Washington — Just after Jimmy Carter won the White House in 1976, a 10-page memo outlining a bid for the presidency arrived on the desk of a Republican congressman named John Bayard Anderson.
It marked the start of another difficult political passage for the scholarly, scrappy, silver-maned congressman from Swedish immigrant stock.
Former Anderson aide Paul Henry, a political scientist from Duke University and now a Michigan state legislator, wrote in the memo that a cantankerous and economically stagnant America could be ready for a President Anderson in the 1980s.
"I encouraged him to hang onto the conservative tradition," Dr. Henry said.
"The United States is a disgruntled society that has seen its standard of living level off. There have been big dislocations in the political system -- Watergate and Vietnam -- which have created a distaste for politics. The setback of the Nixon and Johnson years, and even Carter's, have brought a swing to an era of disillusionment," he now finds.
"Anderson is fundamentally competent and always articulate, although a little professorial. Even though you disagree with him, you can't help respect him. He is a man of integrity. And his positions are not ones of political convenience, which can appear a bit cavalier until you get a good look at the man," adds Dr. Henry.
However, hanging onto his rocked-ribbed conservative roots, the kind that run deep in the farming flatlands of the 16th Congressional District around Rockford , Ill., 85 miles northwest of Chicago, has not been the hallmark of John Anderson's political life.
Born Feb. 15, 1922, in Rockford and "born-again" religiously at age nine at a evangelical Christian meeting, John Anderson went on to become a four-battle-star Army sergeant in World War II, a Harvard- educated lawyer, and then served three years in the US foreign service in West Berlin. He returned to a Rockford law firm only to run for Winnebago County states attorney in 1956 and win, and then in 1960 took over a safe Republican seat in the US House of Representatives that he has held for 20 years.
Two decades in the swirl of Washington politics, however, helped break his conservative Midwest moorings. He became the third-ranking House Republican, one who worked well with Democrats, and according to many of his colleagues was "the best orator in the House."
In June 1979, after a tough battle in 1978 to retain his House seat against New Right conservatives, he decided to go "for the Big One," as his Democratic House friend Morris Udall put it, rather than run for Congress in 1980.
In-fighting between Old Guard and "moderate" Republicans was not new to the congressman. And when he ended up almost last in a pack of seven prominent GOP candidates heading into the Iowa presidential caucus in January and New Hampshire primary in February, he knew that he had to make a difference. Or at least be different.
On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, where this reporter traveled with Mr. Anderson as the lone press person one cold winter day, the candidate said he had become worried that people he met believed deep down that a US president today could not make much of difference against Big Bureaucracy and Big Business, or really solve an overwhelming inflation and energy problem. "So many people are going to put their heads in their hands and not go to the polls," he said.
Thus was begat "the Anderson difference," a campaign slogan born out of his apparent "courage" to say the unsayable in the nationally-televised Iowa debates , and to offer ideas on energy sacrifice, fiscal conservatism, and liberal social positions that appeared to avoid Republican cliches and that captured the attention of national media.
Frankhearted, plainspoken, and seemingly absent of guile, he was a pinstriped candidate with a following of suburban liberals, college activists, and a mixed bag of other voters, disenchanted with the traditional choices. It took nine months to raise his first $1 million and only three weeks to raise the second million.
John Anderson became the "candid" candidate with a detailed position paper on any issue that moved. He often said an Anderson administration would have a "wallet on the right and a heart on the left."
In many ways, his campaign themes paralleled that of California Governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Both were the subjects of Gary Trudeau's popular Doonesbury comic strip that poked fun at the ironies and upper-middle-class followings of their campaigns. And both received Hollywood's political blessings (Norman Lear and Paul Newman are active on Anderson's behalf).
"He's an anomoly. He's in the middle of a new political phenonmon that most politicans can't even begin to understand. John's base lies in the alienated middle of the political spectrum," says press secretary Tom Matthews.
The Illinois congressman with a look-'em-in-the-eye style called for a "new politics" in which a candidate would "simply tell the truth!" Promoting a new American lifestyle of sacrifice and less consumption gave the impression that he put principle above winning, resulting in youthful crowds on campuses and a "confrontation" campaign that included facing hostile audiences, such as gun owners who booed his stand on federal firearms licencing. He often quoted Abraham Lincoln, "The dogmas of the quiet past are not sufficient for the stormy present."
"I believe in the power of ideas.That's the romance, the excitement, of this campaign," said the candidate, "This is not an academic exercise, not a classroom in which we instruct the American people on the issues."
Even though he took fourth place with 10 percent of the vote in New Hampshire to Ronald Reagan's 50 percent, the media perception of an underdog-made-good helped him stay close behind Reagan's popularity through the April 1 Wisconsin primary, where Anderson received 28 percent to Reagan's 40 percent and George Bush's 31 percent.
Stalled in second or third place, Anderson, the dark horse, began to think of putting on a new saddle: leaving the Grand Ol' Party to wage an independent run for the Oval Office.
Such a strategy of switching tacks was not new in his career.
In the early 1950s, appointment as an ambassador seemed impossible to the young career foreign service officer and he went into politics. As an arch-conservative GOP congressman who saw Barry Goldwater lose his White House bid badly in 1964, John Anderson moved left to the middle of the political sprectrum. When Republican talk of his possibly being appointed to a federal court post, perhaps even the US Supreme Court, failed to materialize, he toyed with a run for the US Senate from Illinois. When no opening seemed possible and his House seat began to come under attack, he went for the Republican presidential nomination. Denied that, he then turned independent.
Even his campaign today, says staff aids, is one of just overcoming obstacles laid in its path.
"John Anderson was over his head when the question of an independent campaign came up. His national popularity was about 20 percent and the money was flowing in. He looked like a kid with a lollipop," said a former close aide. "Then reality set in."
No one had ever won the presidency as an independent candidate, not even Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, whose political career had been well studied by Anderson. But polls shows that nearly half the American electorate was not happy with a choice between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
Just before the Wisconsin primary, in a pivotal meeting for John Anderson's long pilgrimage in politics, the candidate met in a Milwaukee hotel room with a number of key aides, including his wife, Keke. Up to then, the campaign had been no more well organized than a run for state legislature, say staff aids. In secret, several of his staff members, mainly Democrats, spent two weeks organizing a strategy for raising about $10 million and getting on most of the 50 state ballots. Anderson went on vacation in California: "I will sit under a eucalyptus tree and think," he said.
On April 24, with more than six months remaining before the Nov. 4 election day, Anderson announced a "National Unity Campaign" to become the first US president without a party. He called for voters to "put country above party."
"The two-party system certainly needs a good shaking up. I don't care whose poll you consult, neither Jimmy Carter nor Ronald Reagan are above the 40 percent mark . . . in the number of people who will vote for them in November," candidate Anderson tells people.
Despite his call for "unity," a good part of the campaign is negative: "With all of the hard choices that confront us in 1980, we do have one easy choice: the rejection of both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan."
But he adds: "I'm not interested in the conduct of my campaign in creating the impression that I somehow have a mission to defeat Ronald Reagan or that I somehow a mission to defeat Jimmy Carter."
Leaving the Republican Party was an anguishing decision, both politically and personally: ". . . there's a loneliness in all this that I don't think anyone can appreciate," he told the New Yorker magazine.
But even more troublesome was his dependency on the media for exposure in the Age of Television. While television news coverage had helped catapult Anderson into the public eye almost overnight, it had turned out to be just as effective in dragging him down in popularity. Even to his close aides, the "Thinking Man's Candidate" has been forced to become the Television Candidate, scrambling for "free media."
"He went up mercurially by the media and he can drop mercurially," observes Dr. Henry, "The media, which would prefer Anderson, is so careful of not foisting its opinion on the public that it is now extra critical of him."
The press felt guilt, says former Anderson campaign treasurer Francis Sheehan , over the thought that perhaps it boosted him ahead of where he should be.
When President Carter called the congressman's political strength a creation of the press, Anderson wrily told reporters at a press conference, "I feel very humble. I'm standing before my creators."
In an unexpected move, Anderson hired David Garth. A New York campaign consultant, Mr. Garth is considered the shrewdest in the country on shaping a candidate's image through a "media" campaign and whose work helped inspired the movie "The Candidate" with Robert Redford.
Starting with Adlai Stevenson II in 1960, Garth has batted .750 in 105 campaigns, helping such politicians as ex-New York Mayor john Lindsay, former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker, and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley win office.
Ironically, Mr. Anderson admires and often quotes Adlai Stevenson, a politician who wanted to "talk sense to the people" and refused to bow to the age of television and image -- and also lost three bids for the presidency, twice as the Democratic nominee.
"Garth and Anderson are like oil and water. One is a street-wise fighter from New York who deals in images and runs a staff ragged; the other is an upright Midwesterner who deals in reality and knows little about running a staff ," says a close aide.
"Some candidates require more handling than John Anderson," says Garth, who floats around Anderson headquarters in Washington without an office of his own. "He is the most unusual political candidate that I have ever handled."
"I think people have a sense of quality that comes through the television and the press. I think the cosmetics of the business, which is what is oversold -- the right lights, the right shirt, all that kind of baloney -- really is not important. We really spend little time on that.
"We tailor whatever we do to communications to the candidate. In other words , somebody is comfortable doing something, that's the way you should film them. What most producers do who make a mistake in this business is try to have a concept -- like an advertising concept -- and try to fit the candidate to that concept. When that happens, that fails.
"Most of the things that we have gotten credit for having strategized really come because of necessity."
Over the summer, necessity ran the Anderson campaign. Most of the "free" television coverage went to the Republican and Democratic national conventions, which eclipsed and diminished Anderson's popularity. Staff time and money went into getting the two million signatures and legal aid to have the Anderson name placed on state ballots, despite legal opposition from Carter's Democratic campaign.
Even though the Anderson campaign strategy is oriented to winning the eight largest industrial states and their electoral college votes, media whiz Garth felt that Anderson's name should be on all state ballots so that there is no question that he is a "serious" national candidate.
"Clearly, we needed a David Garth. He brought the ability to make decisions quickly," says Keke Anderson. He also used his influence in New York to get the maverick Liberal Party to endorse Anderson along with Republican Sen. Jacob Javits who lost his party's nomination in the primary, raising the possibility of New York's 41 electoral votes going to the independent candidate. "Without that, I don't have to tell what would have happened to the Anderson campaign," adds Mrs. Anderson.
By late August, however, a $1 million campaign debt and a drop in the national polls to about 13 percent popularity (from a mid-June high of 23 percent) precipitated a campaign crisis. An Anderson trip to Israel in July, during which he made strained appeals for the Jewish vote, and other statements during the summer began to make him appear to many as any other political opportunist. "The campaign switched from telling the truth to trying to win and it suffered," said a former campaign aide.
Anderson's appointments secretary, Jean Foster, puts it this way: "If you are looking for votes, you sometimes have to play the games. It's hard to stay genuine."
Traveling press secretary Tom Matthews adds: "John lost his original vision over the summer. The campaign faltered and he was not together." Conflicts within the staff caused several top-level resignations.
"Now he has returned to making the kind of statements where it does not matter whether he wins or not," says Mr. Matthews.
In the hunt for publicity, Anderson also returned to the use of confrontation encounters that often make the nightly news. Examples: He tells workers at TRW Corporation, a California defense contractor, that the nation does not need an MX missile system; he tells the National Religious Broadcasters Association that some Protestant fundamentalists are advocating "nothing less than an American version of religious intolerance."
The attempt to return to a "candid" candidacy came about the same time that Patrick J. Lucey, ex-Wisconsin governor and a Kennedy-style Democrat, was selected to be Anderson's vice-presidential running mate.
The Reagan-Anderson televised debate (minus Carter) took place on Sept. 21.
The debate, with no immediate impact in the polls for Anderson, at least made "people aware of me as a person," he says. But while the polls say he won on the issues, he lost in the image contest with former actor Reagan. He was not relaxed during the first few questions, Mrs. Anderson admits.
Back in Rockford, local reporter Pat Cunningham has watched the candidate's speaking style over the years: In a [Marshall] McLuhansense, he is too intense, too hot for close-up TV. He developed his style in Congress where such an intensity was appropriate."
The damage in the polls, however, already had been done. "If Anderson does not once again look like he is breaking the political rules, then there is no chance of lighting up the campaign," said one aide.
Campaign manager Garth and his staff are fighting what they call a "Catch-22" -- that is, people who like Anderson will not support him because "he cannot win" and he cannot win because people will not support him. Then a vote for Anderson becomes a matter of tipping the balance between a Carter-Reagan race. "It's the biggest problem we have to confront in this campaign," says Anderson.
The media, says manager Garth, "is going to say he is a real candidate, he can win." Viability, not credibility, is the issue.
But, finds Dr. Henry, "What the Anderson candidacy shows is that the blessing of a major party gives you some kind of legitimacy that can deliver a psychological advantage in the public mindset. Even though television has helped erode the party structure, TV must still bow to its [the party's] apparent power."
At times, the Anderson staff lets loose on the media role. "I blame the press to a large extent for the political paralysis in this country," says Mrs. Anderson. "The press has become sterile. If it thinks only a Democrat and Republican can become an effective president, it has lost its creativity. If it cannot think beyond the two- party system, then it deserves the kind of government it is getting."
Her husband, however, realizes the task he faces as a low-in-the- polls independent: "Obviously what I have to try to do is to sell my ideas to the American people, convince them that this election is so important that they are not betting on a horse race. They're not putting down a $2 bet on somebody to win, place or show. They are electing a president for the next four years and they ought to choose on the basis of the man, what he represents, what his experience has been -- not on whether he can with.
"I suppose maybe we could call off the election and let somebody make that decision for us on the basis of some computer set up somewhere . . .," he adds.
The threshold number in the polls for a "serious" candidate, says Dr. Henry, is 20 percent. "Then the idea that you are somehow wasting your vote is removed. Anderson is within five points or so of being a possibility." The Anderson staff point to polls that indicate him neck- and-neck if people are asked to assume that he has a chance.
"There are breaks involved," advises media expert Garth, and they may come in the political television commercials for Anderson expected in mid-October. "Our commercials should be designed to get across two things: the issues that he stands on and the fact that he can win."
He particularly likes this quote from a supporter: "If all the people who wanted John Anderson to be president voted for John Anderson, he would be president."
But it will be on Nov. 4 that Anderson will discover whether being different will make a difference in his quixotic quest for the White House.
Tomorrow: Politics that defies labels