The latest Gallup tracking poll shows a dead heat between Obama and Romney: despite his Supreme Court healthcare triumph and a steadily if slowly improving economy, the current president clearly needs a secret weapon to boost his re-election hopes.
That weapon, I put it to you, could be a helicopter. It pushed LBJ over the line in his second bid to become a US senator, in a race that was just as close. Robert Dallek’s mammoth but marvellously readable two volume bio includes an entire chapter devoted to Johnson’s eventual triumph.
We learn that to cover the state of Texas as efficiently but as dynamically as possible, the congressman took to the skies in a three-man bladed aircraft that was, in 1948, a novel sight. But Johnson took this unfamiliar mode of transport to new heights of electoral impact:
Flying a few hundred feet above the ground, Johnson had the plane hover over communities not on their itinerary, where he would shout over a loudspeaker , “Hello down there. This is Lyndon Johnson; your candidate for the US Senate.”
While he added a little spiel appealing for their votes, aides showered startled folks below with campaign leaflets. […] Occasionally, Johnson had the pilot make unscheduled landings, where he would greet amazed onlookers personally.
It gets better: LBJ, always a glad glad-hander, amped up the personal touch even when he couldn’t land:
Aides also compiled lists of people in small towns between stops who at one time or another had written the Congressman. As they flew over them, Johnson said: “Hello, there, Mr. Jones. This is your friend, Lyndon Johnson. I’m sorry we can’t land today, but I want you to know that I’m up here thinking of you and appreciate your kind letter and comments. I just want you to be sure and tell your friends to vote for me at election time.
Like any sensible campaign leader, however, Johnson knew when to delegate:
The business of talking over the loudspeaker to folks between towns became so routine that Johnson had one of his aides or the pilot do it while he rested. Handing the microphone to one of them, Johnson would say, “Tell them about me.”
So sod the battle-bus, the push-poll and the hockey stadium, the super-PAC and the motorcade, what Team Hope needs to push it over the edge is the sight of its commander-in-chief standing with one foot on the landing strut of Marine One in mid-flight, one hand firmly clasped by a bodyguard with the other on the button of a loudhailer. “Hello down there. This is Barack Obama; your candidate for US President…”