On Labor Day 1984 I was working at WDOR in Sturgeon Bay when I was dispatched to cover the Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro rally in Merrill, Wisconsin. It would be the first major political rally of my life, and the first such large news story I would report on for WDOR news. The second would be when President Reagan visited Oshkosh.
I was young, eager, and so excited that I could barely contain myself. Days before the event I had gone through a background check to gain press credentials which allowed me onto the risers with the national press. Knowing I was going to stand alongside some of the journalists I had deep respect for was as electrifying to me as being at my first major political rally with a presidential nominee.
I had traveled from Sturgeon Bay to Merrill, Wisconsin in my light blue Chevet and still recall the feeling that life could not be better. I was doing what I had always really wanted to do, which was getting close to politics and reporting about the story. I knew then not everyone could say they get to live what they dream, and I recall as I was driving my mental attempts to slow myself down to better take in every moment, every detail.
Many broadcasters were questioning whether the traditional start of the presidential fall campaign was best done in a place like Merrill. If memory serves me right Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro started that Labor Day in New York and encountered rainy weather. That the sky was gray and filled with sprinkles in Merrill was not lost on those who thought it an omen for the election outcome.
Once at the rally site I climbed to stand with the press and was truly pleased to be about three feet from Lynn Sherr and Brit Hume, both from ABC. I smiled to myself when Sherr asked Hume how to pronounce “La Follette” and I then laughed out loud later than night when she mispronounced it on the national news. Everyone has on-air slips, and it was comforting to see it play out in front of me.
To be honest being on the risers with the press could have been the culmination of the day and I would have been totally content.
When the music ramped up and Mondale and Ferraro took the simple outdoor platform and gave punchy dramatic stump speeches I knew at once that my political infection was for real. Never before had I felt so alive. So in the moment.
Geraldine Ferraro was loved by that crowd in Merrill. The applause was enthusiastic, and the warmth for her was genuine. Later I went down and recorded some interviews with voters and my thrust of the news story was how they viewed the first female nominee. Ferraro was breaking new ground and they were glad Labor Day in Merrill was where she spent some of her time.
I will never forget that first major rally, the sense of being young and living life.
I am pleased that in some small way I was able to brush up alongside the historic campaign year when Geraldine Ferraro was on a national ticket as the first woman vice-presidential nominee.