Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Presidential candidates: An observer's history

I've had a lifetime of watching presidential candidates.

In the fall of 1940, Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie's motorcade made a stop in a Pittsburgh suburb for a stump speech. I was 20 and I was there, seeing my first presidential hopeful.

I remember the crowd chanting "We want Willkie." America, however, wanted FDR so corporate lawyer Willkie, a surprise GOP pick, lost. He lost big. President Franklin Roosevelt liked him, however, and made him an unofficial good-will ambassador to other countries for a while. Unfortunately, Willkie died in 1944 of a heart attack.

I remember well sitting around our family's radio listening to Roosevelt's fireside chats. They were a source of hope in the depths of the Great Depression.

In the 1960s, I was doing a travel story on a Maryland resort when a reporter-colleague from Boston introduced me to U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy. The president-to-be was campaigning for the Democratic nomination which he won later that year. In 1965, I worked in Washington for a while with nationally syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, Drew Pearson's partner on Washington Merry-Go-Round. I saw President Lyndon Johnson, but never met him one-on-one.

Newly retired in 1980, I watched Ronald Reagan perform on the stump one afternoon in a St. Petersburg park. His acting skills, to me, at least, were on display.

I didn't see George W. Bush's visits to our area in 2000 and 2004, but I know he had good turnout at Pasco-Hernando Community College as a presidential candidate and again at Sims Park in New Port Richey as the incumbent president seeking re-election.

Now, a nonagenarian, with the aches and pains to prove it, my presidential watching is confined to an armchair and a TV. However, with the Republican Party about to gather its faithful in nearby Tampa, I, along with just about everyone else, am looking forward to a busy week. Warfare and hot air may engulf us if some prognosticators are correct.

One thing strikes me as a bit unconventional about this convention though is that the most recent Republican White House occupant will not be seen nor heard. Apparently, he will be deep in heart of Texas but not in the hearts of convention delegates.

Can eight years just be forgotten? We'll see. His elderly father, also an ex-president, has a valid excuse for being absent. It's the wheelchair, he's mostly seen sitting in these days. Having put in wheelchair time myself, I can sympathize. At least, one member of the family, Florida's ex-governor, will be speaking at the convention.

So, let the games begin and the let the political viewing be abundant.

Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.

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