Throwback Thursday: Volunteering for the 1980 Presidential campaign of John B. Anderson

Yup, that's me, speaking at a 1980 presidential debate sponsored by the Porter County, Indiana chapter of the American Association of University Women, wearing my best polyester suit.

Yup, that’s me, speaking at a 1980 presidential debate sponsored by the Porter County, Indiana chapter of the American Association of University Women, wearing my best polyester suit. Note the cigarette smoke appearing in the photo!

As the boxes of papers in my condo unit storage area attest, I tend to save stuff! This stuff includes a small pile of mementos from the first Presidential candidate I ever supported and voted for, John B. Anderson of Illinois. I spent countless hours working as a volunteer for Anderson’s 1980 independent campaign, and it is one of my most memorable college experiences.

I’ve written earlier that during college and law school, I had every intention of launching a political career, so much that I was obsessed with the machinations of campaigns and elections. During this time, and especially through college, my own political views were very much in flux. I started college as an independent-minded Republican and finished as an independent-minded Democrat. But it’s also safe to say that my positions on issues were more knee-jerk than principled and well thought-out. regardless of whether I was leaning right or left!

Since then, my views have usually come out on the liberal side, but as to individuals I admire and respect in public life, I find myself drawn to people of character and integrity in ways that may transcend political partisanship. This may signify that I have come full circle, because John Anderson had those qualities in abundance.

In a way, my own political journey tracked that of Anderson, who for most of a long career in the House of Representatives was a strong conservative, rising to party leadership positions and representing a Rockford, Illinois district that returned him to office time and again. But in the wake of Vietnam and the social upheaval of the 60s and early 70s, Anderson began moving to the left, to the point where he entered the 1980 GOP primaries as a “liberal Republican,” a designation that would be virtually impossible today.

Anderson made a splash in the primaries and was gaining a following that cut across political lines, but he knew that his chances of winning the nomination — eventually secured by Ronald Reagan — were practically non-existent. So he decided to mount an independent Presidential campaign. He engaged in the arduous effort to get on the ballot across the country, and he picked a running mate, former Wisconsin Governor Patrick J. Lucey, a Democrat.

Although polling data showed Anderson with double digit support through the summer of 1980, he faded in the fall and garnered 7 percent of the November vote, far behind Reagan and the Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter.

I served as the Northwest Indiana coordinator for the Anderson/Lucey campaign, an area covering Lake and Porter counties, two fairly heavily populated areas of the state. My position signified the degree to which the campaign had to rely on green volunteer talent. I coordinated a small organization of volunteers, served as a representative to the statewide campaign committee, participated in a couple of local debates, and even did some local radio interviews.

Mementos from the 1980 independent Presidential campaign of John B. Anderson

Mementos from the 1980 independent Presidential campaign of John B. Anderson

Some of the mementos pictured above are self-explanatory, but let me say a bit about three of them:

(1) The ALL CAPS letter on the left is a mailgram sent by Vice Presidential candidate Patrick J. Lucey to core Indiana volunteers, thanking us for a furious and ultimately successful petition effort to put him on the state’s November ballot. Lucey had been added to the ticket as Anderson’s running mate after petitions for Anderson had been submitted, so the Indiana courts required us to mount a second petition effort to secure his place as the VP candidate on the ballot.

(2) The newspaper article at top is a summer 1980 piece by the Gary Post-Tribune, featuring our small band of Anderson volunteers. It was one of my earliest press interviews about anything, and I recall how nervous I was speaking to the reporter! The article mentions an older couple, John and Kim Glennon, who served as den parents to our young volunteer group. Mrs. Glennon had attended law school with Anderson at the University of Illinois.

(3) The letter on the right was sent to key Anderson supporters after the November election, thanking us for our efforts on behalf of the campaign. I didn’t know if Anderson personally signed it or whether a robo-signing machine was used, but it was nice to receive the letter after working so hard for the campaign.

The 1980 election will forever be associated with President Reagan’s election and the nation’s rightward political shift, but I believe that Anderson’s story also symbolizes that change. After many years as a Republican loyalist, Anderson’s politics were moving left as his party’s positions were moving right. Anderson’s campaign platform was a mix of liberal social positions, strong support for workers’ rights, and moderate-to-liberal economic policies. His departure from the GOP anticipated the sharper ideological divisions that continue to confront America today.

In the years following the election, Anderson did a lot of teaching and lecturing, eventually becoming a law professor at Nova University in Florida and serving in leadership positions for various advocacy groups. He’s in his early 90s now. I’m not sure if he is still active as a teacher and advocate, but I hope he knows that his campaign made a strong impact on those of us who were fortunate to be a part of it.

2 responses

  1. If you are an ex-Anderson campaign worker like myself, you should read the book that was written on the campaign — No Holding Back — a superb account of a significant but not well known event in American politics.

    1. Yes, it’s an excellent, thoroughly researched book! Thanks for suggesting it.

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