Kentucky Fried Vice President? | History News Network
Cary Heinz served thirty-four years as a public school educator until June 2021, and now writes about history, politics and sports.
In the United States, especially in recent times, citizens have always taken an untraditional path to politics. Often people run for school board, city council, state legislature, etc., gaining experience along the way. For better or worse, it has become more common for aspiring politicians to seek office because of their notoriety or celebrity status. Donald Trump – the first president to never serve in the military or in any public office – is certainly the most recent and glaring example of this. Ronald Reagan would certainly have been considered a celebrity when he ran for president, but the former actor had served two terms as governor of California. In 2022, celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz and former football player Herschel Walker are seeking GOP nominations in Pennsylvania and Georgia for the United States Senate. Neither has any political experience.
Several famous personalities have been elected or have sought political office in the past. Frontiersman Davy Crocket served three terms in Congress from Tennessee before he died at the Alamo in 1836. When John Wayne (1960) and Billy Bob Thornton (2004) play you in a movie, you’re legendary.
Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (today his granddaughter Patty is perhaps sadly more famous) was politically very active in the first decade of the 20e century. He was elected to two terms in Congress (1903-1907) and unsuccessfully ran for mayor of New York in 1905 and 1909, governor of New York in 1906, and even president in 1904. William Randolph Hearst foreshadowed Donald J. Trump in several ways.
Upton Sinclair, best known as the author of The jungle (a graphic treatise on the meatpacking industry that surely sent some readers to vegetarianism), was potentially left of Bernie Sanders. He ran for Congress, the US Senate, and for Governor of California. Actress Helen Gahagan Douglas was elected to Congress from the state three times as a Democrat (1945-1951) before being defeated by Richard Nixon in a 1950 Senate race (John F. Kennedy quietly contributed to her future rival’s campaign against her). She is best known for giving Nixon the nickname “Tricky Dick” (he called her “the Pink Lady”, implying that she was soft on communism). A third future president, Lyndon Johnson, was little more than his political mentor, which you can seek out for yourself.
After Reagan’s election as governor, the proverbial floodgates of future famous politicians would open (and I’m quoting only the elected ones). Actors: Clint Eastwood (mayor of Carmel, California), The ship of love “Gopher” Fred Grandy (US Congress – Iowa), Fred Thompson (US Senate – Tennessee; 2008 presidential candidate) and Jesse Ventura (Governor, Minnesota). Athletes: Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Bradley (U.S. Senate, New Jersey; presidential candidate 2000), former NFL quarterback Jack Kemp (Congressman, New York; running mate 1996) Football Hall of Famer Steve Largent (US Congress – Oklahoma), and NFL quarterback Heath Shuler (US Congress, North Carolina). Bodybuilder/actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (Governor of California) was an athlete and actor.
George Wallace ran for president four times between 1964 and 1976. He survived an assassination attempt in 1972. 1968 was his most successful presidential run, when he clung to a group of supporters who (or perhaps their children) may now identify with Donald Trump more than they know. George Wallace was governor of Alabama three times, serving a total of sixteen years, and famously (or infamously) promised “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever”. He entered some Democratic primaries in late 1964 and did (to some) shockingly. In 1968, he presented himself as an independent.
1968 was one of the most tumultuous years in American history. The Tet offensive, the assassinations of King and Kennedy, etc. Wallace tapped into disgruntled white voters with his combative style on the stump. At one point that summer, he polled over twenty percent in national polls, and even higher in some parts of the country, particularly the South. Studies have shown that he attracted voters from both Republican candidate Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey. The partyless man needed a running mate, and that’s where an intriguing possibility for a celebrity politician did NOT occur.
Wallace and his advisers “agreed that it was important to expand his Deep South base, they wanted to seek out a national figure who could lend credibility to the ticket outside of the region.” He considered former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, former Baseball Commissioner and Governor of Kentucky AB “Happy” Chandler, radio commentator Paul Harvey, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and others, before settling on retired Air Force General Curtis LeMay. He also considered the fame of Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, who helped his campaign.
Colonel Sanders was a familiar sight on TV at the time, even though he sold the business to John Y. Brown (future Governor of Kentucky as well as TV personality Phyllis George’s former husband and father by CNN’s Pamela Brown). Sanders did not succeed until later in life. He is associated with Kentucky, but was born in Indiana and spent many years doing odd jobs in the area. He didn’t start cooking for money until he was forty and didn’t start franchising his restaurants until he was already collecting social security. A little research will show that the man was more obsessed with the sauce than the chicken.
Sanders’ candidacy was unlikely for several reasons. First of all, he was seventy-eight, and if Joe Biden is seventy-nine in 2022, the colonel was really old in 1968 (although he lived to be ninety year). Secondly, since he was the face, but not the owner, of KFC, it is meaningless, but curious, speculation whether the agreement to sell the chicken franchise would have allowed him to present himself politically, especially considering given the polarizing figure of Wallace. A good portion of Americans might have stopped eating this tasty poultry, even if it was “finger-licking good,” if a Wallace/Sanders ticket had been on the ballot in 1968.
Sanders has enjoyed a minor resurrection over the past decade as eighteen different actors have played the Colonel (Paste Magazine even ranked them), including Jason Alexander, George Hamilton, Ray Liotta, Rob Lowe, Reba McEntire, Norm MacDonald and even Hafthor Bjornsson. , perhaps better known as “The Mountain”, on game of thrones (yes, it’s worth looking for that too).
The infamous General LeMay has done Wallace more harm than good. He inspired General “Jack D. Ripper” in the 1964 satire Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which was neither flattering nor flattering. The film was a work of fiction, but the reality of the Cuban Missile Crisis dates back only six short years. LeMay arguably lent military credibility to Wallace, although the governor, who participated in B-29 bombing raids during World War II under LeMay, may not have needed help in this area. .
On October 3, 1968, Wallace announced LeMay as his running mate in working-class Pittsburgh. After an introduction,
Wallace stood to the side, a stony expression on his face, as LeMay self-destructed and in the process nearly brought Wallace’s campaign down. Le May offered candid and direct answers to reporters’ questions, leaving no doubt about his position.
The figures confirm this assessment. September 29e, a Gallup poll listed Richard Nixon at 43%, Hubert Humphrey at just 28%, and Wallace at 21% (with 8% undecided). On election day, these figures were 43.4%, 42.72% and 13.53%. Wallace has lost a third of his support over the past month.
None of this can be blamed on LeMay. Humphrey changed his stance on Vietnam and fought a strong campaign in October. Moreover, for perhaps the last time they wielded so much influence, the unions “invested unprecedented resources in the Democratic campaign before the home stretch, registering 4.6 million voters, sending 115 million pamphlets, establishing 638 telephone banks, lining up 72,000 homes to house canvassers and 94,000 volunteers on Election Day. Humphrey poached fifteen campaign endpoints from Wallace among unionists.
The American electorate rejected George Wallace for president in 1968 (as well as in 1964, 1972 and 1976). Nonetheless, Vice President Harland Sanders is a fun historical “what if?”
Unfortunately, we will never know if the eventual Thirty-Ninth Vice President of the United States would have wanted to be addressed as “Mr. Vice President”, or simply “Colonel”.