Betsey Wright, who had previously been active in the Texas State Democratic Party and had been working for Common Cause, came over to work in the campaign. Betsey grew up in West Texas and graduated from the university in Austin. A superb political organizer, she had been all over the state, and she didn't disguise what we'd pretty much figured out -- that the McGovern campaign was doomed. Even Senator McGovern's stellar war record as an Air Force bomber pilot, later commemorated in Stephen Ambrose's book The Wild Blue, which should have given his anti-war position credibility in Texas, was buried under the incoming attacks from Republicans and missteps by his own campaign. When McGovern picked Sargent Shriver to succeed Senator Thomas Eagleton as his Vice presidential nominee, we hoped both Shriver's work under President Kennedy and his Kennedy family connection through Jack and Bobby Kennedy's sister Eunice might revive interest.
When the period for voter registration ended thirty days before the election, Betsey asked me to help run the campaign in San Antonio for the last month. I stayed with a college friend and dove into the sights, sounds, smells and food of that beautiful city. I ate Mexican food three times a day, usually at Mario's out on the highway or at Mi Tierra downtown.
When you run a presidential campaign in a state or city, you're always trying to persuade national headquarters to send in the candidates or other top-level surrogates. Shirley MacLaine was the best-known supporter we had coaxed to San Antonio until the campaign announced that McGovern would fly in for a rally in front of the Alamo, a symbolic backdrop. For more than a week, all our efforts were focused on turning out as big a crowd as possible. That experience made me realize how important it is for the staff from campaign headquarters to respect the local people. Campaigns send in advance staff to plan the logistics of a candidate's visit. This was my first time to see an advance team in action. I learned that they operated under tremendous stress, wanted all the essentials -- phones, copiers, a stage, chairs, sound system -- to appear yesterday, and that in a tight or a losing race, somebody has to be responsible for paying the bills. Every time the advance team ordered something, they'd tell me the money to pay for it would be wired down immediately. But the money never appeared. On the night of the big event, McGovern did a great job. We raised just enough money to pay the local vendors, which turned out to be the only successful venture during my month-long sojourn.
My partner in all this was Sara Ehrman, a member of Senator McGovern's legislative staff who had taken a leave to work on the campaign and later moved to Texas to organize field operations. A political veteran with an effervescent wit, Sara was the embodiment of both maternal warmth and bare-knuckled activism. She never minced words or parsed her opinions, no matter her audience. And she had the energy and spunk of a woman half her age -- and still does. She had been running the San Antonio campaign when I walked in one October day and told her I was there to help. We sized each other up and decided we would enjoy the ride together, and it was the start of a friendship that endures today.
It was obvious to all of us that Nixon was going to trounce McGovern in the November election. But, as we soon would learn, this didn't deter Nixon and his operatives from illegally using campaign funds (not to mention official government agencies) to spy on the opposition and finance dirty tricks to help ensure a Republican victory. A botched break-in at Democratic Committee offices at the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972, would lead to the downfall of Richard Nixon. It would also figure in my future plans.
Before returning to our classes at Yale, for which we were enrolled but had not yet attended, Bill and I took our first vacation together to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, then a sleepy little charmer of a town on the Pacific Coast. Between swims in the surf, we spent our time rehashing the election and the failings of the McGovern campaign, a critique that continued for months. So much had gone wrong, including the flawed Democratic National Convention. Among other tactical errors, McGovern arrived at the podium for his acceptance speech in the middle of the night, when no one in the country was awake, let alone watching a political convention on television. Looking back on our McGovern experience, Bill and I realized we still had much to learn about the art of political campaigning and the power of television. That 1972 race was our first rite of political passage.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...