Associated Press legend Walter Mears was guest speaker at the monthly CM Men’s Breakfast on Wednesday, May 16th. Mears, whose writing career specialized in political coverage, received the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in the 1976 Ford versus Carter presidential campaign and election. He covered 11 presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2001, ranging from Kennedy versus Nixon to Bush versus Gore, and his writing appeared in virtually every daily newspaper in the nation.
Although he worked in the Associated Press Washington Bureau, he actually traveled the campaign trail with the presidential candidates and was one of the “boys on the bus.”
He has a treasure trove of memories and touched on a number of them in his talk with the Men’s Breakfast group.
His first campaign was Kennedy versus Nixon and he noted that the candidates’ personalities were dramatically different. Nixon was cold and standoffish with newsmen and generally unavailable because he didn’t trust them, while Kennedy was likable, accessible and friendly toward reporters. The result was the news coverage was much more favorable toward Kennedy.
In 1964, Johnson versus Goldwater, Mears actually traveled with the Goldwater campaign and became very fond of the outspoken candidate. He said that at the time, “Goldwater was accused of shooting from the hip, but he wasn’t really that careful!”
The speaker named 1968 as the most exciting and memorable campaign year. Dissension against Vietnam was rampant. Demonstrations were everywhere. President Johnson surprised the nation by declining to run for a second term. Newly announced candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The chaotic Democratic convention in Chicago resulted in police riots against agitators across the street from Mears’s hotel, as well as tear gas fumes in his room.
Mears said the 1972 campaign for Nixon’s second term was destined to be a landslide (Nixon received 61 percent of the popular vote and carried 49 states) so there was no justification for Watergate. Nixon didn’t have to cheat to win, but Mears feels it was almost an automatic reaction due to the President’s nature.
The 2000 campaign, Bush versus Gore, was Mears’s last. He said neither candidate ran a good campaign and Gore would have won if he had involved Clinton. He added that no one will ever know who really won Florida as the voting differential was only .0009 of 1 percent and Gore bowed out too soon and should have demanded a recount of the entire state.
In the Q&A session, Mears was asked about the impact of the Tea Party and responded that he believes it is pushing Romney farther to the right than his ideology and in the final analysis it will be more destructive to the GOP than to the Democrats. Asked about President Obama, he feels Obama’s biggest mistake was not to embrace and push the Simpson-Bowles Commission.
In closing, Mears said that, while he is seriously concerned about the current gridlock in Washington, historically the nation has always eventually corrected political extremes and quite probably will do so this time as well.
By John Modisett