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My Campaign for President in Louisiana's 2004 Democratic Primary

by Bill McGaughey

   

I was one of seven candidates listed on the Democratic presidential ballot in Louisiana. The others were John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Dennis Kucinich, and Lyndon LaRouche. Al Sharpton was not on the ballot because, against the rules, he had paid the filing fee by personal check. Joe Lieberman, who had also filed, was taken off the list when he ended his campaign. My name, "Bill" (in quotes) McGaughey, appeared last on this alphabetized list.

Louisiana was my only state primary. I had also filed in South Carolina but the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence McAuliffe, declared me ineligible to receive delegates at the national convention. He meant to punish me for having run for U.S. Senate in the Independence Party primary in 2002. Party rules in South Carolina would not allow my name to appear on the ballot. "In Louisiana", on the other hand, "we don't care what you've been," an election official cheerfully told me.

And so, on February 1st, I headed south on I-35 on slick freezing pavements, many a car in the ditch. My travels took me through Kansas City and the western part of Arkansas before I arrived at Shreveport, Louisiana's third largest city, in the northwest corner of the state. Beginning here, my five-week campaign worked its way down to New Orleans from the northern and western parts of the state. Baton Rouge was my most frequent headquarters.

With one exception, I stayed at Motel 6's in Louisiana's larger cities. In my normal routine, I would drive to newspaper offices in cities or towns along routes determined from the state's official highway map. I had prepared packets of hand-out literature consisting of a comparison between the Democratic candidates' proposals to create jobs, a biographical sheet, copies of two articles which I had published in the mid '90s in the Green Party publication "Synthesis/ Regeneration proposing a new form of tariff, and several opinion pieces published in major newspapers. I also had photographs of myself to accompany whatever articles might be written.

With respect to employment, I argued that the "jobless recovery" had two principal causes: (1) outsourcing of U.S. jobs to low-wage countries and (2) rapid improvements in labor productivity combined with high levels of overtime. To combat job loss, I argued, the U.S. government should (1) impose employer-specific tariffs whose rate would be calculated to offset the cost advantage derived from the low wages and (2) reduce work time by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (first to cut overtime through stiffer overtime penalties, later to lower the workweek standard). Both these proposals were outside the political mainstream but economically appropriate. I argued that the other candidates were offering little to create jobs.

I learned that many jobs had left Louisiana - notably, 1,300 in Monroe when State Farm announced that its regional office there would close down next year. The state's sugar and crawfish industries were beset by lower cost imported products from Mexico and China respectively. Tariffs, in that context, were not a hard sell. But I was selling the concept of a tariff customized to the employer.

My favorite kind of experience was to find an editor( or radio station manager) willing to spend time talking with me about the local economy. To increase my knowledge, I also attended the governor's conference on Rural Economic Development in Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-ih-tish) on February 10th. While some of the talk concerned increasing broadband capacity in rural areas and lowering business tax rates, a major theme was that the economy could only revive by cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit. This I considered a cop-out. The government was washing its hands of the employment problem: unemployed people would have to create their own jobs.

Weekends were generally dead time because the newspaper offices were not open. So was the Mardi Gras period, especially the four or five days ending on "Fat Tuesday", February 24th. Some had advised me to work the Mardi Gras crowds. That, I found, didn't work. Despite my large purple Mexican hat, people did not seem to appreciate mixing Mardi Gras and presidential politicking. I wound up temporarily suspending my campaign and jumping for beads tossed off the floats. The only political payoff was in Lafayette where a television news crew noted my presence in the crowd. It was my 63rd birthday.

Throughout the campaign but especially in the last week, I was a guest on radio interview shows, some in studio but mostly by phone. These went well except for the last day when I was a "no show" on a radio show due to confusion about the time. I also was a guest for ten minutes on Jeff Crouere's television show "Ringside" which aired in New Orleans.Unfortunately for me, the show aired on March 12th, three days after the primary. Crouere gave me a preelection slot on his radio show. A columnist for The Louisiana Weekly, Christopher Tidmore, wrote a column about me and twice arranged for an interview on his radio talk show.

I spent the final days of the campaign again in northern and central Louisiana, mixing in some sightseeing - tour of a plantation, visit to a zoo and to the site of Bonnie & Clyde's last stand on a country road in Bienville Parish - with campaign activities. On election night, March 9th, I had dinner with an Alexandria newspaper columnist, Andrew Griffin, who was a big fan of Paul Wellstone's, expecting the election returns to be reported on CNN. Instead, the television screen in the sports bar showed John Kerry giving a speech in Illinois, the site of next week's primary.

After John Edwards' defeat and subsequent capitulation on "Super Tuesday" a week earlier, there was little interest in the Louisiana primary. Voter turnout dipped below 10%. The state's top election official said it was a big waste of money. He himself would only vote for appearance's sake, this official said.

From the outset, I had told people that my goal was to win 5% to 10% of the primary vote and beat at least one big-name opponent. With no hard information forthcoming on CNN, Griffin telephoned his newspaper office. I had won 4% of the vote, someone thought. It was worse than that. In the end, I won 1.955% of the vote state wide, trailing the other candidates in New Orleans but doing relatively well in rural areas. I finished well behind Kerry with his 70% of the vote and also behind the three drop-outs, Edwards, Dean, and Clark. I did, however, achieve part of my objective in finishing ahead of the other two active candidates on the ballot. My 3,161 votes statewide put me 750 votes ahead of Dennis Kucinich and 830 votes ahead of Lyndon LaRouche.

Thinking my glass "half empty", a reporter from Bossier City reminded me that it might actually be considered "half full" when he interviewed me by cell phone on my way back to Minnesota. Finishing fifth in Louisiana, for me, was not bad.

 

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