Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Flashback: The Quie Run All Comes Together with a Brilliant Campaign Manager. Dumb Enough to Think it Really Matters?

snow fall smalltown
[More reminisces for my kids and grandchildren about the special Congressional election in the winter of 1958. Since it was the only test in the nation of farm strength for Republicans, the vulture national press were hovering in Rochester, ready to report the first election of a Democrat in many decades as a striking repudiation of the Eisenhower-Benson back-to-free-market farm program.]

I was the press guy for State Senator Al Quie and I told him, “Look at how well I’m doing getting your name in headlines!” One read, “QUIE MAY BE FIRST GOP HOUSE CANDIDATE TO LOSE.” Another said, “A NICE GUY BUT QUIE HAS FARM PROBLEMS.” We were struggling to put out the message that Quie was a supporter of the Ike farm program but with some reservations: just the muddy stuff that doesn’t get through reporters’ prejudices when they have already written their stories in their heads. Slowly but surely, Quie’s soft-spoken, Reagan-esque humility was capturing them but there was a bigger problem. Who would pull it all together and see that there were ground troops of volunteers working in the sub-zero cold to get people out to the polls? Who would charge up the financial people to give and raise money? That wasn’t my job but it became my—and all of our—problem.

Then, as if in an answer to a prayer, there came a great boon to the campaign and to the entire Republican party of Minnesota. For many years I had awakened with my clock radio tuned to WCCO, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis which had a morning show that started with the “Syncopated Clock” music and a fresh shot of news, wit, modest commentary and back-and-forth between the main host, Ed Viehman (pronounced “vee-man”) and a few others. It was number one in the morning, piloted by a young man who had been a decorated Navy veteran in World War II in the submarine service, born to wealth as a grain company scion whose family lost it all in the Depression, a former priesthood student at Nazareth Hall seminary. After the war he took radio training and made the obligatory circuit in small town radio until he came back to his hometown of Minneapolis to become the czar of early morning radio. As such he knew such other established radio stars as Cedric Adams, George Grimm, who had a fascinating world affairs commentary show and Halsey Hall (the sportscaster who, rather than Harry Caray, invented the exclamation when a home run was hit: “Holy Cow!”). Ed Viehman had hit it big in Minneapolis at a time when morning radio hosts were near the pinnacle of the profession. He also did TV both in cameo appearances and commercials and he was just a tad over thirty years of age. He was a celebrity who knew celebrities in the news and entertainment business.

I heard the show when he announced he was leaving it, to become sales manager for the nation’s leading school class ring and yearbook company, in Owatonna, Minnesota. I never knew why he chose that profession except that I had been told he wanted to hone his talents—formidable talents—as a salesman and as manager of a sales team. The company, Josten’s, was run by a mega-multimillionaire named Dan Gainey, a huge Republican contributor. Then it turned out that Ed Viehman, who had followed a non-partisan line of patter was not just a Republican but quite a conservative one.

The pay he got at Josten’s was either equal to or better—probably better—than the high stakes salary he was reputed to make in radio…and he could use the job not just to amplify his sales talents but possibly to run for public office as a Republican. In any event, here was Al Quie struggling in his run for Congress in Viehman’s southeastern Minnesota neck of the woods—and with Gainey’s approbation, he volunteered to be our campaign manager at a time when our fortunes were not at high ebb. In a few short years, Ed Viehman not only saved the Quie campaign but became state Republican chairman and reinvigorated the state GOP with an early Reagan philosophy: the result being the state defeated the DFL governor, supplanted him with an outstanding Republican governor. Then at the height of his success as communicator and political campaigner, with the thought that he would in the fature challenge Eugene McCarthy, a fellow Catholic, Ed Viehman came down with the most advanced case of colon cancer one could get—and died at the outrageously young age of 39 in 1961. But that was in the future. Now, in 1958, Viehman at 36, in apparent vigorous health, took on the management of the faltering Quie campaign.

At last I had someone to work with who would build an organization to match what I hoped would be a first-rate press campaign. We worked together with single-minded reverie of fun, zest and excitement and hugely long hours. We tackled the hideous problem of the name Quie. What even Norwegians thought was that it was a French pronoun. How to get people to pronounce it correctly. Along with one Maurie McCaffrey, an ad man Ed recruited from Minneapolis, we devised the slogan “It’s Quie for Me! A Family Farmer!” and placed so many billboards up emblazoning that name that people would greet the candidate with, “Hey, Quie! It’s Quie for Me!” The Foley people started to get worried.

Moreover, we were startled to find that Ed Viehman, while a master communicator, was also a real bug on volunteer political organization. Hoisting himself into his big car delicately to accommodate a severe arthritic condition he seemed to have with his back and legs, this handsome, black-haired dynamo would roar down the highways to address organization meetings and lay out the elements of nuts and bolts organization. He was such a celebrity, so brim-full of wit and jollity that people naturally flocked in from the countryside and small towns to hear him. It was on a smaller scale what Ronald Reagan was doing for General Electric.

Ed would give them not just organization lessons but a healthy dose of conservatism such as they had never heard—got them standing on their chairs screaming and then gave them a master-plan for political organization. Quie was what was known even then as a “moderate” Republican—thoughtful, pensive, slowly charming. Good but it didn’t generate enthusiasm. Viehman was a gregarious and irreverent conservative Republican who hit the rural people in the solar plexus. They roared back. And soon he had a volunteer organization of Quie zealots to combat the Foley DFL organization built largely of labor union people and Farmers Union imported professionals.

All of us would work in Rochester, the center of the district and all of us—the national media included—would stay at the same place, the Kahler hotel. Media was determined to predict a Democratic upset victory and so, committed early, they bolstered their predictions with helpful and carefully selective news stories to advance the case. Viehman couldn’t stand the negativity and usually ate breakfast in his room so as to not to be bothered with the static as he prepared his day. I ate breakfast, lunch, dinner and drank with the national media, some of whom from that day on became my good friends, even though I understood they were stacking the deck in commentaries they hoped would be self-fulfilling. In between times, junketing campaigners for Foley stopped by, too. Eugene McCarthy was campaigning hard for Foley in anticipation of his campaign for the Senate the next November. Hubert Humphrey would stop by too as the major domo of the Democratic hoped-for victory. Often during breakfast we would battle at the same table. Something told me to retain my civility and so we spent a lot of time roaring at each other’s jokes.

I remember one in particular—not a joke but an aphorism that told me more about Gene McCarthy than I thought I knew earlier. Once I came down for breakfast at about 6 a.m., just as the coffee shop opened and found him huddled over coffee and pancakes, reading the poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins. When I joined him he put the book down with a sigh and observed—in words I will never forget—“Now I must talk politics because you’re here. Roeser but remember this: Being successful in politics is like being a successful football coach. You must be smart enough to know all the plays but dumb enough to think it really matters.” He was looking out of the corner of his eye at someone walking up to our table to join us. It was Hubert.

And certainly the aphorism was meant to describe this ever-ebullient, peppery liberal who lived, loved and ate politics. In my down moments, I think of that aphorism and think maybe Gene really had something there. In the millions of words everybody spilled out over the 1st district: soil bank, flexible supports, rigid supports, surplus, cash grain etc. what did it all matter in the flow of history? And who remembers Augie Andresen now? For that matter who remembers Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy, Al Quie, Gene Foley? No one remembers Augie; very few remember the others. I know because whenever I guest lecture, the kids look at me bemused when I mention Humphrey. So, I think, all that energy is forgotten? What doth it matter?

But then I think: it does too matter. If the Democratic party of today stays rooted in its extremely liberal phase where people like Richard Durbin can play politics with appeasement and non-patriotism, it certainly does matter. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to encourage the Democratic party to rebuke and reject the craven weakness Durbin stands for, in order to return to the strength of Scoop Jackson and Hubert Humphrey. The day is coming—it must come—when Democrats by the cyclical order of change will take over the presidency. With all my heart I want to make them worthy to remove Republicans from office when that time comes. Because the future of my children and grandchildren will depend on it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tom,

    My name is Katy Viehman. I would be the late, great, Ed Viehman's eldest granddaughter. My father, who is named Ed as well, is Ed Viehman's oldest son.

    I came across your blog while doing some "Googling" and, after reading your description of the kind of man my grandfather was, the light went off in my head. NOW I KNOW WHERE MY DAD GETS IT! Although not heavily involved in the republican, conservative movement, my father is certainly a chip off the old block.

    Thank you for your tales. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about a man whom I wish I could have known.

    Katy Viehman
    Minneapolis, Minnesota and proud of it!