New York in History and Anecdote
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McCain and Me

John S. McCain won the New Hampshire Republican Presidential primary on February 1, 2000. No one reported the result of the Republican vice-presidential primary. Even the victor didn’t know the results for a week, until he checked the web site of the New Hampshire Secretary of State on Tuesday, February 8 and then downloaded the results.

I won. I polled 23,808 votes. Russell J. Fornwalt, of New York City, polled 18,512. Ours were the only names printed on the ballot.

As New Hampshire uses paper ballots, casting a write-in vote is much easier than in New York. The write-in candidates and their votes included Elizabeth Dole, 9,492; Alan Keyes, 5,426; John S. McCain, 3,994; Steve Forbes, 3,822; George W. Bush, 2,659; Colin Powell, 736; Gary Bauer, 496; Orrin Hatch, 218; Bill Bradley, 129; Albert Gore, 73; Wladislav D. Kubiak, 40; and Sam Costello, 35.

Finally, there were 3,908 scattering votes: people writing in themselves, or Donald Duck, or Donald Trump, which is all much the same thing.

Obviously, someone persuaded Mrs. Dole or her sorority sisters to spend time and money on telephone calls and a pulling operation to show her desirability as a running mate. The same seems true for Keyes. The other numbers seem to represent the usual falloff from the Presidential primary. People vote for their favorites for both offices. Perhaps also, as one sensible woman speculated to me, “Maybe it’s ‘I won’t vote for you for President, but I’ll vote for you for Vice President.'”

Whatever. The New Hampshire vice-presidential primary is meaningless. No delegates are bound to vote for me. I am far likelier to win the lottery or be struck by lightning than to find myself in the winner’s circle at this summer’s Republican National Convention, the Presidential candidate and I with arms raised in victory, ready to lead the GOP into battle against eight years of Democrat corruption and dishonor.

Why did I enter the primary? I wanted to test how many people would vote for someone of whom they knew nothing. Gary Bauer uttered some kind words about the voters in his withdrawal speech after polling one percent of the vote in New Hampshire: “These are serious people here. They take their citizenship seriously. They’ve done a good job of looking at all of us.” This is untrue, of course. Bauer was being a good loser.

That kind of statement could otherwise come only from someone who either was punch-drunk or believed he had a future in politics. A republic, literally, is public property: res publica. Its owners, the public, must take an interest in its affairs or it becomes the property of anyone who takes possession—seizes power, if you will. That happens. Our political system is an insecure oligarchy, seeking periodic moral ratification from the people. Perhaps the best rejection of the system is withholding one’s sanction by not voting.

But I digress. By contrast with the presidential candidates who spent millions of dollars on television, radio, and direct mail advertising, I spent nothing beyond my filing fee. In fact, I returned to an old American custom: I waged a rocking chair campaign (unlike McKinley, who waged a front porch campaign because he had a front porch) and let the office seek the man. I did not even go to New Hampshire.

Vice-presidential primaries grew out of the reform impulse of the Progressive era: to smash the power of bossism by placing all nominations in the hands of the people. Apparently, some states took this to a logical extreme. Maybe it was a kind of philosophical idealism: even an office for which nominees are customarily chosen by their running mates should lie–or seem to lie–in the gift of the people.

The first presidential primaries as we know them were in 1908. New Hampshire adopted a direct primary law in 1913 and applied it to the selection of delegates and alternates to the National Convention in 1920. In 1952, the state added a beauty contest for President and, inexplicably, vice-president.

Now there are only two vice-presidential primaries: New Hampshire and West Virginia. Ohio and Maryland had them too at one time. They were usually uncontested. Often, some local elder statesman would have his name placed on the ballot as a favorite son. (In Ohio, several aging Civil War generals were put up to it.) H. L. Mencken considered entering the Maryland Democratic vice-presidential primary in 1912: he declined when a mayor of Baltimore, convinced the lightning would strike him, entered his name. Of course, Mencken’s candidacy would have been just a sick joke.

Parenthetically, the eventual 1912 Democratic nominee and victor, the dapper, witty Thomas Marshall of Indiana, is remembered only for a response to Senator Francis Newlands of Nevada, a would-be Cicero fond of stringing sentences beginning with “What this country needs…” “What this country needs,” the vice-president riposted from the chair he occupied as President of the Senate, “is a good five-cent cigar.”

In New Hampshire, at least one candidate usually enters each party’s vice-presidential primary. One such was Austin Burton, a Republican who won the 1968 vice-presidential primary while–or perhaps by–arguing that we should return the country to the Indians. (He campaigned in a feathered headdress and claimed to have been made “Chief Burning Tree.”) In 1972, Endicott Peabody, a one-term governor of Massachusetts, entered the Democratic vice-presidential primary, espousing the view that the vice-presidency was important. He won, without opposition, only to receive around 100 votes at the Democratic National Convention out of some 3,000 cast.

Fewer candidates enter the West Virginia vice-presidential primary, and in some years no one does. I briefly considered doing both: then I decided I could do better things with West Virginia’s filing fee for vice-presidential candidacy, which is $1,750. In 1976, Ray Rollinson, who opposes abortion on demand and favors the re-legalization of marijuana (not a bad platform, that), entered both primaries. He won New Hampshire. Alas, in West Virginia, he was soundly defeated by Dale Reusch, an Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan from Medina, Ohio.

Entering a primary in New Hampshire is simple. One fills out a short form, attaches a check or money order for the filing fee, and either mails it or files it in person or by representative. The filing period for the 2000 primary ran from November 1 to November 19, 1999. Many candidates appear in person to file. Indeed, the Secretary of State notes in his records whether a candidate appeared in person. I mailed mine, as did most candidates. Then I contemplated the great questions of the day from my rocking chair.

The only controversy involving my candidacy, and everybody else’s, was a complaint to the state’s Ballot Law Commission by one Joseph S. Haas Jr., an occasional candidate for state office. The gravamen of his complaint was that the candidates had violated the law by tendering checks in payment of the filing fees and must be disqualified because, under the state’s Coinage act of 1752 and an 1898 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision, State v. Jackson, the only money recognized by the state was coinage of gold and silver.

This seemed strange.  After all, most of New Hampshire’s taxpayers pay their taxes with checks rather than large sacks of coin.

Mr. Haas’s papers were even stranger.  Some were written in a crabbed hand; others were typed, with self-conscious eccentricities of usage such as “UN-answered” and “PAYment” or “‘pay’ment,” and annotated with hand-written corrections. And he signed his name as Joseph Sanders Haas Jr., Joseph S. Haas, and Joe Hass.  Maybe he was suffering from schizophrenia.  Maybe he was just a slob.

Maybe he wanted to create a Constitutional crisis on the cheap. The United States demonetized gold in 1933. A few years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bond indentures requiring payment of principle and interest in gold coin were enforceable only as to require legal tender, i.e., paper money. And our last circulating silver coins were struck back in the 1960s.

In common with the other candidates, I ignored Mr. Haas. The Ballot Law Commission held a hearing on December 17, 1999. Mr. Haas first argued that the candidates had defaulted by not responding to his complaint. The Commission did not consider his motion. Then he argued that a check was not immediate payment, but merely a promise to pay.  The Hon. Richard Marple, a State Representative, also argued that checks were not legal payment and only gold and silver coins were legal tender.

New Hampshire’s legislature has 400 Representatives in its lower house; they are paid $125 a year which, if Mr. Marple’s capacity for self-delusion is an indicator, is excessively generous.

The Commission, after analyzing the Uniform Commercial Code, determined that a check was not a promise to pay, but an order, a written instruction to pay money signed by the person giving the instruction, acceptable as a payment, and dismissed Mr. Haas’s complaint. The Republic was saved from the spectacle of a primary with no candidates on the ballot.

The next interesting development came on January 25, 2000, when I heard from my opponent. An envelope addressed to Hon. William Bryk from Russell J. Fornwalt landed in my mailbox. Mr. Fornwalt sent me a small “Russell J. Fornwalt for U.S. Vice President” calendar printed in blue, red, and black inks on light cardstock. He included a reproduction of his advertisement from the Carriage Town News, of Kingstown, N.H., in which he promised to restore dignity and integrity to the office of vice-president and called himself “the choice of the voters,” inviting people to learn more about his campaign by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to his post office box.

Finally, he enclosed a press release, bearing a black and white photocopy of a color snapshot of a benign, grandfatherly man (Mr. Fornwalt, presumably), seated at a secretary with several papers before him. The release was unsteadily typed with a manual typewriter, and two errors had been neatly corrected with a blue ball-point pen. Mr. Fornwalt wrote the following:

Russell J. Fornwalt, Republican candidate for vice-president in the New Hampshire Primary Election on February 1, 2000, has only one goal: Get the Vice out of the vice-presidency and put Virtue back in.

What is “Vice”? (Dictionary Definition No. 1: moral depravity or corruption; wickedness; a moral fault or failing).

Among other things, Candidate Fornwalt says he will not stand for the pardon of terrorists. He will not use YOUR telephones in YOUR White House for political fundraising. He will not resort to any kind of funny-money monkey-business. He will not be the Bag or BEGman for any national committee…

Fornwalt points out that there have been 45 VEEPS, starting with an Adams in 1789, including an Andrew, an Arthur, an Adlai, an Alben, an Agnew, ET AL. Fourteen of these 45 (about one out of 3) later became Presidents (with or without “VICE”) one way or another.

Mr. Fornwalt’s campaign literature bore neither telephone number nor e-mail address. So I mailed him an acknowledgment and wished him well.

Two journalists tracked me down. A charming woman from the Press Trust of India, who combined a sultry alto with a pukka accent, was irresistible and knew it, which made her even more so. The other, Mr. Al McKeon of the Milford Cabinet, combined excellent questions about my motives with an appeal to help him meet his deadline. I couldn’t resist that, either.

Both harped a bit on my comparative obscurity. “I’ve talked to reporters on papers throughout the state,” the woman informed me, “and they say they’ve never heard of you.” I murmured something about censorship by the liberal media. The fellow was less combative. “They say people like you who run for President or Vice President—people they’ve never heard of—tend to be nuts.” I said I’d never heard of them, either, but that “I’d never make that kind of generalization–not even after reading the Manchester Union-Leader.”

I don’t believe either interview has seen print.

Primary Day and Night came and went. I periodically glanced over the newspapers and checked the Internet for the results, until the moment of glory came. One can’t say it was my Warholian fifteen minutes. No one noticed. And McCain hasn’t called me.

February 16, 2000,  New York Press

February 3, 2009   1 Comment