Campaign tradition: Kissing babies
"Here is a beautiful specimen of young American childhood," Andrew Jackson declared as he examined a dirty-faced baby handed to him at a campaign stop in the early 1800s.
It would have been the beginning of the most sacred of campaign traditions, baby kissing, except Jackson foisted the boy on a nearby politician with a directive, "Kiss him," and scooted away.
We know, of course, why moments with children are such a part of campaigning: It's humanizing for the candidate. But we generally don't know about the lives these babies and children go on to lead, or how they ended up in the political spotlight in the first place. Here are four stories of the anointed few.
Fleure Fraser was only 3 on June 29, 1999, but she remembers the most important parts of that day. She recalls practicing for the community center dance recital. She remembers the girls' parents had worked together to make their pink outfits sparkly, and when it was finally time to perform at the Del Mar Fair, she gave it everything she had.
But when asked about what happened after she got off stage and was whisked away by strangers, Fraser draws a blank. She doesn't remember being planted in front of presidential candidate George W. Bush as he ate a Cinnabon, or being kissed on the lips by him.
Bush's appearance at the fair north of San Diego was part of a three-day, seven-city tour through California to go where Republican presidential nominees often ran into trouble: in pursuit of the Latino vote. The Republican Party had come to be seen as the anti-immigrant, anti-affirmative-action party, but the demographic was the fastest-growing minority, and Bush had made inroads with Latinos in Texas in the past. He went to a tech training for minorities and spoke about education to voters at the fair's Plaza de Mexico in Spanish. "If you can't read, you can't realize the American dream," he told onlookers.
That day, political strategist and image guru Mark McKinnon was shooting footage to soften Bush's image as the candidate roved the fairgrounds. An aide pointed Fleure out to Bush, who knelt to kiss her. A short while later, he petted a sheep.
These days, Fraser, 20, is in her last semester at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, Calif. She is preparing to apply to nursing school to work toward becoming a midwife.
Fraser has been brought up with a robust media diet including CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Discussions about the politics of the day are frequent in the Fraser household, but she is having trouble mustering much excitement about her first opportunity to vote in a presidential election.
Her initial excitement about Hillary Clinton's candidacy waned after seeing Clinton take so many selfies with celebrities. And she feels that there has been a lack of respect for opposing candidates and supporters.
But disappointments with this election aside, Fraser knows she will be there on Election Day to cast her lukewarm ballot.
Kate and Lindsay Handy
"BUSH," the stickers on the twins' hats declared. The candidate laughed uproariously as he wrangled the girls for a photo op, grabbing hold of one awkwardly by the leg. The twins' mother, Kathleen Anderson, had prepared them for this moment: chic matching dresses in navy with red accents — subtle but patriotic. And matching stockings, matching shoes and, since it was a wintry day in Provo, Utah, matching headwear.
Anderson had checked her 7-year-old son out of school, driven an hour from Salt Lake City and waited patiently for George W. Bush on March 9, 2000. When she arrived, she noticed half a dozen campaign workers pointing at her 7-month-old daughters, Kate and Lindsay. So it was no surprise that after the candidate delivered his stump speech, he made a beeline to Anderson and asked to take a photo with her daughters. A swarm of photographers surrounded them, and the clatter of camera shutters filled the air.
Bush had particular cause to smile: Sen. John McCain, Bush's rival and the most formidable roadblock on the path to the Republican presidential nomination, had conceded earlier that day.
Now in their last year of high school, Kate and Lindsay, 17, are busy with classes, varsity cheerleading and figuring out the next chapters of their lives. Lindsay is leaning toward getting a degree in interior design, while Kate is trying to decide whether to become a teacher, cheerleading coach or lawyer.
Most of their political knowledge comes from Anderson, who was appointed director of communications for Donald Trump's Utah campaign operation in August. She remembers a middle school discussion about Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter being the "first time I came alive in school." The girls, on the other hand, are just starting to become politically aware. They say they will become more tuned in once they are of voting age.
"I don't want to be the mother who tells my kids how to think and what to say," Anderson said.
Luke Francis Ervin was a serious-minded baby. When he was told to eat, he ate. When he was told to sleep, he slept.
This is the same intensity that Luke brought to a chance encounter with presidential candidate Bill Clinton on July 21, 1992. He had a habit of making strong eye contact with the people around him, and Clinton was no exception. In this sea of constituents, handlers and photographers, Luke appears to be the only one really looking closely to see who this man is.
His aunt, Mary Rodgers, had brought the 5-month-old along as she dropped her daughter off at volleyball camp. That morning Rodgers didn't know that the Clinton team had set up at Seneca High School, in Louisville, Kentucky. Luke made his national debut in a primary-colored onesie covered in jaunty baseball players — the backup in case of vomit.
After the photo was snapped, Clinton delivered a peck on the infant's bald head and returned him to Rodgers. Luke's aunt was already leaning toward voting for Clinton, but the intense spark between the candidate and her nephew solidified her conviction.
Twelve days before, Clinton had chosen Sen. Al Gore as his running mate. Six days after that, the Democratic National Convention officially nominated them to the ticket. Then, for nearly a week, the pair and their spouses toured the American heartland. The Louisville stop was on the docket for the next-to-last day.
Ervin, of course, has no memory of these events. But he decided to take a close look at Clinton once again in 2013. When his history professor at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, assigned a research paper on a topic of his choosing, Ervin decided to look into why Clinton's approval ratings ascended in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. ("It turns out that Clinton was holding and kissing people other than just babies such as myself at campaign events," he wrote in the introduction.) He ended up presenting it at the 2014 Kentucky Political Science Association annual meeting.
Today, Ervin, 24, is in his final year of law school at the University of Louisville, following in his father's footsteps. He plans to vote for Hillary Clinton but isn't sure what to expect from Bill should he become the first first gentleman. "Hopefully he ... will be very supportive of Hillary and doesn't cause any distractions," he said.
Nick and John Poulos
It was Nick and John Poulos's first Palm Sunday on April 3, 1988, and for the occasion their mother had chosen slick velvet ensembles and tiny tuxedo shirts. It was also the day the 3-month-old twins would unexpectedly meet presidential hopeful and darling of the Greek community, Michael Dukakis at the church where the family worshiped in Wauwatosa, Wis.
Despite being just two days away from the Democratic primary in Wisconsin, the priest's wife, Toula Trifon, remembers Dukakis barely uttered a word about politics. Instead, the Massachusetts governor floated around, mingling with parishioners young and old. During the post-service luncheon, Trifon tied an apron around him and stuck a serving spatula in his hand (he was put in charge of the baked cod and onions).
Dukakis was still sporting the apron when he was photographed by the Associated Press at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, arms overflowing with the twins. Orbiting them in the picture were those who would watch them grow up over the years and become adults, now 28. Nick is a manager at his father's auto business; John, a senior financial adviser at Dell. Father Theodore, in shadow at Nick's left, would later baptize them as infants and marry John and his wife, Nina, in 2015.
At the time, Dukakis was in a battle with Jesse Jackson to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. He hadn't yet been dragged down by a Republican ad showing Dukakis in a battle tank wearing an ill-fitting helmet, grinning and pointing. And he hadn't been pilloried for a controversial furlough program or for his clinical response to a debate question on the use of the death penalty if his wife were raped and killed.
All that would smother Dukakis's message about the power of the American dream and how his father, a Greek immigrant, had attained it.
The Poulos boys' father, Chris, came from similar beginnings. Chris Poulos arrived in the United States from his native Greece with just $52 — and a little note in his wallet that explained, because he didn't know English, who he was and that he was headed to Milwaukee to join his sister. Once he set foot in Wisconsin, Poulos put down roots and worked hard. He met his wife, Mary, with whom he raised four children and built the family business, Chris' Auto Service.
John fears that the opportunities that made his father's accomplishments possible no longer exist because of the direction of the economy and the problems he hears his friends are having finding jobs. And he worries those opportunities still won't be there for his son, Christos, nearly a year old.
Both brothers are dissatisfied with the tenor of this presidential campaign. "I feel like in these types of settings thus far, you get a lot of questions asked and hope to get answers," John said. "A lot of what I hear is just rhetoric."
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