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Plane Truths on the Mondale-Ferraro campaign

A lot is being written about Walter Mondale, who died, on April 19, at 93, in Minnesota, the hub of a lot of bad news.

As Jimmy Carter’s vice president, Mondale revolutionized the No. 2 office, where his predecessors often had been whiners and lackeys. (Read WaPos’ Karen Tumulty for that.)

I knew Mondale as a candidate for president, in 1984, when times were different in the news business.

Back then, many papers had national political writers roving about, far more than today. Presidential hopefuls’ campaign planes were packed “Boys on the Bus”-style with assortments of reporters from big and small news outlets before the erosion of print by the internet and Big Tech predation.

I was among reporters on the plane with Mondale from time to time, hanging out in Minnesota, where we were on Election Night, 1984, when Walter Mondale and running mate Geraldine Ferraro lost 49 states.

Returning to Washington the next afternoon, Mondale’s plane took a lap around the Capitol to salute his two decades in D.C., from the time he replaced fellow Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey in the U.S. Senate.

In the 1990s I went to Minnesota to cover Mondale’s Senate campaign when he agreed, probably unwisely, to become a ballot fill-in after Democrat Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. He lost again.

I recall Mondale as a committed liberal, ever smiling, but with a Scandinavian reserve around people, including reporters. (He’d enter his office through a side door to avoid seeing people.) But he was refreshingly frank and non-slippery when responding to questions, unlike many office-seekers today.

Mondale also was clear-eyed, knowing full well that the popular Ronald Reagan would win re-election handily. He may not have known, though, that he would endure the biggest Election Day wipe-out ever in the Electoral College.

Which gets me back to his campaign plane, a DC-9. The vibe from Mondale after the Democratic convention in San Francisco, and surely after the debates, seemed to be ‘why worry?’ Staff, and therefore reporters, proceeded comfortably. Upon entering the plane, aft, on each of several flights daily, travelers would be greeted with assortments of miniature liquor bottles to be stuffed into pockets and bags.

News organizations (in my case then the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) paid for seats on the plane, mind you. In some campaigns, tuna or chicken salad-on-white was the fare.

Mondale’s plane, operated by Ozark Airlines, about the time of lift-off offered trays of shrimp the size of sea bass while collecting empty minis. Next came respectable dinners (tender fillets with better-than-average red wines come to mind.)

(In two years Ozark itself would be devoured in merger mania.)

The gilded treatment differed, say, from traveling with ‘88 Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, for a time on a prop-driven DC-3, known to reporters as Sky Pig. ("Up, up Pig," was the cry from passengers as it grunted into the air.)

Or on Geraldine Ferraro’s plane, where the food was okay but where things might get out of hand. I admit to nothing here but I recall folks on a Saturday night flight back to Queens surfing the center aisles during take off, laminated cards from seat pouches duct-taped to feet.

Duct tape also was useful in taping speakers to the ceiling for better quality sounds of blues and rock ‘n roll.

In the air, leaf bag-size sacks of popcorn would get breached with buckets of it thrown about for no particular reason. There was a popcorn free throw shooting contest, the goal being the open mouth of a sleeping magazine writer.

Walking to the terminal alongside pilots later, I heard one of them remark: “Maybe the only way to get all that popcorn out will be to pick the plane up by the tail and shake it."

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