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    Pretending often works!

 Despite myself, for a few months we were making steady upward progress in the polls, mostly because it was the only direction to go. Bigger contributions and more volunteers were coming in the office door.  Before long we started to look similar to a real campaign.

 Then we got cute.

 We knew one of my biggest problems was that John McCain, shot down in Viet Nam, spent 5 ½ years of hell in the Hanoi Hilton at the same time I was a long-haired, anti-war demonstrating student, occasionally kicked back Bogarting my friends’ joints (If you know what that means you probably were too). Worse than that, I made no secret of it.  Unlike Bill Clinton who famously said, “It touched my lips, but I did not inhale,” I admitted that my lips proved a poor barrier.

  Oddly, because I thought the one place the defense budget needed to be enormously increased was to provide education and first-class health care of returned veterans, the head of the Viet Nam Veterans Association, the head of the Disabled American Veterans, the head of the Blind American Veterans, our Congressional Medal of Honor winner along with a number of other now prominent returnees liked me best.   Well, I wasn’t exactly sure they liked me personally that much, but then it did not matter. In big ticket politics I would learn the support you get from people that hate your opponent can be more valuable than those that love you. And in this case, it was clear they were pissed off at McCain.

 The Hard-ons decided to plan a big media day, where all of these veterans’ groups would announce their support of this wonderous, glorious me.  Each step would be carefully orchestrated by the stiffies to appear as if our campaign had nothing to do with it. A Democratic muck-itty-muck would quietly provide a plane, and the veterans would fly all over the state on their own (no Kimball staff) where they would hold press conferences in the state’s four biggest cities on a single day.

 This was going to be big, really big. The vets, on their own, supporting the former long haired, draft dodging, pot smoker?   John McCain’s hero status would take a hit. It was Kimball standing tall with our troops simply because he thought they needed more support after war than they did during it.

 My veterans all got up before the sun on a carefully selected day, a day the Hard-ons were certain had no other competitive news events.  Cloaked in their freshly pressed dress uniforms, with eye popping displays of commendations stuck to their chests, they were square jawed, steely eyed magnificent. As the sun crested the Desert Mountains and began heating another blistering Arizona summer day, they lifted off.

  As with almost everything important in life, say, homering on that high school fast ball, your move for that first good night kiss, or taking a soufflé from the oven, politics requires good timing. Bad timing and you swing too late, she’s through the door before you built the courage, the soufflé falls flat, or in this case no one gets the message.

 The veteran’s first stop was Flagstaff, AZ. A single reporter showed up who had been assigned to cover our event the night before. He apparently slept late and had yet to turn on his radio or television.  He would be the only reporter to show up at any of the Flagstaff, Yuma, Phoenix, or Tucson media events.

 As it turned out we were not the only people who decided to get up early that day.  In the White House, Ronald Reagan got up early too.  Unknown to any media, the public and certainly anyone in Libya, he had selected that morning to send off his own flight crew, only they would be active military with instructions to fly over Libya and blow it up.

 When your big story is blown off the news by much bigger news, you can’t just pretend your news didn’t happen, rewind and do it again another day.  

 Despite my campaign’s fumbles, when the next polls came out, we found ourselves at 42%. I was thrilled, we had gone from 16% to what would be our pinnacle.

 John’s campaign commercials showing him young, busted up and hobbling from a plane after his release from prison hit everyone’s TV set.

 We dropped a few points in the polls, so my Hard-on and Chief came up with the idea that I should go to a little town called Kingman where he knew John was going to do a radio interview. Somehow, he and the Hard-on, on loan from a U. S. Senator’s office, managed to schedule an interview with me immediately following.

 It was there they wanted me to confront John for the very first time and try to stir things up a bit. A gutsy idea they suggested take place in the Republican’s Attila the Hun part of the state.

 I got there while he was still on the air and tried to fluster him with my unexpected appearance. I stood on the other side of a thick pain of glass and tried to disturb his on air presence with an unwavering glare. At the time it did not occur to me that my threatening stare through the window of a small-town right-wing radio station would be an amusing curiosity to a man who spent five years in the hands of the Viet Cong.

 However, as I stood there, it did occur to me that I didn’t know John McCain, had never met him and was suddenly aware that I had no real reason to dislike the man. But here I was glaring through a window at my “enemy.”  This little Hard-on stunt would get me exactly what I deserved.

 When John finished the interview, he got up and walked out as if I did not exist, which I would wish I didn’t.

  Then it was my turn to get an interview. The aggressively unfriendly radio jock’s first question was that I explain my attack on John’s environmental record, referring to something I had said a few days earlier in Phoenix.  The way he blurted out the word “attack,” tossed me, I did not like it. And in response, I spoke openly and honestly, opening the most common self-inflicted wound created by a naïve candidate.  In apologetic tones I stated that I was sorry if I had attacked him, perhaps I spoke too harshly, and I regret it.  I simply disagreed with some of his environmental votes.  Oops!  

 The “sorry about that, perhaps I spoke too harshly, and I regret it” portion found its way into one of John’s most successful commercials.  Richard Kimball apologizes to John McCain.

 A cardinal rule of politics is that you never did such things. If a candidate is quoted saying something that did not go over well, you better say your comments were taken out of context. If you gave out some bad facts, say you misspoke.  If an old picture pops up with a joint in your hand or white powder on your nose, say you didn’t inhale!  Caught in bed with an intern? You had better say “NO, NO, NO” like your political life depends on it, because it does, or did back then.  Saying you might have used better judgement will drive a dagger in your heart. Think Nancy Reagan, “Just say NO.”

 Anyway, that bit of honesty and talking as if I were a human backfired and gave our polls a burn, our Hard-ons were getting nervous, not so much about my losing but that they should not be to blame for losing badly.

 My main job had become to raise money to fuel more of what we had done, what we would continue to do. I no longer owned a home or even had an apartment. At the end of each day, I would be dropped off at some friend or volunteer’s home.  I was driven by someone everywhere.  The one vehicle I owned; an antique 1967 Volkswagen van had been parked for months behind our Phoenix office and was slowly disappearing as thieves pilfered it for its parts to sell other classic car owners.  Hating my campaign was a new experience for me, and I knew it was because this campaign no longer represented me but the boners’ representation of me. The end of the stiffies began to take form in my mind when two somewhat amusing events added sulve to our wounds.

 One was a serious problem that self-corrected.  The state’s biggest and most influential newspaper had an editor who enjoyed parading around in his military uniform loaded with the ribbons and commendations he had won in battle and service to his country. He was a friend of John’s and had an intense publisher’s dislike for me. I had wrongly presumed this was because unlike he and John, I had not served with distinction in the military.

 In politics, like much else in life, when you have an enemy, your best defense is to demonize them, but how do you demonize someone who “buys their ink by the barrel.” In his case the heavens opened and rained a moment of clarity on that son-of-a-bitch.

 He was exposed like some turtle suddenly finding they had no shell. He had no military experience whatsoever.  He had been parading around town for years, including occasions with John, in a military outfit overloaded with commendations and medals acquired from some lets-make-believe Hollywood costume shop. This all-powerful OZ was toast and my stiffies would eat it up as best they could, while John would run from his relationship with him, much the way one would from a gas explosion in a sewage plant.

 The second event was discovered a few weeks later. We were to learn that I was not the only Senate candidate who could put his foot in his mouth.  In politics you can make mountains out of a bit of nothing, particularly if you have that bit of nothing on tape.

 It started with my joking around with some of my campaign volunteers.  I was talking about how my apology was turned into a McCain campaign commercial when a University of Arizona student recalled an off-the-cuff remark John had made speaking to his class. John had been talking about a retirement community called Leisure World. Only the student said he did not call it Leisure World, for a laugh he referred to it as Seizure World.  It was nothing, the people living at Leisure World often joke they lived in Seizure World.  Without much hope the key question was asked, “Did anyone tape his appearance?”

 It took a couple of days for the Hard-ons to run down the professor, get our hands on the tape, pick another day without news competition (this time successfully), draft some press releases, and organize another “independent” event.  This time it would be supportive senior volunteers at my campaign who would demonstrate and demand a public apology from John McCain for his heartless remarks about seniors.  One clever fellow showed up dressed in a coffin, so that the cameras could catch him rising up one last time to vote against John McCain.

 Nonsense can turn campaigns. Even anchored in meaningless wackery, the media will become a willing, wonton whore, if what you do, they think sells. A simple off-handed remark made months ago, that anyone, including myself could have made, was everywhere on TV, radio and newspapers. Some cartoonists drew pictures of the heartless John McCain, showing him walking over the bones of the elderly to enter the U.S. Senate.

 This time John would take a hit in the polls.  That would help our fundraising, giving us another round of commercials. Commercials as it turned out that would cut to the bone, my bone.

 First was the Hard-ons effort to revive the military support for my candidacy.  They had found a mother and wife of a Vietnam MIA (Missing in Action) and put her on camera endorsing me.  Somehow as she announced her support for me, they had managed to get her to cry. I had not been told, a violation of my specific instructions, but somehow ignored. I never actually saw the commercial nor do I remember having done anything about it, other than becoming so angry that the commercial was pulled.

 The second was a radio commercial a few days after, again, that I had not been informed of.  I first heard it over my car radio on the way to some speech in rural Arizona.  The commercial was attacking John on an environmental issue. It was not inaccurate exactly, but that does not mean it was fair, which it was not.

 I am not sure what upset me more, that the attack was misleading or that I was now saying things that I had no intention of saying.  In any case, it was no longer me running for office. I rushed back to Phoenix, where I fired my Hard-on and Chief along with his PR people and then met with my supportive staff and volunteers.

 I told them that I would manage the campaign myself, design all our future media and of course be the candidate.  In concern, not so much for the campaign but for me I heard a chorus of, “You can’t do it all Richard!” each had said in their own way.  “Money will freeze up.”  “You will not be taken seriously.”  “No candidate can manage everything and run for office at the same time.”

 The blowback was total and seemed unanimous.

 I was devastated and threatened to quit the race, “You can’t quit,” they insisted, “Look what everyone has done for you, how they are counting on you, the people that have given you their money to run on, the volunteers who have spent thousands of hours on the phones, holding signs, going door to door, leafleting parking lots.”  Of some impact, were candidates of my own party running for smaller offices and counting on me to pull voters to the polls who would vote for them down ticket.  “If you quit,” they would say, “you will burn us too, along with all those that care for you and fight for you and” here it comes again, “need you, Richard Kimball, in the United States Senate.”

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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