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Local couple share Huckabee Campaign experience

As published in the March 2008 BCRW Newsletter

On the Presidential Campaign Trail 2008 with Irma and Pat Canan

From December 2, 2007 when we boarded Amtrak’s Empire Builder in Portland, Oregon and headed for New Hampshire, until February 22nd when we rolled back into Corvallis in the used car we purchased in New England, we experienced the presidential primary “up close and personal.”

Hey -- who is this guy?
Sometime in early January 2007, we stumbled across Mike Huckabee on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on the Comedy Central television channel. Having just completed ten and a half years as governor of Arkansas, he was traveling the book circuit promoting his sixth book, From Hope to Higher Ground. Mike Huckabee had not yet announced his intention to seek the Republican presidential nomination, but he did not deny that he was considering it. As the interview progressed, we became fascinated. There was something fresh about this fellow -- smart, quick-witted, eloquent, gracious, candid, accessible. He seemed different. We researched his career, both in public service and in the pastorate, and we became increasingly impressed.

He emerged as a man of deep personal faith, quiet strength and courage, and thoughtful, creative leadership. There was no silver spoon, no inheritance, no ivy league education, no golf course conversations leading to employment opportunities -- simply a bright mind, kind heart, buoyant yet humble spirit, and a generosity in the way he shared his abundant talents and gifts.

Wouldn’t it be fun if...?
While driving from Corvallis to visit relatives in California in October of 2007, we joked about how if we simply took a left turn we could head out toward Iowa and participate in what was beginning to look like an unusually robust primary. Our conversation quickly transitioned from, “wouldn’t it be fun if...” to “let’s call and find out if we can be helpful, somehow.” As soon as we arrived at our relatives’ home, we phoned Huckabee national campaign headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, and were given the Iowa contact information we sought. Things were looking good in Iowa for Huckabee, and so we reconsidered where we might invest our best effort. What about New Hampshire? We phoned Little Rock again and asked for the phone number in New Hampshire. Once more, they provided us with the information we sought and we immediately placed the call. Bingo -- New Hampshire welcomed our offer to volunteer. We thanked them and said we’d join them in New England right after Thanksgiving.

Details, details!
We needed to get there, we needed a place to live, and we needed to stay within our very limited budget. But, we also knew we needed to go. We decided to take the train and booked all the way across the country to Concord, New Hampshire where the only Huckabee office in the state was located. Craigslist came through for housing. We found a wonderful apartment -- the first floor of a two-story Victorian home in a beautiful neighborhood just a few blocks from the historic state capitol building and the Huckabee headquarters. We were set!

What if?
Time flew by, and December 2nd arrived. We were on our way! As our fantasy began turning into reality, we began wondering, “What if...?” What if we found out that Mike Huckabee wasn’t who we thought he was and we could not, in good conscience, support his candidacy? What if we would be asked to participate in ways that did not sit comfortably? What if the whole thing was an ill-fit for us, and there we would be -- more than three thousand miles from home? We talked it over and decided that, as volunteers, we were free to leave the campaign if we felt we had made a mistake. Giving ourselves that permission relieved the pressure and allowed us to begin our adventure with unmitigated enthusiasm.

All aboard!
We left Portland on a bleak and blustery afternoon and chugged our way across the Columbia River and along the Washington side of the Gorge. We woke up in snow-covered western Montana and headed east through an amazingly beautiful winterscape. Even the Mississippi River was frozen over, and the entire route was decked in white, making the tiny towns of West Virginia and Pennsylvania look like villages in a model railroad. We changed trains in Chicago and again in Washington, D.C. where we had enough time to take a little walk and to have dinner in Union Station with our son who lives in the nation’s capital. In Boston, we transferred to an Amtrak bus that took us to Concord, New Hampshire -- our home for the next five weeks.

Home is where the heart is
We picked up a rental car we had reserved and found the Huckabee headquarters first and then our apartment, where we felt immediately at home. It was fully outfitted and our only purchase was a crockpot. We quickly developed routines in our new home, and within a few days we found an old, cheap car to buy, again thanks to craigslist.

Concord looked like a Currier and Ives print of wintertime in New England. Icicles taller than we were decorated homes and businesses, and everything was covered in deep snow. It remained that way, with new snow falling, sometimes a foot or two in a single day. On Christmas Eve day, we drove through the White Mountains, through Bethlehem, and over into Vermont. It was an unusual and beautiful Christmas in our home away from home.

We managed to squeeze in some special, personal events that were meaningful for us but were unrelated to the Huckabee campaign activities in which we were engaged. We attended the opening sessions of both the New Hampshire House and the Senate, and we met William Gardner, Secretary of State. We visited old friends of Irma’s and old friends of Pat’s mother. We were twice guests in the beautiful home of Steve and Kit Reno, friends of our friends, John and Shirley Byrne, who suggested we contact the Renos once we reached New Hampshire. Steve had been president of Southern Oregon University in Ashland (overlapping with John who had been president of Oregon State University) and was now serving as chancellor for the New Hampshire system of higher education. On one occasion, they invited us to meet with a few friends of theirs and with Betsy Myers, Chief Operating Officer of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign (and sister of DeDe Myers, former Press Secretary in the Clinton administration). On the second occasion, we were invited to attend a breakfast in their home, along with other guests and fifteen diplomats representing a wide array of nations who were visiting New Hampshire to observe the primary process and become familiarized with the candidates. There were two television journalists there, as well, who gave informal presentations and shared their perspectives on the history, process, and current status of the role of New Hampshire in American politics. They were Carl Cameron of Fox News and another, whose name escapes us, from ABC news. Joining us at this event was Pat’s brother, Mike, who flew up from Florida for the weekend just prior to the primary to share in the excitement. Our son from Washington, D.C., along with a friend of his, also joined us during the final week while they volunteered on Barack Obama’s campaign. We all five shared our cozy apartment, our experiences, and our observations on the campaign trail. It was a special time.

Aside from a small team of paid employees, the work at Huckabee’s headquarters, like his entire New Hampshire campaign, was accomplished by volunteers. We were the eldest and the only volunteers who were there on a daily basis which sometimes meant we engaged in unanticipated troubleshooting and problem solving. The most important task we were asked to perform was to represent Governor Huckabee at the “First in the Nation” luncheon, a New Hampshire Republican event at which prominent state leaders gather. In addition, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, Lindsey Graham (on behalf of John McCain), Michael Steele, and Massachusetts’ Lieutenant Governor (serving as Mitt Romney’s surrogate) were there as guest speakers. Age (ours) has its privileges and its responsibilities!

In general, we spent all day, nearly every day, for the first four weeks at Huckabee headquarters except for a couple of days where the streets were too treacherous to drive or to walk. Our tasks were mostly basic ones such as phoning; putting lawn signs together; writing, addressing, and stamping mailings; doing literature drops (on icy streets); composing phone scripts. We learned about the local customs of sign waving and election day “pole standing” where supporters of candidates take places just outside of polling stations, holding up signs as visual reminders and encouragement to the voters arriving to cast their ballots. We served as poll standers at two sites. At the first one, Pat was interviewed for Rhode Island radio and Irma was interviewed by an Arizona newspaper and a Brazilian television station, and it was there that she ran into, and spoke with, Pat Buchanan. We reached our second polling site at the end of a long day of voting, and as we stood there in the dark of nightfall, Mike and Janet Huckabee arrived and came up to greet all the poll standers, regardless of which candidate or party they represented. They recognized us and greeted us warmly, and we chatted briefly.

Our entire experience with the people of the Granite State was infused with a shared sense that, regardless of party or candidate, we were all working on the same team, the team of democracy in America. New Hampshire was a deep and emotional experience for us, affirming how our citizen government works and why this inspired experiment has endured.

Face Time
Earlier in the campaign, Janet and Mike Huckabee came to New Hampshire, accompanied by Chuck and Gena Norris and Ed Rollins. When they arrived at headquarters, Janet walked up to us and asked, “Are you the folks who came by train from Oregon?” and she gave us a big hug. We chatted briefly with her, with Governor Huckabee, and with Chuck Norris who has martial arts and political ties to Oregon. They all were so warm and down-to-earth, it was a genuine pleasure. Having worked in the office, having become more acquainted with Mike Huckabee’s record as governor and the sort of people he and Janet were, we had no further concerns about whether we had made a good decision in volunteering on the campaign. We saw the Huckabees a couple more times in New Hampshire -- once when we assisted at a rally where Mike Huckabee played the bass guitar with a local rock band, and then at the celebration on the night of the New Hampshire primary.

The medium is the messageDuring our last week in New Hampshire we spent most of our time in Manchester, a town about twenty miles south of Concord. The tiny downtown of Manchester was crawling with candidates, press, and regular folks -- mostly, but not all, from New Hampshire.

Just walking down the street, having a meal at a restaurant, or walking through a hotel lobby to attend a political talk of some kind we would see and meet candidates or would be stopped by an interviewer asking if we would mind being asked some questions. We always agreed, and as soon as we assented, bright lights would snap on, a microphone would be shoved toward our faces, and the questions would begin. “Which candidate are you supporting? What led you to that decision? What is your opinion about (some other candidate?)” and so on. Among others, we were interviewed by Belgian Public Radio; Rhode Island Public Radio; two French television networks; Japanese television, a major Arizona newspaper; Boston’s CBS television affiliate; a radio talk show host; Tim Russert of Meet the Press; and Obama Girl (we did not know who she was at the time). In every case, we introduced ourselves as being non-evangelical supporters of Mike Huckabee. This was an important detail to state at the beginning of any interview because the media was so wedded to the notion that Governor Huckabee had no support from outside of that demographic, and they assumed that because we supported his campaign we must, therefore, be evangelical Christians. With the exception of Tim Russert, our being different from the media’s uniformly crafted stereotype of a Huckabee supporter led to deeper, more insightful and penetrating questions. Tim Russert did not follow up with any other questions of us, and a day after he engaged us in conversation on the street, he participated in yet another televised pundit roundtable and restated the evangelical narrative.

Most of our interviewers expressed genuine surprise to learn that non-evangelical people found Mike Huckabee to be worthy of their consideration. We were able to point out that it was our experience that we were not the only ones, and that the media was missing an important part of the story by overlooking the secular, public service accomplishments of Mike Huckabee and the broad band of supporters he attracted. We were able to cite New England Democrats we met at headquarters who were not only planning on voting for Mike Huckabee but who were volunteering their time to assist with his campaign. We mentioned the Jewish legislator who was publicly supporting Huckabee, as well as moderate, secular Republicans who were running his campaign. We appreciated the opportunity to share the compelling -- and sometimes amazing -- accomplishments of Governor Huckabee during his ten and a half years as Arkansas’ chief executive. We were delighted to be able to mention that he had been elected the chair of the National Governors’ Association by his gubernatorial colleagues, a testament to their recognition of his outstanding leadership, and to inform our interviewers that he was identified as one of America’s top five governors by Time magazine. We shared his creative and successful initiatives regarding education and healthcare; his rebuilding Arkansas’ roads and bridges; his environmental leadership; his humanitarian outreach to Katrina victims from neighboring states; and his having entered office inheriting a $200 million dollar deficit and completing his term with a nearly $1 billion dollar surplus. We spoke about how he unexpectedly ascended to the governorship when, as lieutenant governor, the incumbent Democrat governor, Jim Guy Tucker, was convicted in the White Water case and left office. Mike Huckabee became the second Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction, and he faced a legislature that was 91% Democrat. In fact, when he won his first election as lieutenant governor, his office in the state capitol was nailed shut from the inside -- for two months. Ultimately, because of his natural good nature and innate leadership ability, he was able to bring to the table legislators who had been adversarial and together they developed innovative and effective public policy, some of which have become templates for other states. His deep decency and his ability to bring diverse perspectives together and to work comfortably across the aisle to problem-solve on behalf of the greater good of the people of Arkansas was one of the key elements of his leadership that led us to want to help out in his effort to seek the nomination. It was both easy and pleasurable for us to sing his praises to people who wanted to know why we had traveled more than 3,000 miles to slog through ice and snow on his behalf.

Wherever we went, we seemed to be singled out for interview even when there were many other people from whom to choose. We couldn’t figure out if it was because we looked distinctly ordinary or extraordinary. We decided that it had to be because of our appearing ordinary -- senior Mr. and Mrs. America (aged 60 and 63), albeit with a bounce in our step.

During our time in Concord and Manchester, in addition to meeting the Huckabees, we met Barry Goldwater, Jr.; Mike Gravel; Duncan Hunter; Dennis Kucinich and his wife; and, John McCain. We visited the campaign offices of Hillary Clinton; John Edwards; Barack Obama; Ron Paul; and, Mitt Romney.

Contribution in kind
When all was said and done in New Hampshire, we felt that the value we added to the Huckabee campaign was not so much in the routine campaign activities in which we dependably participated, but rather in the conversations in which we engaged from the moment we boarded the train in Portland. Trains lend themselves well to conversation. Rail passengers are as interested in the journey and in their fellow travelers as they are in arriving at their destination. The dining car operates in family style -- filling up the tables as people arrive for their meals, thus affording a natural setting for conversation with folks from here, there, and everywhere.

In New Hampshire, these moments of opportunity to share our enthusiasm about Mike Huckabee expanded, particularly during the last week of our stay during which time we were in Manchester much of the time. It was our feeling that by talking with people we met and with the media representatives, we enhanced the presence of Mike Huckabee. By being different from the profile created by the media, we were able to increase the circle of people who would take another look at Mike Huckabee before casting a ballot. And, that was what we hoped we would be able to do.

Not ready, yet...
Our original plan was to return to Oregon immediately after the New Hampshire primary, but we realized we were not yet ready to leave the campaign. Our respect for both Mike and Janet Huckabee had developed to a degree that led us to want to help out more, if we could be useful. So, once again, we phoned the folks in Little Rock and asked if they could use us there for a little while before we headed home. They phoned back the next day and asked if we might consider going to Florida where they were just getting ready to open up the local headquarters in anticipation of their upcoming primary. We asked where in Florida, and when they said, “Orlando,” we said “Sure!” We have family there, and that added an unanticipated and priceless dimension to the journey for us. We headed south as fast as we could go. We headed down the eastern seaboard, pausing overnight in North Carolina to visit with a niece and nephew along the way. As we drove, truckers honked in sympathy with our Huckabee bumper sticker -- a relief, since we first thought we were being honked at for other reasons...

Back in the saddle
We arrived in Orlando raring to get back onto the campaign trail. We showed up at headquarters, located in a large storage unit. Activity was underway to set up for a grand opening and we threw ourselves into the effort and ended up, along with a local volunteer, setting up the space in a format that worked as multiple venues -- for events, for daily volunteer activities, and for media backdrop. Typically, we worked with no budget and, in fact, spent our own money on cookies, table coverings, paper plates, etc.

As was the case in New Hampshire, there were very few paid staff, and we became bulwark volunteers in Florida and in a much more substantive way than we had been in New England. Irma served as the volunteer coordinator for the Florida Huckabee headquarters and Pat served as the data processor.

The atmosphere in Florida was exuberant, in contrast to the staid New Hampshire office. This seemed to reflect the cultural and demographic differences between the two regions. Florida was teeming with activity. There was lots of energy and lots of laughter. The level of volunteerism was impressive, with meetups that carried much of the work of the campaign throughout the many diverse regions of Florida. We worked hard and consistently for the entire campaign and, as in New Hampshire, enjoyed getting to know the people.

When Mike Huckabee arrived to campaign in the state, he spotted us and said, “How did you get here? Did you take the train down here, too?” We explained that we bought an old car and drove it down to which he replied, “This is getting to be quite a story!”

After Governor Huckabee’s disappointing second in South Carolina, we did not have high expectations for the Florida outcome, and our expectations were met. The campaign event on primary night was held in a room dominated by a huge screen television, some tables holding large containers of water and coffee, a PBS crew, and some staff and volunteers, including Florida State Senator Daniel Webster, the most publicly supportive legislator of Mike Huckabee and a direct descendent of Daniel Webster. He and his entire family were dedicated workers on the campaign, including 13 year old Victoria, one of our most effective phone volunteers.
Quite a story, apparentlyTwice during the Florida campaign, PBS visited headquarters -- the evening of the grand opening and then, with an entirely different crew, the day of the primary. In both cases, they were interviewing for different episodes of the series, Religion and Ethics. In both cases, they asked if they could interview us. The latter interviewer is continuing with his interview of us via email now that we have returned to Oregon and he to New York. He expects his segment to air shortly before the November election, whether or not Mike Huckabee is the nominee.

Taking a breather
Once again, we had planned to leave Florida for Oregon with a quick stopover in Little Rock right after the Florida primary. But, we learned that a shuttle launch was scheduled at Cape Canaveral, and we decided that this was an opportunity we would regret missing, plus, we had some other family-related projects we hoped to pursue before leaving the state. One of the staff of the campaign wanted to express thanks for our work on behalf of Governor Huckabee, and she asked if we would be interested in VIP seating for the upcoming shuttle launch. We surely were! So, thanks to Katy Halley and Senator Mike Haridopolos, we had seats as close to the launch as was allowed. And, on a beautiful Florida day, replete with sightings of alligators and indescribably beautiful birds, we watched a perfect launch that included astronaut Mike Love from Eugene, Oregon.

We drove to Miami Beach and to Tallahassee in search of clues about Irma’s father who died young, before she knew him, and who left a legacy of artwork and arts administration in Florida. We visited childhood friends of Irma’s in Gainesville. We hung out with Pat’s brother, Mike, and our sister-in-law, Sally, watched the Super Tuesday election returns together, and had a wonderful time. And then, it was time to go.

Arkansas traveler
By this time, we had been gone about ten weeks. We were ready to get back home to family, friends, and the Dorchester Conference! We debated about whether to go to Little Rock on the way. It would add miles and time and expense to the trip but, ultimately, we knew that, given the reason for our trip in the first place, we would forever regret not making the stop. So, with a map and a marking pen, we plotted out our route -- up through the Florida panhandle, through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and into Arkansas and on to Little Rock. Our departure from Tallahassee was at 7:00 a.m. on the morning of the “Potomac primary” -- Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Hits and misses
On the road, we expressed to each other that it would be nice if we could get together with some of the people from the Huckabee campaign in Little Rock to watch the returns, just as we had in New Hampshire and in Florida. We phoned from the road, somewhere in southern Mississippi to ask if this were a possibility. The young man who answered the phone said there was an event scheduled, but it was by invitation and he would have to check and call us back. A couple hours later, he called back and said he was sorry that he had been unable to secure us a place. Not knowing what sort of event this was, we naively -- and somewhat brazenly -- called back an hour later to see if it might be possible to be placed on a waiting list. The person who answered the phone this time was Gay White who had, weeks before, asked if we would be able to go to work on the campaign in Florida. She explained that the event was a dinner with the Huckabee family and their closest friends and colleagues in Arkansas. Hearing this, we appreciated that this was an entirely different gathering than the previous two we had attended, even though the Huckabees had been at the New Hampshire event. We apologized and thanked Gay for having given us the opportunity to be in Florida with the campaign and, told her we were looking forward to meeting her in person in the office the next day, and said good-bye. A little later, the phone rang, again. It was Gay informing us that we were invited and welcome to join the dinner and she gave us directions. We hung up, disbelieving our good fortune! We looked at the time and calculated that we would make the dinner with no time to spare, and that we would have to change clothes in a gas station when we fueled up en route. Two things we did not factor in to our calculation: that we would run smack into a string of tornadoes further up the road in Mississippi and that we would miss the turnoff to Little Rock once we were in Arkansas. The storm was by far the single most terrifying part of the entire trip, and we still feel fortunate to have gotten through safely.

We stopped at a gas station to fuel up and to change clothes. Our clothes were in the trunk of the car, the temperature was below freezing, and the wind was howling. It was miserable in the cold, rummaging through our suitcases, trying to find proper clothing buried deeply because we thought we would not need them again until we returned home. We managed, alternately shivering and laughing at the absurdity of the scene. That day, we made it through five states, a band of tornadoes, and were on our way to Little Rock to celebrate with the Huckabees and their friends. It was like Cinderella heading for the ball.

Our dance card is full
We followed Gay’s perfect directions and found a parking spot right in front of the tallest building in Little Rock, the top floor of which was the site of the dinner. We dashed inside, past an encampment of news people and equipment on the ground floor, rode the elevator to the 23rd floor, and entered the dinner party as though we had been preparing for weeks.

The room had an air of festivity about it, and we actually recognized some of the people there. Unobtrusively stationed around the room were television monitors silently displaying the incoming primary returns. We went through the buffet and found seats at one of the tables. Our table mates were all friendly, interesting people, most of whom had held positions of high responsibility in the Huckabee administration. We enjoyed getting acquainted and hearing their stories. Janet Huckabee saw us and came by to greet us. Janet is a remarkable woman who, like her husband, came from humble beginnings in Hope, Arkansas. Overcoming cancer of the spine when she was 20 years old and with a poor prognosis, she went on to have three children and to lead an exuberant, public spirited life. She is no shrinking violet! In addition to serving as First Lady of Arkansas for ten and a half years, she works for the American Red Cross and not only serves on the Habitat for Humanity International board of directors, she has helped to build houses in at least twenty states. She has also slept under bridges with Arkansas homeless to learn more about how their lives took such a turn (and how to address the issue of homelessness), she hunted a bear, jumped out of an airplane, and assisted a flood of Katrina refugees, invited by the governor, into Arkansas to restart their lives. But, we digress.

At the dinner Governor Huckabee rose to thank those gathered for the support and friendship they had shared. He was eloquent, humble, amusing, and gracious. He said he had just phoned John McCain to congratulate him on the outcome of the primaries although he quipped he really would rather have not had to do so. And, he explained that he soon would be going downstairs to meet with the media and give his post-concession interview. Then, looking around the room, he asked, “Are Pat and Irma here?” We looked at each other and nearly fell off of our chairs. He asked if we would stand, and then he proceeded to tell our story. After he left, Janet brought her best friend over to meet us. Several of his childhood friends came by to thank us for our dedication. One dear man who still lives in their hometown of Hope, Arkansas -- yes, the same hometown as Bill Clinton’s -- gave us a dozen and a half of his fresh aracuana eggs (raw) as a gift from the heart. We met Mike Huckabee’s sister, Pat, who is a 7th grade English teacher and who is as unassuming and sunny as her brother. We spoke with Janet, again, before leaving. We met so many wonderful people that night. We still remark to each other what a generous act it was to include us in such a truly special occasion. The friendliness, kindness, and generosity of these people was, for us, yet another example of the kind of people Mike Huckabee tends to attract.
We left the dinner and checked into a hotel a few blocks away, falling into bed in Little Rock after having wakened that morning in Tallahassee, Florida, having driven through tornadoes, and having dined with the Huckabees and their friends. We slept like rocks.

The party’s over
Early the next morning, we walked the few blocks from our hotel to headquarters to put in a day at the office. We were just about the first ones there. We toured the unassuming office and looked at the photos of Mike Huckabee that decorated the walls -- different situations, different people, and different years. All of them depicted his warmth and accessibility. Some were truly touching.

Staff began to arrive and we received assignments for the day. Pat went through the mail and answered letters that had been sent to Governor Huckabee, and Irma listened to and transcribed over half of 1,500 stacked up telephone messages on the answering machine. At lunch time, Chip Saltsman, Huckabee for President national campaign manager, arrived. We had met him briefly in New Hampshire on primary night there and had been as impressed by him in person as we had been when we had seen him interviewed or serving as an informed observer on various news programs. When he saw us, he asked how we had been since he had last seen us in New Hampshire. These people are truly amazing, and their recognition is an asset more than strategy; they are caring people and this makes them responsive to their constituencies. Chip joined the staff -- paid and volunteer -- for lunch in the conference room and, with his overview of the campaign, explained that the Governor planned to go the distance; to remain in the race until someone had 1,091 pledged delegates. Chip went on to answer questions in an environment that encouraged candid and comfortable conversation.

The day came to a close, we said our good-byes, and returned to our hotel via Central High School, now an historic monument in addition to being a functioning school. It was a reminder not only of a major historic moment in our lives -- the integration of public schools in the south -- but also of something we learned from one of Mike Huckabee’s lifelong friends, David Uth, who is now the pastor of one of the largest churches in Orlando. David Uth’s father, also a pastor, had unsuccessfully attempted to integrate the Little Rock Baptist church for which he served as pastor. His successor in the pastorate of that church was determined to succeed. He did. Mike Huckabee was that pastor.

We expected the next day to be fascinating, and we weren’t disappointed.

Giving Hope a second chance
In May of 2006, we had visited Hope, Arkansas knowing it was the birthplace of former President Bill Clinton, but not realizing it was also the birthplace and home of then Governor Mike Huckabee. At that time we met a man who was the founder and director of the town museum. We have phoned him a couple of times since then to ask him about Mike Huckabee and about how, from his perspective, Arkansans were viewing the race of Mike Huckabee and also of former Arkansas First Lady, Hillary Clinton. We stopped by the museum on this trip and were pleased to see an expanded exhibit on the Huckabees of Hope. We walked over to the thrift shop that supports disabled citizens of the area, and there, unbelievably, we found a book illustrated by Irma’s father in the 1930s. After a brief stop at the former Huckabee home (the address of which had been given to us by Mike Huckabee’s sister, Pat), and another at the memorial garden dedicated to Bill Clinton’s mother, we drove and walked around this little, economically depressed town and, once again, marveled at the larger-than-life people it has produced. And then it was time to get back on the road to see how far into Texas we could get.

Deep in the heart of Texas
We got to Weatherford, just west of Ft. Worth. The weather forecast was not good, and we wanted to try to beat the storms. Mississippi had been enough. We took off early the next morning with a hopeful goal of El Paso. We stopped in Midland to fuel up and to touch the ground again. In 2006 we had overnighted in the Wal-Mart parking lot and visited the boyhood home of George W. Bush. The stop brought back our recollections of our visit and stay in Midland, but we had miles to go and did not want to fall short of our goal. We made it past El Paso and stopped for the night in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The next night was in San Bernardino, California followed by Paso Robles and then a few days in Pacific Grove with family. Then, more family and friends in the Bay Area and up the coast back to Newport and Corvallis.

Home Sweet HomeWhat a fabulous time we had, and how nice it was to be back. We arrived in Corvallis in time to welcome and host relatives from out of state. Just prior to their arrival, we went shopping for some much-needed food, so we stopped at the market which is in the same commercial center as the Benton County Republican headquarters. We thought we’d drop by to see if Stella Guenther was in and to say hello. She was there, and so were many others. It turned out that we had stopped by just prior to the Benton County Republican Women’s monthly luncheon meeting! Talk about timing... It was so good to see Stella and others whom we had not seen for a long time, but we felt a bit awkward. Stella, always two steps ahead, had just learned that their guest speaker, Senator Jason Atkinson, would not be able to speak due to a family emergency and she asked if we would be willing to step in and share our experience with those gathered. We said okay, and found ourselves recounting some of our tale for the first time and without preparation. In the sharing of the story, we further realized what a joyful journey it was -- and continues to be -- and how kind and attentive our audience was in listening to our unpolished, unprepared story.

After a fun visit, our relatives left and we headed for the Dorchester Conference in Seaside where we set up a booth on behalf of Mike Huckabee. It was well received, and people came by to chat and to acknowledge their appreciation of him as a person and as a candidate. We were pleased by the warm reception for him and a significant number of bumper stickers made it out the door.

We learned so much. We met so many wonderful people. This is an amazing country. We encourage anyone who really wants to have the American experience at primary time, to think seriously about traveling to New Hampshire and staying awhile. It remains America’s town hall and it is there you can feel where our process of government of the people, by the people, and for the people comes from. This noble experiment of democracy is in its most authentic form there, and the experience of it will bring an even deeper appreciation for who we are as a people.

Epilogue: March 4, 2008
As this narrative about our trip is being completed, Mike Huckabee is giving his concession speech. As he promised, as soon as a candidate received the requisite 1,091 committed delegates, he would withdraw. That benchmark passed just moments ago, with John McCain having been declared the winner in all of the day’s four primary states: Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont. Governor Huckabee pledged his support for Senator McCain. Just months ago, Mike Huckabee was an unknown former governor of a small, southern state. He ran a remarkable campaign and he influenced significantly the tone and tenor among his colleagues and rivals. He ran a campaign that defied conventional wisdom in many ways and he demonstrated that big money, big machinery, and a disinterested media could not easily squelch an indomitable spirit. We feel some sadness this evening, but also a great joy at having been able to participate in this uniquely American story.

The authors, Pat and Irma Canan, may be reached at (541) 753-4762. (Download text of this article in MS Word format)

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