Jim Klobuchar - Sweaty Fingers in Minneapolis, and an Election
Our table talk at a restaurant luncheon got around to the trials and joys of the workplace we most remembered: its satisfactions, pratfalls pressures, rewards, all of that. It came my turn to testify, and I offered a long-ago morning on a November day Minneapolis.
We’d been yakking about politics, and the story seemed to fit. The day I remembered was all about American politics in one of its most excruciating hours of suspense.
The race was for the American presidency, John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon. My employer was the Associated Press, the world-wide news gathering organization. My role in the Minneapolis bureau was to write the stories based on election returns as they progressed in Minnesota and neighboring states, involving not only the presidential election but other statewide contests. The year was 1960, than 50 years ago. Exit polls were still years into the future. So were the speed of light computerized returns of today. The county auditors actually phoned in their results. Eric Sevareid’s scowling analysis of the trends on black and white television was handicapped by the trudging tempo of the results from the nation’s voting booths.
There were status stories to write: trends and results in congressional races. But in the presidential race, from ocean to ocean, nothing definitive. The Kennedy-Nixon race was volatile. By midnight the electoral college projections were not decisive. In Minnesota, the vote was large but still inconclusive. At 1 a.m. George Moses, the AP bureau chief, suggested I drive home for a couple of hours sleep and to return at, “well, how about 3 a.m?” George said helpfully.
By 6 a.m. , John Kennedy had climbed to within six electoral votes of clinching the election. Only three states remained uncommitted—Illinois, California and Minnesota. The world was clamoring for the identity of the new American president.
In those years, it was considered a kind of original sin in wire service coverage to project returns on the basis of past voting trends. Everybody remembered the early edition Chicago Tribune headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Associated Press staffers remembered its own premature dispatch ending World War One. In our second floor newsroom in downtown Minneapolis, all that separated us from our wire service competitor was an office wall. George Moses now organized a huddle. Adolph Johnson, our veteran political expert and I joined him. The large bulk of the uncounted Minnesota votes were in northeastern Minnesota, Duluth and the Iron Range, historically strong Democratic turf.
With Kennedy leading but much of the northern Minnesota vote still out, Moses didn’t think Nixon could overcome Kennedy’s ultimate count. He asked for our opinion and we agreed. Moses then called the AP’s general desk chief, Sam Blackmun, in New York. “We’re going to elect Kennedy,” he said. A kind of dark silenced followed on both ends. And then “I’ve got two words for you guys in Minneapolis.” Silence again. Then, “ be right.”
It was now breakneck stuff. Moses handed me some copy paper. There wasn’t time for the usual carbons. Moses began pulling the copy out of my typewriter—computers were still years away—one paragraph at a time and running it to the teletype. Touch the bases, I told myself: The significance of the election, Kennedy’s campaign themes, the closeness of the race, the first Roman Catholic elected to the White House, Kennedy’s probable agendas.
Moses kept running the copy to the teletype operator, Bob Mexner, with each new paragraph; and now without a carbon I had to yell to Mexner, “how did that last paragraph end?” With fingers flying, Mexner tried to be helpful and yelled over his shoulder “With a period!”.
The story stood up, the global suspense was over, John Kennedy did in fact become the president, and color returned to the cheeks of the bureau chief.
I walked down to the end of the block to a small Swedish Café and had a sandwich and a cup of coffee for lunch. When I got back to the office the first call I took after we had elected an American president was from one of our wire service contributors in southern Minnesota. The story told of a mini-crisis in a little farm town near Mankato. Three pigs had fallen into a deep mud hole and it took all of the town’s resources to get them out.
Life goes on. We put it on the wire.
About Jim Klobuchar:
In 45 years of daily journalism, Jim Klobuchar’s coverage ranged from presidential campaigns to a trash collector’s ball. He has written from the floor of a tent in the middle of Alaska, from helicopters, from the Alps and from the edge of a sand trap. He was invited to lunch by royalty and to a fist fight by the late Minnesota Viking football coach, Norm Van Brocklin. He wrote a popular column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 30 years and has authored 23 books. Retiring as a columnist in 1996, he contributes to Ecumen’s “Changing Aging” blog, MinnPost.com and the Christian Science Monitor. He also leads trips around the world and an annual bike trip across Northern Minnesota. He’s climbed the Matterhorn in the Alps 8 times and has ridden his bike around Lake Superior. He’s also the proud father of two daughters, including Minnesota's senior U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.