GETTING OLD AND FAT AND WEARING THIN AFTER 24 YEARS AS A SENATOR, AND WAY BEHIND IN THE POLLS, MAGGIE WINS IN A LANDSLIDE...BY MERELY POINTING HIS FINGER.
Republicans were licking their chops, certain that Democratic senator Warren G. Magnuson was finally a cooked goose. The polls bore them out while the press laughed at his baggy suits and the food stains on his tie, and more than implied that he was stupid, and derisively called him Maggie. The end was near and the senator and his staff felt it in their bones. He even went job hunting, lining up a federal judgeship through his old Senate drinking buddy, President Lyndon Johnson. But this was a guy America couldn’t afford to lose. Magnuson had fought for Medicare, for the Atomic Test Ban Treaty, for gun control (and he was from Washington, a gun-happy state!) and was a pioneer fighter for consumer protection laws. We knew we had to begin with a memorable message that could immediately change the perception that Maggie was washed up.
I stunned the senator and his troops when I proposed a seemingly self-deprecating TV spot, but with his back to the wall, he gulped, and bit the bullet. After the voters of Washington saw Maggie point a finger to his head and tap his noggin– the senator became, overnight, a folk hero, from a sure loser to a landslide winner. The image of Maggie pointing a finger to his head became an instant mnemonic throughout the State of Washington. By admitting that he may have had his faults--he was able to put across the more important truth that he had the right stuff between the ears, as people around the state mimicked our finger-pointing sign language with endearment. By underscoring his humanity, we convinced the voters in Washington State that they had a helluva man representing them in Washington, D.C.
WARREN MAGNUSON, THE FINGER-POINTING SENATOR.
As Ron Holland, Jim Callaway and I were leaving Senator Warren Magnuson’s apartment at the Shoreham Hotel after our first meeting with him in 1968, his negligee-clad, ex-burlesque dancer wife strutted, in her high-heeled mules, to a phone sitting on a low table in their foyer and dramatically pointed to it. “Do you see that phone? Well that phone, that very phone, would ring 10 at night, 11, 12, sometimes 2 o’clock in the morning!” exclaimed the stacked Mrs. Magnuson. She continued, “Jack...the President... wanting to talk to Maggie about the problems of the day, needing his advice.”Standing 10 feet behind his wife, still dressed in a bathrobe and slippers in the early afternoon, Maggie caught my eye and poked the middle finger of his right hand in and out of a circle formed by the thumb and index finger of his left hand, ribaldry describing, through sign language,that our Commander in Chief was ordering Senator Magnuson to deliver a female companion to his quarters in the White House! A month later, after premiering our TV campaign for his re-election, wherever Maggie went in the state of Washington, people pointed a finger to their heads, mimicking the Senator in our version of his finger-pointing, calling out affectionately, “Hey, Maggie! You still got it up here!”
Senator Magnuson, there comes
a time when every young senator shows
that he’s putting on years.
(Maggie’s hands jut out as if to say,
“What can I do about it?”)
there comes a time--sure as fate--when
slim senators assume a more “impressive” stature.
(The reference to his being overweight destroys
Maggie as he ruefully glances at his belly.)
So, once youth is gone,
once dash is gone, what can you possibly
offer the voters of Washington?
(Maggie reels back at the zinger,
regains his poise, looks straight at the camera
and taps his head--once, twice, three times.)
In his rumpled suit, carrying 20 extra pounds,
and showing some signs of wear,
Warren Magnuson remains a giant in the
United States Senate.