Adrenaline & Pizza

Rich Galen
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Posted: Feb 22, 2016 12:01 AM
Adrenaline & Pizza

Jeb Bush's announcement, Saturday night, that he was suspending his campaign brought back the memory of that same speech, in that same state, in 2008 when Fred Thompson called it quits.

Fred was a terrific guy: Smart, funny, thoughtful, He was not the most energetic campaigner in U.S. history but, he soldiered through the early debates and then toured through Iowa in late 2007 and early 2008.

On Caucus day, January 3, he told us that he "wanted a clear signal as to whether to go on or go home." That didn't happen. Fred came in third (behind Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney) and beat John McCain by a scant two-tenths of one percentage point.

We didn't compete in New Hampshire five days later (won by McCain) but went directly to South Carolina which was closer to home turf for the former Senator from Tennessee.

In fact, he started many of his speeches with "It's good to be here in South Carolina where you understand that string beans aren't supposed to be crunchy."

The 2008 South Carolina Republican primary was very competitive especially between McCain and Huckabee. Like Ted Cruz on Saturday, Huckabee was assumed to be the natural recipient of the large majority of GOP voters who considered themselves to be Evangelical Christians.

But, Huckabee and Thompson were fishing (as Lee Atwater used to say) out of the same end of the pond for those conservative voters while McCain was likely to be the favorite of voters who were more moderate.

Again, much like this past Saturday when Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio divided the non-Trump vote, in 2008 Huckabee and Thompson split up the conservative vote - but not evenly.

When the results came in McCain won with 33.2 percent of the votes (compare and contrast with Trump's 32.5% on Saturday). Huckabee came in a close second with 29.9%. Fred came in a distant third with 15.7 percent just ahead of Romneys 15.1%.

In the 2008 contest there were 431,286 votes cast. On Saturday there were 737,917 votes. That is an increase of 71%.

Huckabee's people had begged Thompson's people to get Fred to withdraw from the race before election day on the theory that a huge percentage of Thompson's vote would go to Huckabee allowing him to win South Carolina. With his win in Iowa, he would have the momentum of two wins in the first three contests.

Problem was, Fred Thompson and John McCain were close friends in the Senate and, even though we never discussed it, I have long believed that Thompson stayed in the race even though he knew he had no chance of winning in. He stayed in as a blocking back, specifically to siphon votes from Huckabee and give McCain the boost he needed for orbital velocity, going on and win the nomination.

In the early afternoon of the South Carolina, I received what were then called the mid-day exit polling numbers from a friend in the media. I took my Blackberry to the rear of our tour bus showed him the numbers and said to Sen. Thompson: "Remember when you said you wanted a clear sign whether to go forward or not? You have it. We're going home."

Fred gave a wonderful and typically classy speech that night folding the campaign's tents and headed back to Washington, DC with his wife and children.

The rest of us were out of a job.

Those of us on the traveling squad got commercial flights home the next day. But the home office staff was responsible for getting everyone else off the road and off the payroll: Advance teams, political teams, fund raisers, and all the other people who travel out ahead of a candidate on a major campaign had to be dealt with.

The lawyers drafted a memo to the staff outlining when our pay and health care would stop (I don't remember now how long that was, but I know it was not the next day); the IT guys sent a memo instructing those who were not native to the Washington, DC area how to return their cell phones, lap tops, pagers (remember them?) and any other bits of campaign-owned technology.

The treasurer's shop had to call all the vendors and cancel rents, buses, electricity and phone service and make sure there was enough money in the bank to satisfy all the payables. There was. No one got stiffed by the Fred Thompson campaign.

The thing about a political campaign that is the hardest to deal with is the abrupt end. Win or lose. You go from overdrive to a dead stop as soon as the race is called by the AP or whatever news source you trust.

Everyone who has ever worked in a political campaign knows what I'm talking about.

There is no downshifting through the gears. It's months and months of bus rides and meetings, spreadsheets and phone calls, adrenaline and pizza, and then ? nothing.

This is not a business for the faint of heart.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the 2008 and 2016 primary results from South Carolina, and to the caucus and primary calendar site.

Also, a Mullfoto from the Johannesburg airport that struck me as a neat bit of marketing.