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Labor Day Democratic Presidential Rally In Merrill, Wisconsin: 1984 And A WDOR Reporter

September 7, 2020

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A brief shower failed to dampen the enthusiasm of Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale and Vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro during a Merrill campaign visit. Applauding them is Congressman David Obey who represented that area in Congress.

On Labor Day 1984 I was attending the first major political rally of my life.  It was also the first major political rally that I would report on for WDOR radio news.

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 a deep respect for was as electrifying to me as being at a rally with a presidential nominee.

I had traveled from Sturgeon Bay to Lincoln County Fairgrounds in 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 get close to politics and report about it.  I knew then not everyone could say they get to live what they dream, and I recall attempts to slow 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.

But Mondale saw it far differently.  With rolled-up shirtsleeves, Mondale told the audience it did not matter whether it was rain, hail, sleet, or snow.  The Democrats would make it to the polls on Election Day!

Here is the final draft of that speech.

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.

As we now observe this Labor Day in a national health crisis and a most troubling presidential election year, there are many reasons for anxieties and dread. But I have found one personal story which has made for smiles in our home.

 

 

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