The strobes of cameramen spill hot light on the new Congressman moving through the crush and triumph of Election Night, through the dance of placards that bear his name, through the whirl of red, white and blue boaters. Jack F. Kemp, until last January the All-Star quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, has just been elected to the House of Representatives from New York's 39th District. He edges through the crowd to a telephone; the White House is calling to offer congratulations. "Do you think tomorrow morning's headlines will read JFK VICTORIOUS?" someone asks.
The Republican Party has high hopes for Jack Kemp. He is a Congressman made to Richard Nixon's order—a Californian, a conservative and a football player to boot. During Kemp's congressional campaign. White House emissaries Robert Finch and Herb Klein appeared frequently in Buffalo, privately to advise and publicly to applaud their man. "The President considers Jack Kemp...a rising national figure," Klein declared. Envelopes with labels reading "From the White House" lay about Kemp headquarters. Cartoonist Al Capp, serving this year as a Republican court jester, entertained without charge at a $100-a-plate affair for Kemp. The White House arranged for Kemp to be coached by professionals. A campaign management consultant arrived from Washington, followed by a press secretary. An advertising firm set about molding Kemp's image. The company that compiles voter surveys for party bigwigs like Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan produced volumes of computerized information on Kemp's constituency, confidential playbooks from which campaign strategy was developed. Jack Kemp, embarking on his new career, was a No. 1 draft choice, a bonus baby.
Kemp's announcement last March that he would run for Congress provoked jokes. "Did you hear Jackie threw his hat in the ring—and had it intercepted?" But from the outset the campaign was plotted in deadly earnest. Nobody was relying on Kemp's celebrity as a sports figure or his All-America virtues to make him a winner.
There was no fundamental image problem. Buffalo's ex-quarterback is utterly wholesome, resembling no one so much as the man in those posters that declare, "The family that prays together stays together." The simile is valid. Kemp is a practicing Presbyterian and his wife Joanne holds Bible study class in their home on Tuesdays. The Kemps consider themselves Middle Americans and it was decided Jack would run a Middle America campaign right there on the Canadian border. Red, white and blue were his colors. "People want candidates who will stand up and say what is right about America," Kemp declared early on, and in almost every speech thereafter he praised the American political system as "the greatest experience in human dignity and human freedom that mankind has ever known." He chose to be uplifting and optimistic.
December 7, 1970
But the most significant of Kemp's assets, of course, was his name, popularized in 13 years of pro football. A pre-election survey showed 76% of the voters in the 39th District knew who he was, while only 23% recognized and could identify his opponent, Thomas Flaherty, a Buffalo attorney who had served for 20 years in local government. Flaherty was quick to concede Kemp's advantage. "When I began my campaign," he said, "I would tell people, 'I'm Tom Flaherty. I'm running for Congress.' I drew blank stares. So I started saying, 'I'm running for Congress against Jack Kemp,' and people would light up immediately." But Flaherty also figured that Kemp's sporting past might hurt Kemp, for the public often looks upon football players as intellectually deficient. And might the fans who had so vigorously booed Kemp in War Memorial Stadium not transfer their disdain to his political career?
Football had surely honed Kemp in subtle, anti-political ways. As a sports hero he developed an aloofness, pushing through crowds mindlessly to limit the attentions of autograph-seekers. "He gives the impression of not wanting to press flesh," his publicity chief, Ken Blasczyk, said. And Kemp's campaign manager, Alex Armendaris, declared, "If another athlete asked me to help him run for office, I'd think twice before agreeing. Sports idols are another breed. A politician has to beg, to crawl for votes."
Kemp's advisers had other concerns, too. "Quarterbacks are lazy," one noted on a particularly strained day. "Jack would rather sit in the office than campaign." And another, the "creative director" of the campaign, Al Schutte, worried that Kemp was too handsome. "He looks too kiddish, too pretty," said Schutte. "We have to unslick him, give a little character to his face."
Kemp needed no speech tutor. He talks surely and swiftly, too swiftly to follow in some instances, but Armendaris said that was "just as well. His answers get too long, he gets in trouble, makes mistakes and forgets the question." A good sense of tempo and cadence masked Kemp's rhetorical deficiencies.
Kemp is inexorably Republican, so no tampering with his attitudes was suggested. "I was born into a Republican family," he would say when asked about his fundamental political philosophy, "and after going into the highly competitive business of pro football, I gained an even deeper appreciation of the competitive free-enterprise system to which this country owes its past, present and future progress and freedom. I believe competition breeds the best, not exactly by the law of the jungle, but the system of free enterprise has brought about the greatest society ever known. I think the Republican Party best preserves and promotes those basic principles of free enterprise."
Kemp's ideals had led him to the fringes of political involvement for years. While playing for the Chargers, first of Los Angeles and then of San Diego, he became a close friend of The San Diego Union's then editor, Herb Klein. In 1961 he began writing a youth column for the rigidly conservative newspaper, and his stories had headlines such as, "Sports, Freedom Require Laws" and "Freedom Is Goal in Playing 'Game.'" In 1962, through a front-office gaffe, Kemp was put on waivers and picked up by the Buffalo Bills for $100. He went East reluctantly, and kept returning to California in the off season. He campaigned for Richard Nixon in his unsuccessful 1962 bid for the state governorship and in 1964 he actively supported Barry Goldwater for the presidency. If he did not back winners, he was one himself, leading Buffalo to the 1964 and 1965 AFL championships and becoming a popular figure in Buffalo community affairs. He gave scores of speeches—"The Struggle of Communism for Control of the Minds of our Youth"—and was honored by the Buffalo Jaycees for outstanding community service and by the Western New York Young Americans for Freedom, who gave him their Americanism Award.
In 1966 Kemp traveled with Nixon when the latter went to the West Coast to campaign for Robert Finch, who was running successfully for lieutenant governor. It was during this trip, "talking philosophy, politics, history and football," that Kemp became friendly with the future President. In 1967 Kemp was on Governor Reagan's staff; in 1968 he traveled for the State Department; in 1969 he worked for Republican National Committee Chairman Rogers Morton as a liaison figure between the Administration and U.S. campuses. So for Kemp politics was no passing fancy. It is hardly surprising that a tacit understanding developed among Erie County G.O.P. leaders that Kemp someday would run for Congress from the 39th District.
As Al Bellanca, the county chairman, said: "We were looking for an attractive, articulate, forthright, aggressive man. Finding Jack Kemp was like finding the Holy Grail."
Kemp himself put it somewhat differently. Deciding 1970 was his year to run, he said: "There is a Republican President in. office our surveys show is popular here. This is a Republican district, and 1 will not have to run against the incumbent. Machiavelli couldn't have come up with a better game plan."
The 39th District is a string of suburbs south of Buffalo, a 15-by-35-mile block with some 223,000 registered voters. The Republicans hold a 25,000 plurality. For years the area sent to Congress an elderly Republican, John R. Pillion, who is best remembered for proclaiming that if Hawaii and Alaska were given statehood four Soviet agents would sit in the U.S. Senate. On another occasion Pillion flew to the South Pole when he received word that Communists were infiltrating there.
In 1964 the local voters rejected Gold-water overwhelmingly, and Pillion, too. Democrat Richard Max McCarthy became the district's Congressman and was elected to three straight terms before giving up his House seat to try unsuccessfully for the Senate. When McCarthy lost in the Democratic primary in June there were weeks of backroom backbiting but the Democrats eventually gathered their divided forces behind Tom Flaherty.
The 39th District, no matter what the voter-registration figures show, is far from solidly Republican. Nelson Rockefeller had lost the 39th in the 1966 governor's race, and Nixon had been defeated in the district in 1968. The area is highly ethnic in composition—Italian, Irish, Polish, Jewish, German, a few blacks. "There's just about everything in the district but WASPs, which is what Jack is," explained Blasczyk one day. It is a district that could be as inconsistent in its affections as pro football fans, and careful strategy was needed. Among the early moves was a decision to drop all references to Goldwater in Kemp's background—too conservative. (Indeed, Kemp would finally edge away from an even more prominent Republican.) Campaign Manager Armendaris, a professional who is the president of his own firm in Washington, Campaign Management Services, also decided Kemp would follow a familiar political premise: "A candidate should always talk in generalities; he should sound like he is saying something but say nothing at all. A strong position on an issue will only turn some voters off."
Kemp received additional counseling at a four-day Candidates' School held in Washington in June for Republican congressional hopefuls. The candidates were urged to work on their speech-making style. They were told to buy books by John Gardner to get "really excellent quotes that can be used for almost any occasion." They were given loose-leaf texts entitled "How to Win," which contained advertisement suggestions, scripts for commercials, possible billboard designs and other helpful hints. They received a packet of pocket-sized speech cards containing rundowns on subjects from agriculture to Vietnam. Each candidate's headquarters would be supplied with a Telex machine that would click out daily memos from Republican headquarters in Washington and would transmit an "Issue of the Day" and a "Speech of the Week." Seminars dealt with precise questions—how to "neutralize" the impact of student activity...how to "neutralize" nationality groups...how to avoid TV debates...how to undermine an opponent's credibility but avoid looking crassly political. Perhaps the most important how-to lecture concerned the raising of money. Among the suggestions: "Firearms legislation is a...matter that is always before the Congress. Internal Revenue has a list of 140,000 dealers and firearms people. It will cost you one penny for each name—$140 for 140,000 names.... This is a great list, and a lot of money can result from it." Kemp was photographed in front of the Capitol, run through the President's office and—compliments of the (White) House—taken on a round of personal briefings with Cabinet members. When he returned he was ready to undertake the improbable, impossible life of the campaigning American politician.
It began slowly, but as day tumbled on day there was no ending: church picnics, flea markets, union outings, shopping malls, parades ("Jack Kemp salutes General Pulaski"), even door-to-door. No crowd too small, no generality too large:
"I have a philosophy of government. I believe very strongly that we live in a time of philosophical anarchy, when not enough people have...."
"I happen to believe that problems are not problems, they are opportunities. As a football player I learned...."
"You will know where I stand. I'm not going to do a ballet dance. Tin not going to tiptoe through...."
"I want to put my life where my mouth has been all these years. That's why I'm...."
On and on. But is anybody listening?
The candidate is walking down the midway at the Erie County Fair with his wife, Joanne, and three children when a woman stops him and asks, "Say, didn't you used to be Jack Kemp?" Kemp shows not a flicker of introspection at the paralyzing question. The transformation from athlete to politician is progressing. At the fair the blue ribbon for artwork goes to a lady who has done Kemp's portrait in wool. He is dressed in his familiar No. 15 jersey; in one hand is a football, in the other the Capitol.
Kemp's official farewell to sport was a $25-a-plate Jack Kemp Appreciation Dinner in June. A few sports figures had to be paid to show up, but most came at their own expense and were warmly laudatory of Kemp, the quarterback. Pete Rozelle, O. J. Simpson, Lou Saban, Frank Leahy and Cookie Gilchrist were among the speakers. The warmest tribute of the night was Frank Leahy's. The old Notre Dame coach said, "Men of Jack Kemp's stature represent the last bastion of strength in our great nation."
Following the dinner, Kemp broke cleanly with his past. Too many celebrities—Sam Huff, Tex Ritter, John Glenn, Shirley Temple, Bud Wilkinson—had failed to establish political credentials and had lost elections. "Why, Kemp's got nothing but a name," a girl at the airport Hertz counter had said. "He's just an overgrown monkey." Kemp is hardly gargantuan, only 6 feet tall and no brawnier than the corner druggist. The intricacies of pro football demand intelligence and Kemp is bright and polished. In his campaign he projected an informed and well-spoken image. But his reputation still wore shoulder pads.
Emotions of voters are finely calibrated by the ad agencies that package political candidates. Kemp's campaign was no exception. The immediate concern of the Rich Advertising Company of Buffalo was Kemp's high-and-mighty quality. "We had to loosen him up," said Rich's Al Schutte. "Get him to acknowledge people, smile at everybody, stop walking away from crowds. We designed his campaign billboards in a way that makes him seem involved with people. We took him out on Main Street, made him take off his coat and loosen his tie. I mussed up his hair. Jack didn't like that. 'I am what I am,' he said, but I told him, 'Look, you've got to win the election and after that you can be what you are.' "
Schutte's other aim was to present Kemp as older looking than his 35 years and more statesmanlike. Kemp was aged by a graphic technique. The gray tones were removed from a close-up photograph that showed just his face and head. This accented the very slight wrinkle lines around his eyes. Suddenly Kemp was aging—and concerned. "I suppose Jack wouldn't like me to describe the effect this way, but it looks Kennedyish," Schutte said, "and that's a good image for a politician to have."
Although one of the lecturers at the Republican Candidates' School had suggested riding about the district with jacket off and shirtsleeves rolled up—"Do everything physically to express the ethic of hard work," was the advice—a rough-and-tumble approach is not Kemp's style. He is always meticulously turned out, so much so that his ad agency had to airbrush in a few errant hairs on his campaign poster. Kemp's red-brown razor cut is sprayed with Consort and stays immaculately in place. Through the campaign he wore the same discreet navy polka-dot tie and always a white shirt.
Kemp centered much of his effort on Amherst, a white-collar area with a preponderance of Republicans. If he could take the town with 64% of the vote, he could more than offset an expected Democratic plurality in the blue-collar area of Cheektowaga. Amherst's Main Street is a concrete slash of consuming America, hamburger and pizza stands cheek by jowl, beauty salons, motels, supermarkets, gas stations. Yet only yards from the churn of traffic are quiet maple-lined streets, and in these comfortable homes Kemp made his pitch. By Election Day he had spoken at 92 neighborhood coffee hours. Usually they were all-women affairs, but Joanne Kemp considered them well worth her husband's time. "Women like to talk," she explained. "I think, on the average, every lady at a coffee tells at least five people about meeting Jack."
The scene rarely varied. The dining-room table would be spread with the hostess' finest linen. Her silver service would gleam and she would have laid out plates of brownies and pastries. Perhaps as many as 50 guests would crowd the living room and flow up the carpeted front stairs, balancing china cups and listening as Kemp would speak. He would tell them he was not running on his merit as a football player. "The popularity of a quarterback rests with his last pass," he would say, "and if I recall correctly mine was intercepted." (He recalls correctly.) The ladies always tittered at the sally. Kemp would continue: "I see three priorities, three goals toward which we should be moving in the last third of the 20th century—peace without surrender, economic prosperity without inflation and justice without disorder." He would elaborate, and his views closely followed the Administration's doctrines.
Inevitably, in the very polite question periods that followed, a lady would ask, "Why can't the young people be made to mind?" or "Why is it these kids can't be persuaded to be behind us instead of the Russians?" The University of Buffalo campus, which has a highly visible radical element, borders Amherst, and the citizenry is understandably apprehensive. A campus-created newspaper circulates in the area's grammar and high schools. It advertises its own brand of STP ("Stop the Pigs, Serve the People"), gives diagramed instructions for making Molotov cocktails and offers advice on how to overturn "a pigmobile."
Kemp would discuss the campus unrest in moderating tones. "You are not a good student unless you dissent," he would say, "unless you question, unless you get involved. But there has to be some balance brought to this debate.... A great deal more has to be done not only from the White House but from your house and my house." And he would condemn "the nihilist, the negativist, the person so obsessed with what is wrong with this country, he fails to recognize the vast amount of good, the progress this country has made for its people." He reassured and he elevated the tone. "I never want to be asked," he would say, "what I was doing that I thought was more important than helping my community and my country at this time. And that's why I'm running for Congress."
One of his staff members marveled at the response Kemp received at coffees. "Why he just levitates those ladies right off the sofa," the aide said.
Into October the Kemp bandwagon rolled on, buoyant and optimistic. The candidate was heavily favored to win. The Democrats were still brawling, and Flaherty had taken to calling it "the fighting 39th." The Kempaigners, flocks of pretty volunteers who were friends of Joanne's and members of her bridge and Bible study clubs, were ringing doorbells, handing out Kemp literature and being well received.
The confident tone of the campaign persisted even after the Kemp headquarters on Main Street, a converted service station, burned one midnight, reducing voter records to ashes. Kemp said later an inspector found traces of kerosene and suspected arson, but nothing was proved. In the gutted ruins stood a sequin-decorated bulletin board that proclaimed, "All Signs Point to Kemp for Congress."
A new headquarters was opened nearby in a former amusement arcade and billiard parlor. The cloyingly sweet smell of the fire lingered in singed books and papers, but the campaign recovered quickly.
On Oct. 8 incumbent Max McCarthy, now returned from his ill-advised Senate wars, was finally barred from entering the congressional race by the State Supreme Court so he endorsed Flaherty.
Flaherty had only four weeks left to collar Kemp, and he had lost considerable campaign contributions because of the Democratic brawling. Flaherty headquarters was a cubbyhole in a downtown Buffalo building. The staff was skimpy and had more ingenuity than experience.
Flaherty attacked Kemp as a "lackey" and a "rubber stamp for Nixon." While vigorously denying this charge, Kemp became increasingly sensitive to it. He had been invited to attend a White House prayer service, but decided not to go because, as he put it later, "It wouldn't have been a plus." Late in October when White House Communications Director Herb Klein conferred with Kemp in Buffalo, none of the papers were informed he was in town. And a Kemp campaign theme—that Nixon needed a Republican majority in Congress—was dropped from Jack's speeches.
And now Flaherty became more of a worry by the hour. One day as Joanne Kemp was driving around her home town of Hamburg, a district she views with a kind of territorial imperative, she saw numbers of green and blue Flaherty bumper stickers and yard signs. With eyes like an eagle, she spied boys with ties walking down a Hamburg street. "That's unusual," she said to a friend. "Boys don't wear ties in this neighborhood. They must be canvassing for Flaherty." She turned the corner in her car and noticed a woman about 100 yards away. "She's from the League of Women Voters," Mrs. Kemp said. "I wonder what she is doing on this street. She doesn't live here."
An attractive and purposeful woman, Joanne Kemp rang hundreds of doorbells during her husband's campaign. Almost every afternoon, between 3 and 5—a time, she explained, when someone was usually to be found at home—she would work an area, setting out with a list of the homeowners' names that also noted whether they were registered Democrats or Republicans. It would take her perhaps 90 minutes to visit all the houses on a block.
"There is no way of knowing how effective she was," Alex Armendaris said, "but I've never known a wife to work so hard for a candidate."
The quarterback was working, too. A day of campaigning is a grip of hands, a kaleidoscope of faces; it is pride in a crowd's applause, its laughter, its loyalty; it is assuredness, confident speeches, verbal rambles spliced with recurring phrases; it is surges of earnestness and conviction. But inevitably there are the flaws, the self-doubt, the voters turned off and the speeches that run on and become nonsense. The silly rote can depress the man. Tiredness seeps in his shoulders. Yet ambition flails at him.
Follow Jack Kemp a day. He begins by pre-empting I Love Lucy on a local television station, half an hour bought for $700 to display him as an articulate candidate. In some houses Lucille Ball fans click Kemp's earnest face from the screen. In other homes, sets continue to run in the mindless progression of morning, from Captain Kangaroo to a bowling show to Kemp. He looks out on a scene of curlers, dungarees, mops, breakfast dishes, unmade beds. Kemp is answering questions from the home audience. "Operators are ready to take your calls," an announcer says. The questions are censored by Armendaris, some are reworded, several are planted, dozens discarded. At the end of the show Kemp is wet through from 10,000 watts of lights. The campaign manager is pleased with the performance. "Jack looked more sincere than he did in the last program," Armendaris says.
Next, Kemp drives to a candidates' luncheon at a Republican women's club. It is an aristocratic group dating from 1936, when Mrs. Ward Wickwire, grande dame of Buffalo society, carried a pennant down Main Street in an Alf Landon parade. The club president wears her three strands of pearls and gold elephant as if they were sergeant's stripes. Over the chicken curry and peas, Kemp is suave and impressive.
His schedule is tight, an appointment with the editors of a newspaper from which he hopes to win endorsement is at 2:30, and at 3 o'clock, three miles away, he is to appear at the grand opening of a tire company. "Excellent chance to meet steelworkers," his schedule notes. Kemp decides to drop the tire store opening. "But, Jack, you can make it," Joanne says insistently. "You don't get many chances to meet steelworkers." He declares firmly that he will not go.
That evening Kemp is to speak at the Worthington machinists' golf banquet. It is near dusk when he arrives at the faded Moose Hall where the stag banquet is being held in a fluorescent-lit basement. Above the beer drinkers are crepe decorations, twisted red and white ribbons and pink bells. Kemp is welcomed simply and well, but he is not at ease. "Football is what helps me with these people," he whispers to an associate. He refuses a beer and asks for a Coke. He seldom drinks. He signs autographs for the men's sons and talks about the Bills' upcoming game.
Conversation at the dinner is awkward for Kemp, and when he rises to speak he spends many minutes telling football anecdotes. He stresses his experience at the bargaining table representing the American Football League players' union. Phrases in the speech betray his discomfort. "I know you people...." Emotionally, Kemp is not one of the group. He talks on, telling the men America is in the state Charles Dickens described in A Tale of Two Cities—the best of times and the worst of times. He speaks of the spirit of the country, of law and respect. He calls for rededication. He closes with a lengthy quote from Gibbon concerning the decline of Athenian freedom. He is given a fine ovation on leaving.
"These are the people I must see more of," he says as his driver heads the car toward an evening version of still another upper-middle-class coffee hour. "Damn! I wish I could get into more union meetings, but as a Republican you just can't get invited. Oh, I'm tired." Kemp holds his head. He turns on the inside car light to read reports and restlessly turns it off again and reaches for the radio. A singer is wailing through the speakers, "I need your love, I want your love...."
A brittle chatter of voices stops as Kemp arrives at the coffee. He shakes hands and plunges into his speech. "There is a passage written by James Madison in the 10th Federalist paper," he is saying moments later, "that I have considered the keynote of my political career." Suddenly his mind is too weary. He cannot remember the quote. He looks at his wife and asks, "What did Madison say?" The company giggles. Joanne provides the cue and Kemp continues. An hour later—10 p.m. now—they leave for the final stop, a Customs Bureau annual awards dinner. But they arrive too late. The dinner has broken up. The ladies are in a corner talking about Avon cosmetics; the men are in the bar. All Kemp can do is shake hands with waitresses who are setting the restaurant's tables for breakfast: "Hello, I'm Jack Kemp, running for Congress." Yes, running.
Two weeks prior to Election Day, Kemp debated Flaherty on television. Kemp's performance was excellent. His opponent fared poorly; Flaherty was gaunt and inadequately made up for the cameras. The perspiration streamed down his face and neck and the cosmetics made the sweat all the more obvious. Kemp used no makeup and the staging gave him the best camera angle—a fact noted by Flaherty supporters. The television station's chief executive was a staunch backer of Kemp. In the course of this otherwise successful debate, Kemp suddenly fumbled, though it was a few days before Flaherty reacted, politics drawing out its suspense longer than football.
In the interim came the appearance of Nelson Rockefeller and Al Capp at a $100-a-plate dinner for Kemp. "I'm just delighted to be here to pay my respects to a great leader, Jack Kemp," the Governor said. "You already know how Jack Kemp responds to pressure. You've seen him as a pro quarterback with half a ton of the enemy line coming in on top of him and he's never flinched and he's been the kind of leader this country is looking for...."
Capp wound up a vivid address with: "It's the Republican Party and guys like Jack Kemp who will make your kids safe from drugs, your kids safe from corruption, your institutions safe from dynamiting...." Kemp applauded, selfconsciously.
The dinner, producing part of the $150,000 it took to elect Jack Kemp, was his campaign high point, for immediately thereafter the opposition hit with a barrage of television and radio advertising, a happening totally unexpected by Kemp and his advisers. The Democrats, it had been thought, had no funds for a commercial blitz. But in the concluding 10 days of the campaign Flaherty piled $22,000 into devastating TV spots based on an inaccurate and unwise statement Kemp had made in the debate.
Buffalo is a city of increasing unemployment and the Nixon economic policy, which Kemp strongly endorsed, had become a campaign issue. Answering an attack by Flaherty during the debate, Kemp had said, "Very frankly I am surprised that [Mr. Flaherty] would be so loose with the facts to say that prices are going up instead of down. For the first time in many years the wholesale and consumer price index is indeed not only leveling off but being reduced." Sadly for Kemp, the Buffalo Courier-Express the next morning had headlines reading: COST OF LIVING RISES, BUYING POWER DIPS MORE SWIFTLY THAN IN YEARS. Flaherty's people put together the two, a recording of Kemp's voice during the debate and the newspaper story. They flashed this on the TV screen. "Whom does he think he's kidding?" a voice in the background declared indignantly. The commercial went on to decry the rise in unemployment since Richard Nixon took office and ended by Flaherty asking for the vote. It was a skillful piece of political advertising, made even more effective when, the day after it debuted, a Buffalo paper carried a report that the local Bethlehem Steel plant was planning to lay off 10,000 of its 17,000 workers.
Kemp's office frantically called the White House and Bethlehem Steel, to no apparent avail. The company was tight-lipped. The papers continued to carry headlines such as: BETHLEHEM STEEL TRIMS WORK FORCE, BETHLEHEM PROFITS FALL, BETHLEHEM SILENT ON LAYOFF RUMOR, FLAHERTY BLAMES PLANT LAYOFFS ON ECONOMIC POLICIES OF NIXON.
Flaherty's tough commercial put Kemp in a rage. He attempted to have it taken off Channels 4 and 7, where his friends had some control over policy, but the ad continued. "The FCC will take care of the matter, I'm sure," someone told Kemp.
"Why don't you just call the White House," a staffer suggested, "and let them take care of it. That's what Hairy Dent [a presidential aide] is down in Washington for."
Kemp had a telethon arranged for the night the Bethlehem Steel story broke, and he was visibly shaken. The show was a bad one. "This is the worst day of my life," he said afterward. The game was suddenly close. Very.
The candidates had one final debate. The format of this program, which was carried on Buffalo's educational TV channel, did not permit much grappling or head-knocking, but Flaherty's attack on Nixon's economic record had upset Kemp so much that he blew a key line his staff had spent the afternoon coaching him to recite ("As far as unemployment is concerned, I am not going to play politics with people's jobs"). Even worse, Kemp ended his remarks by saying the unemployment in Buffalo was caused not by the President, nor by himself. Jack Kemp, but by his opponent's supporters, the striking auto workers of General Motors. It was a gratuitous and injudicious slap at labor.
No sooner were the candidates off camera than the verbal jousting got even hotter. According to a witness it went like this:
Flaherty: You got a little frantic there, Jack.
Kemp: What do you mean?
Flaherty: Why, you pushed the panic button.
Kemp: Well, you're running that ad on television. But we've taken care of that.
Flaherty: Oh really?
Kemp: You bet. We've stopped it.
Flaherty: I hadn't heard.
Kemp: You'd better check with your ad agency.
Flaherty: I'm too busy.
The next day Kemp learned the FCC had no regulation that would force Flaherty's commercial off the airwaves.
Early in the campaign, pre-Election Friday had been designated as a day of rest for Kemp, but his appointment secretary, Marietta Ruth, now could be heard on the telephone booking him for an appearance that day at a Sylvania factory, signing him up as a costume judge for a Halloween party at the Maple East Elementary School and inquiring what high school football games were scheduled that Kemp might attend. It was even decided that the candidate had better go bar-hopping Friday night in the Polish neighborhoods and take with him two former Buffalo teammates, Tom Sestak and Ed Rutkowski.
Kemp was warmly received at Sylvania, where complex radios used in fighters and helicopters are manufactured. Many of the women in the factory were festively celebrating Halloween. Some wore party masks as they worked over minuscule components. Kemp moved among them, shaking hands in a charming and debonair fashion. "He tilts his head, winks and gives them that Clark Gable look," said an amused Rutkowski, who had come along. Alternately the women teased, mothered and flirted with Kemp. They would straighten their wigs and squirm a bit in their chairs as he drew near. "Trick or treat," vamped a 40-year-old. They rushed after him in coveys for autographs and one ran into her office exclaiming happily, "I kissed Jack Kemp."
Wedged into the now-bulging schedule was a visit to a senior citizens' club. Kemp arrived during the Halloween square dance. The club members were in madcap dress; angels, devils, Alpine climbers. The clubhouse was gay with guitar music, a musician calling out, "Swing your partner, do-si-do...." Kemp circled the room meeting people. "You are too young to vote," he said, bending to shake the hand of a white-haired lady, "but I wanted to stop by and say hello." Someone suggested Kemp join in the square dance. "Why he wouldn't know his right foot from his left foot," a disapproving gentleman said. Kemp was never put to the test.
On Sunday the Kemp cause got a boost. The Buffalo Bills blasted the Boston Patriots 45-10. It was the team's second straight victory, not exactly an overwhelming statistic, except in Buffalo, for the Kemp-led Bills had not managed back-to-back wins since 1966. Buffalo fans, many of whom are blue-collar workers, were elated. Flaherty was not.
At 6:15 Monday morning Kemp was at Gate No. 1 of the Bethlehem plant to shake hands with steelworkers. The factory buildings and stacks were hulks against the night blue sky, the streets around the mill silent. Men carrying paper bags and lunch pails moved wordlessly toward the factory. Kemp stood under a streetlight, a figure exuding youth, success and an optimism toward life. "Hi, I'm Jack Kemp," he'd say confidently, grasping a hand. His was the single voice in the morning. Kemp workers were passing out handbills that asked, "Can a Union Leader Be Elected to Congress?" On the reverse side was a reprint of a page from the Congressional Record. It praised Kemp for his work bargaining for football players. Kemp had been prepared for a desultory and possibly hostile reception. "It's good the Bills won yesterday," he said. "It put everyone in a good mood." He faced no hostility, but not much enthusiasm either.
Mrs. Kemp also managed to cash in on the Buffalo victory. Reading in the morning newspaper that Dennis Shaw, the current Bills quarterback, was to sign autographs on Monday at the A-Mart, she took an armful of Kemp pamphlets to the store and positioned herself in just the spot where autograph-seekers would have to shake her hand and take her brochure first.
Monday afternoon the Kemp camp fretted. Nixon would be on television again that night. Wasn't he overdoing it? Would Republican candidates suffer from overkill?
Election morning dawned to find Kemp at the Ford plant, but he had hardly begun to shake hands when he was asked to leave—plant regulations. Then he went to visit polling places, but the ones he drove to were mostly empty. Anyway, Kempaigners had been posted at many of the district's 441 precincts. "Having them there shows organization, momentum, confidence," Armendaris said.
Election Day generates a renewal of faith in American politics. In part it is because the polling places—the Swormville Fire Hall, Ehrman's Plumbing Shop, Christ the King School—are neighborly and familiar. There, below the short blue curtain of the voting machine, are the knees of the kindergarten teacher, the work pants of the roofer, the shoes of the hardware store owner.
The Kemps arrived to vote at the Hamburg Volunteer Fire Company at 9 o'clock. It was a gray day, the pigeons flying high among the bare elms along Lake Street. Two fire engines stood in the garage with the voting registry and machine. Only one cameraman showed up to photograph the Kemps actually voting. But Jack and Joanne waited around until men from the other TV stations arrived and re-enacted the voting for each of them. If Kemp had been superstitious he would have noticed the American flag leaning against the voting booth—it was upside down, a sign of distress.
Polling places in Buffalo closed at 9 p.m., and Armendaris had said that within half an hour he would be able to predict the election outcome. Kemp left his home to drive to campaign headquarters in Amherst just as the polls closed. A steady rain beaded the windows as the car sped up the black highway. A radio announcer began giving early returns. The first precincts reporting in the 39th District were from Kemp's own town of Hamburg. They showed Flaherty leading, 311 to 304, 295 to 274. Some Amherst results were in, but Kemp was not ahead by any overwhelming margin.
At Kemp headquarters Armendaris was studying the slips passing in front of him. The numbers were discouraging: Kemp 47.8%, Kemp 47%, Kemp 49.6%.
"What have you to show me?" the candidate wanted to know on his arrival. "It's very close," Armendaris said. "We are taking a beating in Amherst." Over the radio they could hear Democrats winning a number of local elections, upsetting favored Republicans. Rockefeller was losing again in Erie County. Joanne Kemp's teeth chattered nervously. Armendaris suggested the Kemps go to the Statler Hilton, where the Republican Party rally was to be held. He cautioned Kemp to go to his room and not to talk to anyone.
Results came over the car radio constantly, and Kemp's mood rose and fell with them. Alternately he was hurt—"For Chrissake, why don't they vote for me"—and happy—"They're for me, listen, we're in, we're in."
Near 10 o'clock a radio station predicted a Kemp victory by 51.5% of the vote. Armendaris was still saying it was too close to call. Kemp had gotten only 58% in Amherst, an area in which 61% of the voters are registered Republicans. "We're not even getting a respectable share," the campaign manager said. But Kemp was not doing as poorly as expected in the blue-collar districts. Perhaps old Buffalo Bill loyalties were saving him after all. Kemp received 44% of the vote in Cheektowaga where his advisers had hoped for only 40%
By 11:15 it was obvious that Kemp had his win, though by the narrowest of margins—96,989 to 90,949. In his upstairs room at the Statler, friends jubilantly began addressing him as Congressman. "This is better than winning the Super Bowl," said a smiling Rutkowski. "Honey, there's more future to it," said Mrs. Rutkowski.
Aides clutched at Kemp, telling him he must leave for the TV stations. One man said he should go to Channel 2 first, another had a different schedule. Kemp, thoroughly confused, stood in the center of the room. "Now you're a Congressman, you've got to make a decision," someone called out. "Let's take a vote," said Kemp.
"I think Jack did that in the huddle," a friend said. "The Bills were always being penalized for delay of game."
Near midnight, while he was appearing on WNED-TV, Kemp was informed that Flaherty had conceded. Said Kemp, not grasping the implications, "I've played in too many games and know you can't count on a win until the whistle blows."
Soon Kemp's headquarters was merry with champagne toasts. And there in the midst of the celebrators was the winning rookie. His ear was tight to the telephone and he was talking to the White House. It was, come to think of it, a typical sports scene.