Political writing: Shadowing the candidates l

Part of our campaign coverage, at least in top-of-the-ticket campaigns, was to spend a day with each candidate and then report on campaign styles. Looking back, I’m not sure this contributed much of value to the election process – there was no discussion of issues, for example. It was really a look at style rather than substance. Still, it’s what we did, and I remember these days spent with the candidates as fun and a good excuse to get a day away from the office grind. This story was one that I wrote about Ed Muskie; the next one looks at his Republican challenger, Robert A.G. Monks. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The elections are less than two months away. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie and his Republican opponent, Robert Monks, are campaigning hard. UPI spent a day with each of the candidates, and their campaign styles are examined in this, the first of a two-part series.


BANGOR, Maine (UPI) — Sen. Edmund S. Muskie, D-Maine, and his Republican opponent, Robert A.G. Monks, have little in common except their neckties.

Like most Maine politicians, Muskie and Monks share an affection for the Maine necktie, something which has become essential to a political campaign.

Sen. William D. Hathaway, D-Maine, is generally credited with starting the necktie binge. He owns no fewer than 12 lobster ties, including a specially-made bow tie.

Hathaway wore a pine-tree-and-potato to the Democratic National Convention in tribute to Jimmy Carter. He said the potatoes looked a great deal like peanuts.

Muskie began a day of campaigning in the Bangor area last week with a news conference at a local television studio. He wore a blue tie speckled with little white lobsters. Monks campaigned early this week in Freeport, first touring the L.L. Bean Co. facilities. Monks’ tie was also blue, and it sported little miniature outlines of the state Maine.

Muskie is 62 and the son of a tailor. He has been in public life ling enough to develop what supporters call dignity and what his detractors see as stuffiness.

Monks is 20 years younger, and lived in Massachusetts until a few years ago. He is wealthy, wealthy enough to list his occupation as “fiduciary.”

Muskie approaches people confidently, and speaks off the cuff. Monks often says the same thing: “I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Bob Monks. I’m running for the United States Senate, and I wanted to pay my respects.”

Muskie’s recent morning began with a news conference at a Bangor television station. Then he went to the local GTE Sylvania plant and shook hands with the workers. He spent more time there than he thought he would.

“There’s people working there from as far away as Millinocket,” Muskie said as he walked form the plant to the car. “I don’t think I met two people from the same town, and that’s why I stayed there so long. They all go back home at night and talk to their friends.”

Muskie then went to open the Bangor election headquarters, and stopped for some spaghetti at a local restaurant before touring the Bangor Sears store.

It’s surprising how many people stop Muskie to talk about a problem. A blind man came up to the senator in Sears and said his wife, who had worked for Muskie’s election in the past,  had just lost a son and was too sick to leave their apartment.  He asked if Muskie would stop by for a visit.

“We can’t today,” Muskie said. “But we definitely will another time.”

A young man waited nearby until Muskie was done, and then asked for help in a court case. The man said he had been charged wrongfully with passing bad checks, and that, although the charges had been dropped, he had been forced to sell his house to cover the legal expenses.

Muskie promised to look into it, and an aide jotted down the man’s name.

“That’s one of those cases where you know right away you can’t really do anything for the guy,” the aide said. “But people don’t mind that as long as you try. And we’ll try.”

Muskie clearly loves campaigning, and getting away from Washington and back to Maine.

“I’m unleashed up here,” he said. “I have no staff, no Washington, nothing between me and the people. There’s nothing like direct contact. It gives you vitality, life.”

Muskie ran for vice president with Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and then ran for president in 1972. This year he was considered for the second spot on the ticket with Jimmy Carter. He enjoyed the national exposure, but he is aware it has cost him some popularity in his home state.

“When I was confronted with my problem stemming from the national scene,” Muskie said in the car on the way from Bangor to Waterville, “I realized I would have to re-establish myself. I don’t expect to be able to level off from this pace until after the election.”

Muskie also says he’s happy he wasn’t chosen to run with Carter.

“I’m really happy I wasn’t selected,” he said. “When I ran with Humphrey he turned me loose, and there was no leash on me. He trusted me to handle the situation, and that was it.

“Carter has Mondale, and I think he has him on a pretty tight leash,’ Muskie said. “I wouldn’t enjoy that, and it’s given me the chance to be myself.”

“I’ve reached the point where what I’m doing is very important, and I’m free to set my own priorities,” he said. “I can get home and see the people.”

Muskie was to end his day at the Windsor Fair, and he was a bit unhappy his staff had arranged for him to make a speech. He decided not to.

“Those people are going to the fair to have a good time,’ Muskie said. “They aren’t going there to listen to me.”

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