“There are no second acts in American lives,” may be one of the most quoted – and most incorrect – things F. Scott Fitzgerald ever said.
There most certainly are second acts in American lives and even in American political lives. Ted Kennedy had one. Newt Gingrich is trying to have one. Richard Nixon had one and lost it. John Kitzhaber, Oregon’s governor from 1995-2003, said recently he will try for his own second act.
Most everyone concedes the M.D. turned governor starts as the favorite, but as the Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes points out, a political heavyweight like Kitzhaber ignites as well as inflames and it is a long way until November 2010.
Kitzhaber’s announcement got me thinking about other second acts. The one I’m most familiar with, of course, is Idaho’s Cecil Andrus. After two gubernatorial election victories in the 1970’s, Andrus went to Washington to run the Interior Department under Jimmy Carter, returned to Idaho in 1981 and ran again for governor when the seat opened up in 1986. (I served as press secretary during that hard fought campaign.)
Andrus had been away from the Idaho ballot for 12 years when he made his comeback and, as I remember the research, even as a two-term former governor and Interior Secretary, fully a third of the potential voters had never heard of him.
Bill Clinton had a second act in Arkansas and a third act in the White House. Clinton lost re-election in 1980 and came back, seeking forgiveness for raising automobile registration fees, to win again in 1982.
Michael Dukakis’ second act followed his loss in the Democratic primary in Massachusetts in 1978.
In the Northwest, back in the 1930’s, Idaho very popular New Deal-era Governor C. Ben Ross won three straight races for governor, lost a U.S. Senate race and lost again trying to regain the governor’s office. Robert Smylie also won the Idaho governor’s office three times in the 1950’s and ’60’s then lost in a primary and tried and failed to earn a second act in the U.S. Senate. Oregon’s maverick governor, Tom McCall, failed in his 1978 comeback attempt after two terms. Maverick Oregon Senator Wayne Morse had many political lives, but no real second act after losing his seat in 1968.
There have been some very successful second acts in American politics, but they are never a sure thing. When Cece Andrus was trying out for his second act in Idaho in 1986, he often appropriated a great line from the late Arizona Congressman Morris Udall.
Udall, a great wit, used to joke that while campaigning for president in 1976 in advance of the Iowa caucus he strolled into a barber shop and announced to the assembled, “I’m Mo Udall and I’m running for president.”
“Yea, we know,” the barber deadpanned, “we were just laughing about that this morning.”