(PHOTO: Jimmy Carter proclaiming POULTRY BOWL DAY. I did play-by-play for the not-so-famous college football game. I’m the smiling guy on the far right who set up the meeting. The pic's in bad shape after many years stuck to the glass in its frame--in a storage box.)....................
Two of our Channel 4/Eyewitness News reporters stood at Bruce Hall’s desk, smoking, waiting for the assignment editor to get off the phone. The news staff was scattered about the newsroom, some of us typing our stories--3 pages thick/2 sheets of carbon paper in between-- on electric typewriters with oversized keys; (we were state of the art !) Other reporters were in the editing room, splicing 16 mm newsfilm with razor blades and glue. Bruce put his hand over the receiver and said, “Jimmy Carter is coming by in a few minutes for an interview. Who can do it?”
“Who’s Jimmy Carter?” said small, dark Jack Bookout, who looked like Paul Anka.
Dandy Don Lewis, an aging ladies’ man, spoke with his cigarette dangling from his lips. “Isn’t he the guy running for governor against Carl Sanders?” ....................
Our star reporter, Brad Davis whose seriousness was compromised by his page-boy haircut, said, “I’m waiting for a call from the Mayor’s office. Let Randy have Carter.”
Our police reporter, Jack Gould, said, “I’ve got film of a wreck to edit. Let Randy do it.”
News Director/Star Anchorman Bill Grove, who was older than sin, said, “It’ll be good experience for Randy even if we don’t use it.”
Thus, I got my first interview with Jimmy Carter and my first exposure to the secret of his success.
Peanut farmer and former state senator Jimmy Carter came begging interviews from WJXT-TV in Jacksonville, Florida, because our signal covered most of South Georgia and he desperately needed the free exposure.
My main question, which ended up on the cutting-room floor, was “How do you expect to win against a well-financed candidate like former governor Carl Sanders?”
He politely answered my question, barely moving his lips as he spoke. “I have a goal of shaking hands with 200,000 people and asking them for their vote.”
“And you think that will get you elected governor?”
“In combination with some other things, yes I do.”
He had broken this goal into small, do-able tasks by dividing 200,000 by the number of days in the campaign, and dividing the days by a certain number of hours; thus, he knew how many hands he had to shake each hour.
His goal could have been: win the governorship. But that was too all-encompassing. He thought goals should be specific, small things that could be quantified and marked off a list as he accomplished them. Sure, he wanted to win the governorship, but his GOAL was process: shake X number of hands per hour, X number of hours per day, X number of days. Do the process / win the prize.
The Channel 4/Eyewitness News department used more of this interview on our Christmas party “funny reel” than on the air.
Later that afternoon, as I edited the tape, Bill Blackburn, who had more wrinkles than a Chinese Shar Pei, commented, “Who’s that yokel!”
“A peanut farmer,” I said. “Thinks he’s gonna be the next governor.”
“Georgia? Why are we covering the Georgia race?”
“Slow news day,” said Bruce.
“He’ll never get elected to anything,” said Harry Reagan, our producer.
I wanted to say Don’t be so sure, but it wasn’t my job to correct the old pros.
Carter reached his goal, winning the governorship in a stunning upset. And he was a very popular man during the days between his surprise victory and the inauguration. And for the first 10 seconds that he was governor...
Many of the voters who had supported him had just assumed that he was a racist like them. But a few seconds after he took the oath of office, Carter said, "Frankly, I say to you, my fellow Georgians, that the time for racial discrimination is over." (He ended up on the cover of Time Magazine for that quote--in some silly story about The New South.)
There was no new South. And the time for racial discrimination in Georgia was not over. (Nor was it over in Florida: our news department was lilly-white. And that was so normal at the time that I never even thought about it till today... this moment... as I write these lines 38 years later.)
With great fanfare, Carter hung a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the state capitol.
From that point on, the redneck-cracker portion of the state hated Carter passionately. And these previously loyal Democrats would become Republicans after Ronald Reagan opened his 1980 Presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered and buried in an earthen dam.
I was a radio news director in North Georgia during Carter's governorship (in the early ‘70s) and talked with him many times during his visits to our station and on his “listening tours,” during which he strolled around the town square talking to all-comers.
People got suspicious when he continued the listening tours into the final month of his governorship.
I remember sitting at the counter in an all-white café a block from the courthouse in Gainesville, Georgia, near the end of 1974, and hearing someone ask what the hell Carter was running for now. “The senate,” said a businessman, looking over the top of his newspaper.
“He couldn’t be elected dogcatcher in this state,” said someone else.
Somebody laughed. Someone else cursed Carter for his liberalism.
The soon-to-be ex-governor came to the radio station that day and announced that he was not going to run for the senate, after all. He had decided to run for president.
We thought he had lost his mind!
I remembered his appearance on the TV show WHAT’S MY LINE? -- the panel failed to guess that he was a governor. They didn’t know him even after he told them his name. (Nor did the rest of America. His recognition factor, nationwide, when he began his campaign for president, was less than 1%.)
“Do you have the money to run a presidential campaign?” I asked.
“Not yet. But I won’t need any at first. I’ll travel coach. I’ll spend the night in people’s houses instead of hotels. We’ll do it on a shoestring budget.”
“But how can you win?”
“The same way I won the governorship. I’m going to campaign the same way in Iowa. I intend to shake 200,000 hands. And after I win Iowa, I’ll be the frontrunner in New Hampshire…and it’ll be all over. Nobody will catch me after that.”
He had crunched the numbers and knew just how many hands he could shake per hour and how many hours he could spend visiting barber shops, beauty shops, farms, factories and malls to find those hands.
He didn’t have to worry about his big goal, winning the election, so long as he did all the little things that would add up to success.
The man unknown to more than 99% of Americans, the man who thought he could end racial discrimination in Georgia, the man who stumped the panel on WHAT’S MY LINE?, the man who couldn’t be elected dogcatcher, fulfilled his daily goals during that campaign and, thereby, made his big dream come true, becoming 39th President of the United States.
Enjoyed your Carter blog. I have pictures of myself and Bill Grove at the Thunderbird motel circle room. I'm about to strangle Carter with an old lavaliere mic cord while Grove is patting down his hair for the interview. Carter was running for President at the time. That was a FEW years ago. It was nice hearing from you.
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