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Pat Ryan
December 07, 1970
Or: "Machiavelli couldn't have come up with a better game plan"
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December 07, 1970

The Making Of A Quarterback 1970

Or: "Machiavelli couldn't have come up with a better game plan"

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In 1966 Kemp traveled with Nixon when the latter went to the West Coast to campaign for Robert Finch, who was running successfully for lieutenant governor. It was during this trip, "talking philosophy, politics, history and football," that Kemp became friendly with the future President. In 1967 Kemp was on Governor Reagan's staff; in 1968 he traveled for the State Department; in 1969 he worked for Republican National Committee Chairman Rogers Morton as a liaison figure between the Administration and U.S. campuses. So for Kemp politics was no passing fancy. It is hardly surprising that a tacit understanding developed among Erie County G.O.P. leaders that Kemp someday would run for Congress from the 39th District.

As Al Bellanca, the county chairman, said: "We were looking for an attractive, articulate, forthright, aggressive man. Finding Jack Kemp was like finding the Holy Grail."

Kemp himself put it somewhat differently. Deciding 1970 was his year to run, he said: "There is a Republican President in. office our surveys show is popular here. This is a Republican district, and 1 will not have to run against the incumbent. Machiavelli couldn't have come up with a better game plan."

The 39th District is a string of suburbs south of Buffalo, a 15-by-35-mile block with some 223,000 registered voters. The Republicans hold a 25,000 plurality. For years the area sent to Congress an elderly Republican, John R. Pillion, who is best remembered for proclaiming that if Hawaii and Alaska were given statehood four Soviet agents would sit in the U.S. Senate. On another occasion Pillion flew to the South Pole when he received word that Communists were infiltrating there.

In 1964 the local voters rejected Gold-water overwhelmingly, and Pillion, too. Democrat Richard Max McCarthy became the district's Congressman and was elected to three straight terms before giving up his House seat to try unsuccessfully for the Senate. When McCarthy lost in the Democratic primary in June there were weeks of backroom backbiting but the Democrats eventually gathered their divided forces behind Tom Flaherty.

The 39th District, no matter what the voter-registration figures show, is far from solidly Republican. Nelson Rockefeller had lost the 39th in the 1966 governor's race, and Nixon had been defeated in the district in 1968. The area is highly ethnic in composition—Italian, Irish, Polish, Jewish, German, a few blacks. "There's just about everything in the district but WASPs, which is what Jack is," explained Blasczyk one day. It is a district that could be as inconsistent in its affections as pro football fans, and careful strategy was needed. Among the early moves was a decision to drop all references to Goldwater in Kemp's background—too conservative. (Indeed, Kemp would finally edge away from an even more prominent Republican.) Campaign Manager Armendaris, a professional who is the president of his own firm in Washington, Campaign Management Services, also decided Kemp would follow a familiar political premise: "A candidate should always talk in generalities; he should sound like he is saying something but say nothing at all. A strong position on an issue will only turn some voters off."

Kemp received additional counseling at a four-day Candidates' School held in Washington in June for Republican congressional hopefuls. The candidates were urged to work on their speech-making style. They were told to buy books by John Gardner to get "really excellent quotes that can be used for almost any occasion." They were given loose-leaf texts entitled "How to Win," which contained advertisement suggestions, scripts for commercials, possible billboard designs and other helpful hints. They received a packet of pocket-sized speech cards containing rundowns on subjects from agriculture to Vietnam. Each candidate's headquarters would be supplied with a Telex machine that would click out daily memos from Republican headquarters in Washington and would transmit an "Issue of the Day" and a "Speech of the Week." Seminars dealt with precise questions—how to "neutralize" the impact of student to "neutralize" nationality to avoid TV to undermine an opponent's credibility but avoid looking crassly political. Perhaps the most important how-to lecture concerned the raising of money. Among the suggestions: "Firearms legislation is a...matter that is always before the Congress. Internal Revenue has a list of 140,000 dealers and firearms people. It will cost you one penny for each name—$140 for 140,000 names.... This is a great list, and a lot of money can result from it." Kemp was photographed in front of the Capitol, run through the President's office and—compliments of the (White) House—taken on a round of personal briefings with Cabinet members. When he returned he was ready to undertake the improbable, impossible life of the campaigning American politician.

It began slowly, but as day tumbled on day there was no ending: church picnics, flea markets, union outings, shopping malls, parades ("Jack Kemp salutes General Pulaski"), even door-to-door. No crowd too small, no generality too large:

"I have a philosophy of government. I believe very strongly that we live in a time of philosophical anarchy, when not enough people have...."

"I happen to believe that problems are not problems, they are opportunities. As a football player I learned...."

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