A brittle chatter of voices stops as Kemp arrives at the coffee. He shakes hands and plunges into his speech. "There is a passage written by James Madison in the 10th Federalist paper," he is saying moments later, "that I have considered the keynote of my political career." Suddenly his mind is too weary. He cannot remember the quote. He looks at his wife and asks, "What did Madison say?" The company giggles. Joanne provides the cue and Kemp continues. An hour later—10 p.m. now—they leave for the final stop, a Customs Bureau annual awards dinner. But they arrive too late. The dinner has broken up. The ladies are in a corner talking about Avon cosmetics; the men are in the bar. All Kemp can do is shake hands with waitresses who are setting the restaurant's tables for breakfast: "Hello, I'm Jack Kemp, running for Congress." Yes, running.
Two weeks prior to Election Day, Kemp debated Flaherty on television. Kemp's performance was excellent. His opponent fared poorly; Flaherty was gaunt and inadequately made up for the cameras. The perspiration streamed down his face and neck and the cosmetics made the sweat all the more obvious. Kemp used no makeup and the staging gave him the best camera angle—a fact noted by Flaherty supporters. The television station's chief executive was a staunch backer of Kemp. In the course of this otherwise successful debate, Kemp suddenly fumbled, though it was a few days before Flaherty reacted, politics drawing out its suspense longer than football.
In the interim came the appearance of Nelson Rockefeller and Al Capp at a $100-a-plate dinner for Kemp. "I'm just delighted to be here to pay my respects to a great leader, Jack Kemp," the Governor said. "You already know how Jack Kemp responds to pressure. You've seen him as a pro quarterback with half a ton of the enemy line coming in on top of him and he's never flinched and he's been the kind of leader this country is looking for...."
Capp wound up a vivid address with: "It's the Republican Party and guys like Jack Kemp who will make your kids safe from drugs, your kids safe from corruption, your institutions safe from dynamiting...." Kemp applauded, selfconsciously.
The dinner, producing part of the $150,000 it took to elect Jack Kemp, was his campaign high point, for immediately thereafter the opposition hit with a barrage of television and radio advertising, a happening totally unexpected by Kemp and his advisers. The Democrats, it had been thought, had no funds for a commercial blitz. But in the concluding 10 days of the campaign Flaherty piled $22,000 into devastating TV spots based on an inaccurate and unwise statement Kemp had made in the debate.
Buffalo is a city of increasing unemployment and the Nixon economic policy, which Kemp strongly endorsed, had become a campaign issue. Answering an attack by Flaherty during the debate, Kemp had said, "Very frankly I am surprised that [Mr. Flaherty] would be so loose with the facts to say that prices are going up instead of down. For the first time in many years the wholesale and consumer price index is indeed not only leveling off but being reduced." Sadly for Kemp, the Buffalo Courier-Express the next morning had headlines reading: COST OF LIVING RISES, BUYING POWER DIPS MORE SWIFTLY THAN IN YEARS. Flaherty's people put together the two, a recording of Kemp's voice during the debate and the newspaper story. They flashed this on the TV screen. "Whom does he think he's kidding?" a voice in the background declared indignantly. The commercial went on to decry the rise in unemployment since Richard Nixon took office and ended by Flaherty asking for the vote. It was a skillful piece of political advertising, made even more effective when, the day after it debuted, a Buffalo paper carried a report that the local Bethlehem Steel plant was planning to lay off 10,000 of its 17,000 workers.
Kemp's office frantically called the White House and Bethlehem Steel, to no apparent avail. The company was tight-lipped. The papers continued to carry headlines such as: BETHLEHEM STEEL TRIMS WORK FORCE, BETHLEHEM PROFITS FALL, BETHLEHEM SILENT ON LAYOFF RUMOR, FLAHERTY BLAMES PLANT LAYOFFS ON ECONOMIC POLICIES OF NIXON.
Flaherty's tough commercial put Kemp in a rage. He attempted to have it taken off Channels 4 and 7, where his friends had some control over policy, but the ad continued. "The FCC will take care of the matter, I'm sure," someone told Kemp.
"Why don't you just call the White House," a staffer suggested, "and let them take care of it. That's what Hairy Dent [a presidential aide] is down in Washington for."
Kemp had a telethon arranged for the night the Bethlehem Steel story broke, and he was visibly shaken. The show was a bad one. "This is the worst day of my life," he said afterward. The game was suddenly close. Very.