Won and done

By Ralph Gray '55

In 1968, while living in Kokomo, Ind., and teaching history at the Indiana University campus there, I decided to support Sen. Eugene McCarthy for president. An attractive, intelligent, and articulate candidate for the high office, he seemed a worthy successor to Lyndon Johnson. Certainly, his early anti-Vietnam War stance was important and courageous.

One of the first things my wife and I did was to open our house to a group of students from the University of Michigan who had come to Kokomo for a weekend of campaigning for “Clean Gene.”  In the evenings, they filled the den in the lower level of our house with wall-to-wall sleeping bags and various campaign materials after full days of politicking.

The next thing I knew I had signed on as a candidate for election to the Democratic State Convention, where the party would nominate its slate of candidates for state offices.

When the dust cleared, I realized that I was one of five candidates for the office from our precinct in the city. I did minimal campaigning beyond distributing some fliers festooned with my name and the slogan, “Let Us Begin Anew.”

As a relative newcomer to Kokomo, I had no expectation of an election-day victory, especially because the sheriff of Howard County and other well-known people were among the five nominees.

But I did win (even though McCarthy didn’t — late entrant Bobby Kennedy had carried the day in Indiana), largely, I suspect, because the names listed alphabetically had me near the top of the ballot, and the voters chose the top two names.

At any rate, the sheriff was able to perform his peacekeeping duties on the day of the state convention while I did my duty in Indianapolis.

One could say, I suppose, that I’m a little like a University of Kentucky “one-and-done” basketball player, for I became a “won”-and-done politician. Overall, the experiences were great—I was able to meet all the national celebrities who came to our city to campaign, including my mother’s favorite television personality, variety show and game-show host Garry Moore.

And at the one-day convention, even though my candidate for governor also lost, I met Sen. Birch Bayh, who on our first meeting, said upon reading my nametag, “It’s good to see you again, Ralph.”   

Historian Ralph Gray ’55 is professor emeritus of history at Indiana University-Purdue University, and the author of several books about Indiana history. You can read more about alumni in politics in the summer issue of The Hanoverian, coming to your mailbox next month.