Twenty-one elections, but none like this one

This will be the 21st presidential election in my lifetime and I can remember all of them, though I admit I can’t recall all that much about the first one when I was 3.

That was the 1936 contest between FDR and Alf Landon and my only memory was of Doris, the girl next door, asking me if I was for Roosevelt or Landon. I said I was for “Mum,” a little guy in a black suit and hat, running for president in the New York World-Telegram funnies.

I can recall much more about the 1940 election between Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, especially the campaign buttons that read “No Third Term,” and being told Roosevelt was trying to break a sacred tradition of only two terms for a president. His fourth-term election in 1944 was overshadowed by the war news and learning to identify all the Japanese and Nazi war planes along with ours.

I was 15 in 1948 and babysitting for neighbors attending a Dewey victory party along with everyone on our street on election night. When the parents came home, Truman was shockingly ahead, but I was assured Dewey would take the lead when the farm vote came in. The farm vote came in but Dewey didn’t.

By 1952, I was a college sophomore and my journalism professor assigned me to write a feature story on how some coal miners in a nearby West Virginia mining town had decided between Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower. A miner explained to me that John L. Lewis, the powerful head of their union, told his men to vote for Stevenson, “but we voted for Ike, just like we voted for Roosevelt when he told us to vote for Willkie in 1940.” I cast my first presidential vote for Ike four years later with an absentee ballot I filled out in my Fort Knox barracks.

Then came the first of nine presidential elections I covered as a print or broadcast journalist. It was 1960, the year of the first presidential debates, the first successful Catholic candidate and the first election between two candidates born in the 20th century. I never again voted with the enthusiasm and excitement of my vote for Kennedy in 1960 and I never would again cover a story with the sadness I felt when reporting on the Connecticut politicians attending his funeral in Washington three years later.

 

There’s nothing like an election night for a reporter. I was privileged to cover not only the nine presidential races but nine more even-year gubernatorial and senatorial elections between 1960 and my retirement in 1998. Most of them were a collaboration between Channel 3 and The Hartford Courant and we had results speedily called in from every polling place in the state, usually by members of the League of Women Voters. We prided ourselves in being able to call most elections within a couple of hours after the polls closed in the state. 

One year, in the early days of the computer, Jack Gould, the television critic for The New York Times, noted that Channel 3 in Hartford enjoyed the knowledge of “a blue-eyed computer named Jack Zaiman, the veteran political reporter of The Courant.”

Sitting at home on election night, something I’ve been doing since Bush-Gore in 2000, isn’t the same — which brings us to Trump-Biden, which isn’t going to be the same for other reasons, none of them good.

Forget the polls. There is no way of accurately determining the outcome of the November election. It’s going to be different from any other because we won’t know who will vote — in person or by mail — and who will stay home intentionally or through no fault of their own.

There could be a landslide for Biden or Trump, or an election so close that we won’t know the results for days or weeks. Half of the voters couldn’t conceive of casting a vote for Donald Trump and nearly half feel the same way about Joe Biden. This threatens to be the most hate-filled election of all 21. No doubt.

So it all depends on which half gets out the vote. Sometimes I wish Mum were running again.

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.

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