SAN FRANCISCO — Sometimes nostalgia calls and just has to be answered. In California politics, that means an overpowering yearning to get out of the television studios and away from the chic living rooms of the fund-raisers.
The urge is to go get out with The Ordinary People.
Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, front-running Democratic candidate in California's 1988 U.S. Senate election, embarked on such a pursuit Monday--an "on-the-road" highway caravan around the state.
"Not long ago, being on the road was the only way to campaign," McCarthy said. "Everybody understood, it was the way you could listen to people and get a real sense whether they feel this state and this country are going in the right direction or not."
Relying on Television
McCarthy said his campaign would rely on television advertising the same as others'. But he pledged to lease a motor home once a month and put his foot to the floor, his ear to the ground.
First stop: San Francisco's Pier 33. Somewhere along this part of the wharf in the winter of 1934, 3 1/2-year-old Leo Tarsisius McCarthy immigrated to the United States with his family.
They came from New Zealand to the Irish neighborhood of Depression-era San Francisco. They were tavern owners and restaurateurs. Down on Mission Street they ran the pub, McCarthy's Big Glass.
McCarthy spoke of the hopes that sustain immigrants through their hardships.
"Today, I see that hope and promise threatened. . . . I do not want it said that my generation was the first generation in American history to leave a lower standard of living to our children."
There were virtually no Ordinary People at the pier. But it was a symbolic start, drawing attention to McCarthy's own simple beginnings in California. The contrast was unstated but obvious with the more comfortable country club upbringing of incumbent Republican Sen. Pete Wilson.
This idea of extensive highway campaigning is rare but not unheard of in modern California politics. State Sen. H. L. Richardson (R-Glendora) used a motor home in his unsuccessful 1974 campaign for the U.S. Senate. That same year, shipping magnate William Matson Roth drove the blacktop in the 1974 Democratic primary for governor. He too was unsuccessful.
For McCarthy, the novelty of the idea seemed to pay off quickly, with extensive press coverage at most stops.
From San Francisco, where it was cold enough to see your breath and the wind strong enough to make your hair fly, McCarthy's five-vehicle motorcade eased into traffic and headed east. Small bundles of green and white balloons were sent aloft. A large banner read, "On the Road With Leo McCarthy."
Next stop: the small community of Dixon and a fruit stand on Interstate 80.
Thick morning fog was just breaking up as Darab Chami, an immigrant from Khomeini's Iran and proprietor of the market, taught McCarthy how to crack walnuts. You do not pound one on a post. You put two together in your fist and then smack your fist into the palm of your other hand, like a first baseman striking his mitt.
Next stop: Sacramento and Jim-Denny's, a thriving diner since long before diners got hip. The nine-stool emporium is a favorite lunch spot for McCarthy, and he came here Monday to praise the values of small business.
With owner Jim Van Nort standing alongside in a stained apron and shirt with a hole in the front, McCarthy said: "Jim has succeeded here--he works hard and makes a good product. He pays his bills on time; no credit cards accepted.
"When I'm in Washington, I've got to think of helping people like this."
Of his opponent, the incumbent Republican senator, McCarthy added, "I don't think Pete Wilson spends much time with people like this."
The procession then went south through the Central Valley. Next stop: Modesto.
In spring-like afternoon sunshine, McCarthy toured a model economic renovation effort undertaken by local businessmen to diversify the rural economy. And he goaded Wilson:
"Too often those in government who most affect our lives are the ones most removed from our lives. For the last five years, the people of California have watched the timid tenure of Pete Wilson and seen him lay low, attempting to offend few by doing little."
Monday's final stop: Fresno. Here is a nonprofit organization that tries to feed the hungry and house the homeless. And then on to bowl three frames at the Cedar Lanes Bowling Alley where he did some handshake campaigning.
"We're going to be doing this a few days each month of the campaign. I think it's important to be out there where people live, learn and work," McCarthy said.
The second day of this inaugural road trip is to begin in San Diego today at a job training program established by a local businessman. McCarthy is then to tour an example of one of his pet projects, a day-care center for the elderly. This one is in Garden Grove. In Santa Monica, he will show up at a day-care center for children.
The final stop has a holiday message. McCarthy is to bring food to an East Los Angeles "food-raiser" for the poor.
Although focusing solely on the upcoming general election campaign against Wilson, the lieutenant governor must first win a primary election next June. There is one announced challenger, former Los Angeles television news commentator Bill Press. About him, McCarthy said little, and then only snidely, "My advice to Mr. Press is that he shouldn't give up his parking place at KABC."