Why would a modern day candidate ride the rails? Two words, fund raising.
In 1996 you could ride in a train car with Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole for a contribution of $5,000. The Speaker of the House at the time, Newt Gingrich was a more modest contribution of $1,500.
Dole withdrew from the event reported below but has visited the county on other campaign stops. Gingrich however made the trip joining other historic Republicans who have given speeches in the county.
Pop quiz how many U.S. Presidents have given speeches in the county? The answer is below.
The result of the election was victory for the Democratic presidential ticket of Clinton-Gore. In Congress, Republicans gained two seats in the Senate and lost 9 seats in the House though they were able to maintain control of both houses.
This would be the House of Representatives that would initiate the impeachment of Bill Clinton but the President would be acquitted by the Senate. As Speaker of the House Gingrich would be a power in the impeachment effort and his scorched earth tactics left him with few friends when Republicans lost seats in the 1998 Congressional election. He resigned from the House on November 1998 after losing support from fellow Republicans. You could argue no Speaker was as much a shooting star, burning hot for his 4 years and flaming out. One joke that was said to circulate around congress at the time was that Gingrich had a file cabinet full of ideas, and a manila folder of good ideas.
Irony alert, politicians who tout their fiscally conservative credentials often rail against rail subsidies. Then they get on chartered Amtrack trains for whistle stop campaigns. This story is from the Telegram-Tribune August 12, 1996:
REPUBLICANS RIDE RAILS TO DERAIL RUNAWAY GOVERNMENT
by Jeff Ballinger
House Speaker Newt Gingrich met a train full of the party faithful as they rode into town Saturday on the California Republican Party’s “Victory Express” en route to the national GOP convention in San Diego.
Rep. Andrea Seastrand and Assemblyman Tom Bordonaro began the festivities at the train station shortly before 10 a.m., speaking to a crowd of about 250. That number nearly doubled in size by the time the train arrived just after 11 a.m.
Both Seastrand and Bordonaro were hopeful of a victory for the Bob Dole/Jack Kemp ticket in November. Seastrand called Dole a “better man for a better America.”
“It’s now the Democrats’ Armageddon, ” she added.
“They know if they don’t get the power back, they’ve lost it for a very long time.”
“This train is on a mission to reclaim a runaway government, ” Bordonaro said. Seastrand, who took partial credit for the campaign stop, was also confident of her re-election chances against Democratic challenger Walter Capps, and claimed her district now has a Republican majority of registered voters.
“We erased 10,000 and some Democrats and added some 1,300 Republicans” in the two years since she was elected, she said. Gingrich surprised the crowd by appearing 20 minutes before the train pulled up, and said that voters have a clear choice in the presidential race.
“It’s a very simple campaign, ” he insisted. “If you are a family of four with a $30,000 yearly income, you’re going to get a smaller tax bill. You’ll get 1,272 more dollars to spend on your children.”
Gingrich called it the simplest choice voters have faced for many years.
“This is not complicated, ” he insisted.
A small group of protesters, including a man in a gray suit and Gingrich mask, disagreed loudly from where they were kept about 150 feet from the speaker’s podium.
However, they did not drown out the House speaker, who wrapped up his remarks just as the train arrived with a reported 500 Republican elected officials, delegates, activists and VIPs.
Among the travelers was Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, who pledged his party’s support behind Seastrand and Bordonaro.
“We are going to make sure we win those two seats … as well as make sure this district turns out for Republicans, ” he said.
Other dignitaries introduced were former Rep. Michael Huffington, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former United Nations Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick, and former Secretary of the Interior William Clark of Shandon.
Gingrich, clearly the star of the show, took the stage again repeating some of his earlier remarks. He also praised Kemp and proposed “a minimum of 50 vice presidential debates, ” but didn’t suggest any between Dole and President Bill Clinton.
“By picking Jack Kemp, (Dole) has re-emphasized where we are going, ” Gingrich said. Several supporters in the crowd agreed, including a man dressed in an Elvis-like white sequined jumpsuit. Clancy McConnell of San Luis Obispo held a sign that read, “If you believe Bill Clinton, then I’m the real Elvis.”
McConnell called Kemp popular and very sharp, and said, “Dole needs some guy like that.”
Craig Prestininzi, a 22-year-old architecture student at Cal Poly, said he disagrees with Kemp on some things but approves of his selection anyway.
“I didn’t like it when he spoke out against Proposition 187, but I think they’ll balance each other out, ” he said.
A larger group of more than 200 Democratic and independent supporters also rallied at the depot, but most were barred from the roped-off parking lot. The majority assembled next to the train, presenting a clash of campaign signs when the Republican officials returned to the train at the end of the rally.
Chants of “Newt, Newt” competed with “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Newt Gingrich has got to go, ” as Dole supporters formed a human corridor to the open train doors.
Craig Anderson, a member of the executive committee for the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club, said he was at the rally to protest Seastrand’s voting record against the environment, which he said is against the public interest.
“It’s clear who’s dictating that: those that stand to make a short-term profit, ” he said.
Two gray-haired ladies held up Clinton/Gore signs amid the din.
“I’m for the people, ” said 87-year-old Edith Schraeder of Pismo Beach. “I think we need a government for the people, not for the corporations and the rich people.”
Her friend from Shell Beach, Jane Weston, 82, said the first presidential candidate she voted for was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was not impressed with Gingrich.
“He’s merely a dittohead, ” she said, referring to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s loyal followers.
Although a few rude gestures and remarks were exchanged between opposing camps, no altercations were reported.
As the train pulled away, and the chanting died down, Gingrich waved from the back of the train beside a trombonist playing “California Here We Come.”
Republicans 6 – Democrats 0.
The category? Number of U.S. presidents who have visited San Luis Obispo county documented in PFTV.
William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt traveled through by rail while in office.
Calvin Coolidge visited William Randolph Hearst after “Silent Cal” retired.
Richard Nixon campaigned for governor on the courthouse steps with the Nixonettes. Ronald Reagan came here often as governor and appointed local talent to his cabinet in Sacramento and Washington D.C.
George W. Bush turned back the clock a century when he campaigned via train through the region on his first presidential run.