Political writing: Shadowing the candidates II

It was standard practice to cover top-of-the-ticket political campaigns in part by spending some time on the campaign trail with the candidate. In 1976 in Maine, the U.S. Senate race was between incumbent Senator Edmund S. Muskie and Republican challenger Robert A.G. Monks. I spent a day with each of the candidates and turned out these stories. Looking back, I’m not sure how much such stories added to the quality of the campaigns. But it was Standard Operating Procedure, so that’s what we did.

 EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert A.G. Monks thinks he can beat Sen, Edmund S. Muskie, D-Maine, this November because of voters’ disenchantment with the Washington establishment. UPI recently spent a day with both Monks and Muskie. Monks campaign style is examined in this, the second part of two parts.

Monks campaigns shaking hands in many places


FREEPORT, Maine (UPI) – Robert A.G. Monks started his day as he has started many others during his campaign against Sen. Edmund S. Muskie; he shook hands with people at their place of employment.

This time it was at L.L. Bean’s in Freeport. The handshaking took up most of the morning, and he stopped off at a lunch program for the elderly and at the local police and fire stations before he took a rare lunch break to talk about his campaign.

Monks is getting around in the same wine-red International Scout he used during the primary, and he’s still usually accompanied by John Miller, who was a graduate student at the University of Maine at Orono before getting involved in Monks’ campaign last April.

The Scout looks the same except for an antenna sprouting from the roof.

“It’s a telephone,” Miller said. “We just put it in. It’s the only way we can keep in touch with the office.”

Monks’ campaign style has some definite patterns. He likes mill gates, country stores, programs for the elderly and fire stations. He claims to have campaigned at more than 70 mill gates and more than 40 programs for the elderly, and he usually stops to talk to the firemen whenever he can.

There was only one fireman on duty at the Freeport Fire Station when Monks arrived, a man perhaps a little taller than Monks, who is six-foot-six-inches.

“You,” Monks told the man, “may be the first person I’ve met during the campaign I can look in the eye.”

The fireman said he worked full-time for the Portland Fire Department, took care of Freeport’s fire equipment on his days off and occasionally worked a third job.

“You know, I think firemen are among the last of the innocents,” Monks said as he walked to the Scout. “They have one of the most dangerous jobs there is, and there’s a guy who spends his days off working for another fire department.”

“He works three jobs, and if he had to he’d probably work four.”

Monks may be one of the wealthiest men to run for office in Maine in some time, while Muskie is certainly one of the Senate’s less prosperous members. Monks is aware that his wealth may hinder him somewhat, and his campaign folders make mention of it.

“It has been written that ‘Bob Monks has three strikes against him in his desire to run for public office: 1)He’s rich, 2)he’s bright, and 3) he’s ambitious.’,” one brochure says. “But many Maine people also know Bob Monks for what he does and for the results he gets.”

Monks is almost studiously casual; he had walked into L.L. Bean’s without a jacket, with his collar unbuttoned and with the obligatory blue necktie with the little outlines of the state of Maine pulled away from the neck.

“Excuse me, I just wanted to introduce myself,” Monks said to most of the people he walked up to. “I’m Bob Monks, and I’m running for the United State Senate. I just wanted to pay my respects.”

A man who had been scooting around the Bean warehouse on a forklift buzzed by Monks twice. On the third pass, Monks chased him into a freight elevator. The man was waiting for him.

“Where do you stand on gun control?” he demanded. Monks said he was opposed to gun registration.

The man then said he didn’t like the way Muskie had spent so much time giving speeches.

“How do you expect to do the job if you’re running around giving speeches”?” the man said. “Muskie made a lot of money doing that.”

“More than $70,000 in one year,” Monks responded.

But Monks generally speaks well of Muskie, and claims to be more concerned with the disenchantment people feel with the government. He drove to Yarmouth and talked about the disenchantment over a sandwich before heading for a local shopping center.

“The classic situation is the guy who works in a paper mill. He’s worked hard for 20 years, and he’s voted Democratic for 20 years. He’s worse off now than he was before,” Monks said. ”He’s voted for his people, and they’ve won, and he’s in bad shape. He can’t get mad at the opposition, because they’ve lost. So he gets frustrated.

“To win, I’ve got to go out and get votes from a lot of people who have voted at some time or other for Ed Muskie.

“The thing people talk about the most as I get around the state is their disenchantment with the way things are going,” he said. “It isn’t so much a disenchantment with Ed Muskie as it is with the whole system.”

Monks claims his philosophy of campaigning has changed since the race started. He said he learned the campaigning ids more for the benefit of the candidate than the voter.

“I used to think the campaign was meant for a candidate to go out and create an impression of electability,” Monks said. “But I’ve found the purpose is more to educate the candidate.

“It really shows the genius of our political system.”

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