Rendezvous in Des Moines - Documentary film maker Alexandra Pelosi proposes to cover my campaign for President of the United States
Fresh from a respectable showing in a primary election for U.S. Senate, Bill decides that his next move will be to run for President. He will run as a Democrat.
Bill launches his campaign on June 20, 2003, because the Democratic state party chairs were gathering at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota, to meet the candidates for President. Bill is not invited to participate, of course. Instead, he stands at the entrance to the hotel carrying a picket sign which announces his “politics of two ends: (1) an end to class warfare, especially by the rich, and (2) and end to the politics of gender and race.”
Several hours pass without incident. Then Walter Mondale walks by. An attractive, glamorous-looking woman with a compact video camera asks Bill if this man was Mondale. Yes, it was. The woman runs after Mondale but soon returns. Seeing that Bill is a presidential candidate, she asks about his campaign. Does he have plans? Bill announces that he will campaign in Iowa. “Can I come with you?,” the woman asks. She introduces herself as Alexandra Pelosi, a documentary film maker with HBO who is covering the Democratic primaries.
Although Bill does not know it at the time, this is U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi’s daughter who had made a name for herself producing a documentary on George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000. She now wants to see Bill the campaigner in action.
Alexandra Pelosi finds a young man who is interested in abortion. Bill is asked to declare his position on this question. The man accuses him of encouraging black women to abort their fetuses to control the black population. Pelosi then approaches a middle-aged black woman who is suspicious of Bill’s call for an end to the politics of gender and race. She challenges Bill to give one example of a white male being disadvantaged. When Bill does this, the woman walks away in a huff. Pelosi next finds a young man who has a civil conversation with Bill and says he might vote for him.
Bill’s persuasion average is one out of three. Pelosi has meanwhile been taping his conversations with these prospective voters. Pelosi enters the hotel and comes back with Art Torres, chair of California’s Democratic party. He and Bill have a pointed but friendly conversation. Pelosi then gives Bill her personal email address, promising to stay in touch. She wants Bill to let her know when the details of his campaign activities in Iowa become available.
There is no such campaign. Bill is forced to invent something to sustain her interest. He decides to stage a conversation about race near a river in downtown Des Moines, Iowa’s capitol city. Bill imagines American and Russian soldiers meeting at the Elbe river during World War II. What if the different races similarly met near the banks of the Des Moines river?
For the next month, Bill works more or less full time on the project. He buys a stepladder painted in red, white, and blue as a podium for delivering speeches. Bill drives down to Des Moines to scout the territory. Bill obtains permission to hold his event instead at the Civil War monument near the Iowa state capitol.
When word gets out about this event, a friend of Bill’s named Ed, an African American man, volunteers to accompany him to Des Moines to help make sure there is a balanced discussion in case only white people attend. He would be representing the black point of view. A white man named Randy also offers to go.
A few days before the planned trip, Bill receives this email from Alexandra Pelosi: “I am so sorry to tell you this but it turns out that I will not be in Des Moines next Saturday. I hope that doesn’t screw up everything for you. ” It’s too late now to cancel the event.
The temperature is in the mid 90s when the trio arrives in Des Moines. The parking lot near the Civil War monument has one space left. Bill parks the car in that spot.
It’s time for the debate. Bill goes first. He climbs the flag-themed stepladder and talks mostly about economic issues. A three-minute speech does the trick. Now it is Ed’s turn to speak from the “podium”. He agrees with Bill on most points. Randy then says a few words. Then, wisely, the three “debaters” scrap the rest of the event and walk over to the Iowa state capitol to take advantage of its air-conditioning system.
Under the capitol rotunda, Ed introduces Bill to a young man who wants to talk about politics. The three Minnesotans treat themselves to pop from a vending machine.
Bill Mack (not his real name) never ran for public office until in his 60s. He first challenged the party-nominated candidate for U.S. Senate with the Independence Party of Minnesota (while Jesse Ventura, an IP member, was Governor) and received 31 percent of the vote in the primary in a field of three. Then he decided to run for President. Bill did not think he would win, of course,. He had issues to raise which none of the other candidates would discuss. There were two in the 2002 Independence Party primary: a 32-hour workweek by 2010 and dignity for white males. This was calculated to infuriate both Democrats and Republicans while giving ordinary votes a chance to weigh in on the subject.
There was no Independence Party member running for President in 2004. (New York mayor Michael Bloomberg considered running as an independent in 2008 but decided against it.) Bill decided to run as a Democrat attempting to unseat the incumbent Republican, George W. Bush. Realistically, there were only three state primaries that he could enter - New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Louisiana. He missed the New Hampshire primary, was booted off the ballot in South Carolina by order of the DNC chair, and did run in Louisiana, receiving 3,100 votes in a field of seven. He ran on the issue of protecting U.S. jobs through employer-specific tariffs.
This story tells of an earlier phase in the campaign. Right off the bat, Bill had an opportunity for free campaign coverage on HBO when a documentary maker, Alexandra Pelosi, said she would be interested in covering his campaign activities in Iowa. Bill quickly had to invent some activities. The race issue carried over from the Senatorial campaign. Bill decided to hold a public discussion on race at the Civil War monument near the Iowa state capitol on the weekend of the Iowa state fair. Pelosi cancelled at the last monument and the event did not attract anyone from Iowa.
Nevertheless, Bill and two companions from Minneapolis did make the trip to Des Moines and go through the motions of holding a campaign rally. However absurd, the mission was accomplished.
Bill Mack went on to run for several other offices but was never elected. He received 22,000 votes as a third-party candidate for Congress and 10,000 votes as a Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor to oblige a friend.