I spent a little time covering Jack Kemp for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during his unsuccessful presidential campaign for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination. He was a relentless character who attached his personal ambition to economic idees fixes
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like the Laffer Curve and the gold standard. His years in pro football had given him an ease with African Americans that other GOP candidates lacked, and at a time when most of the latter struggled to establish their bona fides with religious conservatives, he easily won acceptance as a kindred spirit. His campaign press secretary was John Buckley, a nephew of William F. who was into the New York punk scene and had the Buckley sense of humor. Kemp was not exactly his cup of tea, and I suspect the candidate returned the sentiment.
Kemp was dedicated to inclusion–not only racial but also religious. In the second week of December 2007, I tagged along on a South Carolina swing where he addressed a bunch of business folks in Greenville. He opened his remarks by noting the importance of “this Christmas and Chanukah season.” It was pretty clear that the audience was mystified by that second term.
Thanks to Pat Robertson’s remarkable success in Iowa and Vice President Bush’s victory in New Hampshire, Kemp was pretty much a dead duck by the time of the South Carolina primary, which took place the Sunday before Super Tuesday. That day, I was following him into a mall north of Atlanta when I saw a familiar figure come out of a clutch of onlookers to shake his hand. “Hi,” said the man, “I’m Lester Maddox and I want you to know that I endorse you.” Maddox, symbol of unreconstructed segregationism during his 1967-71 term as governor, just happened to be at the mall shopping. “What was I supposed supposed to do?” Kemp said afterwards. “I shake anybody’s hand.”