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“Tah Dah: HERE I AM”

“Hey Mack, what should the sound bite be for today.”

 So, I headed back to Arizona, hired the suggested “say-anything, do-anything-to-win” campaign consultants and one of the requested polling firms — people who only got stiffies for the bumps and grinds of politics. The result was a TV commercial suggesting Arizona horses would vote for me, so you should too.

 When the pollster finished measuring the citizens’ impressions of me and pasted together the me, they said they saw, I was a stranger to myself. “They don’t like you, Richard. Well, it isn’t that they do not like you, it is just that they do not like anything you stand for.” Or, as one more generous and gentler consultant flattered me with, “Richard, you are just a little too bright for such a dim state.”

 Amongst many things that now troubled all the consultants about my chances was my past anti-war activism and my divorce — nothing to do with issues facing the nation but deadly liabilities non-the-less. They were the reasons John McCain, walking with his pretty pregnant wife and a couple of his kids at the head of the 4th of July parade got rowdy cheers from the crowd, where as I, riding with my mother in a horse drawn black carriage at the end of the parade, got one embarrassingly audible, “Way to go Richard.”

  My only positive, the pollsters reported, was that I was a native Arizonian. A vote for my mother who chose a nice spot to punch me out onto planet Earth.  Being a native was not much advantage when you consider that my hometown had grown from the 50,000 of my first year to 1 million in my 38th one. This was not because Tucsonans were unusually randy but because retirees elsewhere were sick of shoveling snow and came to Arizona in post war droves, making me a freak of nature.

 So, our first commercial came out emphasizing my mother’s location on the day of my deposit.  The commercial shoot would go down, right next to my third-grade poop in front of Jerry Eagerton, as one of life’s most humiliating episodes.

 I was to become a useless eunuch in a stampeding herd of consulting hard-ons looking to stick it to John McCain.  I just didn’t get it right away.

 When I arrived at the ranch setting to shoot that horrid commercial, the hard-ons explained that they were having a difficulty with the first scene because the actor that was to play the part of the rancher was sick. As a replacement they fell upon the friend I arrived with. They thought he looked like a rugged rancher, not the New Yorker he was. He had fun getting dressed up in the outfit they had and the Stetson they paid him off with and then asked him if he could ride a horse. He said, “Sure.” It never occurred to the hard-ons to ask me. 

 I had been on a horse once in my life when I was seven, thirty some years earlier at summer camp. The ride lasted all of 10-seconds when the horse, disagreeing with my vice-like grip on his reins, thought it best to buck me off into a prickly pear cactus. The afternoon I spent with the nurse and her trusty pliers served me well. For thirty some years I had discovered a great many more pleasant things to do than get back up on a horse.

 The absurd nature of the commercial was becoming apparent when the hard-ons became aware that I did not look all that comfortable on a horse, but it did not deter them from the caricature of me they wanted to create.  “Well, we will just have you two walk and talk in front of the stalls filled with horses.” After a few takes the hard-ons, being mostly of the eastern ranch ignorant variety, realized that the horses weren’t members of the Actors Guild.  They would get the horses properly set for each take, but by the time they said “action” and we walked by, they had simply gone about their business and turned around. It turns out that horses’ asses and a candidate, as perfect as that really was, wasn’t good politics. “We need those horses facing forward and attentive,” the director yelled.  More than that, I thought, I was pretty sure I was going to need each horse’s vote if I wanted any votes at all.

 The hard-ons were going to get the image of me they wanted. They eventually sewed a bag full of baby carrots to the side of my trousers that the camera would not see and had me parade back and forth in front of the horses feeding a little carrot to each as I passed. Much like voters, when the horses got something, they were much more supportive.

 Next came the scene designed to counter the baggage this divorced, childless bachelor had compared to a war hero with kids and an expecting pretty wife. This scene was the easiest for me to play out, because I would rather spend my time with a group of children than I would with most adults.  We were able to take the shot in one take.  They had brought a half dozen kids donated up by staff and volunteers. The kids and I laughed and giggled as I lifted them up to pick Arizona oranges and played a bit of soccer with those we dropped. We had the only fun during that shoot and the message was pretty clear: I loved kids; kids loved me. Were they my kids, the viewer would wonder?  Who knows, the commercial wouldn’t say.

 The next scene was of a picnic, where I walked around smiling picnickers representing everyone that would be or could be an Arizona voter. Old, young, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, Indian, Asian… the exact blend at a picnic table no one had ever seen. It could not have been more unique had they stuck in a Martian. If you did not see yourself at that picnic table, your kind had yet to be discovered in Arizona.

 The final scene was one that had every hard-on exasperated and on my case. They had designed the scene for simpletons, as one, I was to say a line I had never, would never say to any person and not expect the refrain BULL SHIT!

 The hard-on said, “Just imagine you are in front of a crowd of enthusiastic supporters. You turn, look directly into the camera, smile, and say these words from your heart: ‘I feel this way because I was born here, and I love Arizona.’”

 I hated the line, and I could not, as directed, smile while saying it.  On take number twenty something, with the required Arizona sunset waning and all the hard-ons going limp with frustration, I decided to take over as director.

 The real director, in desperation, had set up a makeshift audience of cast, prop people and any passer-by that wanted to be on TV, to see if it would make me feel more comfortable pretending to give a speech and being warm and fuzzy about being an Arizonian.

 Just before the next take, what would be the final take, I leaned over to my New York friend and asked him to stand at the very end, where he would be the last person I would see as I turned to face the camera and say those mind-numbing words the hard-ons thought so necessary. I told him, “Please don’t just stand there as I turn, do something, do anything, take my mind off this agony, make me smile as I turn.”  The cameras rolled and as I turned, there he was, his middle finger stuffed up his nose. Perfect! The hard-ons had to leave the sounds of my laughter on the cutting room floor, but we were done.

 That first “Vote for Me” commercial that ended up on television was humiliating and I ordered off the air. No one was very happy, particularly about the money that had paid for it. But money that was followed by more money.

 After all, the country badly needed a guy born in the desert, can walk in front of horses, enjoys other’s children, has a friend from New York City, and supports fruits, which you should too.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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