apartheid. Nigerian President Shehu Shagari told Mondale that U.S.-Nigerian relations could be adversely affected unless racial inequality in South Africa was addressed. At the time, Nelson Mandela was in prison on Robben Island. It would be another 14 years before apartheid ended.


The Lagos trip was my first chance to work with two legends of Mondale advance, Mike Murray and Ramon Luis. They were not only good at advance, they were uproariously funny. We had a great time, including socializing with Congressman Charlie Rangel and NAACP head Benjamin Hooks who came in as part of the 72-member delegation.

After our Lagos chores ended, Ramon and I did some R&R in Rome before heading home (where I got a fluff piece in the Kansas City Star).


My final domestic trip was to Milwaukee in September. I then bowed out as the Carter/Mondale campaign intensified for the re-election effort.

1980 Elections: I kept it local and took the lead on “Get Out The Vote” for Tom Eagleton in Jackson County. I still have my four page memo summarizing the election day planning (phone banks, unions, rides, ballots, mailings, parades, etc. – total budget of $400). The memo was addressed to Eagleton staffers Woody Overton, Chris Clouser, Mike Kelley and Steve Roling.


Carter/Mondale lost to Reagan/Bush. Eagleton squeezed out a victory in spite of the Republican landslide. But his third term would be his last. Although his joy in the job had not dimmed, the campaigns had grown ugly and “everlasting long.” He found fundraising to be “increasingly distasteful.” In the early years, he had raised most of his campaign funds within Missouri, but now, “You had to go nationwide with a tin cup begging for funds.”

Post-1980: And then…

Eagleton: When Eagleton left office in 1987, he returned home to St. Louis to write, teach and cheer on his beloved Cardinals. He died in 2007. Walter Mondale came to St. Louis to pay his respects at the funeral, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that “Tom was one of the most magical people I’ve ever worked with. He was an enlightened, decent man, always honest…I think he goes down as one of the great public servants of the last half century.”

I still regularly talk politics (and baseball) with several former Eagleton staffers, and you can’t miss the feeling of love and loyalty for their old boss. On any issue of the day, what would Tom do? So if you run into Ed Quick, Steve Roling, Bob White, Barbara Reres, Gerard Grimaldi or Mark Abels, or any other former staffer, just ask them about Eagleton. You will see what I mean.

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Mondale: That same kind of loyalty followed Mondale for his presidential run in 1984. In an article headlined “Smooth Mondale Drive Was Polished for a Decade,” the New York Times listed several staffers from 1976-1980 who were on board for 1984. Jim Johnson was managing the campaign. Maxine Isaacs was press secretary. Mike Berman was treasurer. Howard Druckman (Bangkok 1978) was in charge of advance and scheduling. Dick Moe worked on delegate selection. Becky McGowan and Marty Kaplan were there for another round.

I’m sure many of the former advance men and women also signed on. I saw a piece online that the debate in Kansas City was advanced by Boe Martin (Helsinki 1979). That was the debate with Ronald Reagan’s zinger that he would not “exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

The staff was excellent. The political climate was not. Reagan easily won re-election.

Law Practice: When I joined Jim Polsinelli at his law firm in 1979, we had nine lawyers. The firm now has over 800 lawyers in 18 offices around the country.

Mustache: As for the mustache you see in the photos, I lost that in 1989. I shaved it off in celebration of Rita’s 40th birthday. It has not returned. But Rita has stayed.

A Personal Note: On June 6, 1981, Rita and I were married. Tom Eagleton attended the reception at the Harris House – my mother was very pleased. Although Walter Mondale was no longer VP, he still obviously had a good staff. We got a congratulatory letter from him, stating in part, “We will always remember with pleasure and appreciation the countless hours you both gave to make our lives much easier, and we wish you well as you begin your new life together.”

In 1983, as I had promised in my 1978 post card from Tel Aviv, Rita and I circled the globe. She cried when she saw the Taj Mahal. We have now traveled to more than a hundred countries together.


My heartfelt thanks to Tom Eagleton and Walter Mondale.