by Chris Matthews
The death of former White House press secretary Jody Powell yesterday reminds me of the last night of the 1980 election.
I remember Jody, who had been President Carter’s loyal press secretary and confidant all those years, telling the President late that night that we weren’t going to over night anywhere that night. Carter would give his last speech in Seattle - to catch the last time zone - then we’d fly through what was left of the night back to Georgia to vote.
I remember the way Jody said it: “There’s no “tonight” tonight, governor.” I had a seat next to Jody that election eve on the way West and back - a big deal for a speechwriter. I kept answering the phone for Jody from Patrick Caddell, the pollster and advisor who was playing such a big part in President Carter’s re-election campaign.
At about 1 o’clock in the morning West Coast time, the President, having given the Seattle speech to a roaring crowd in an airport hangar, was now back in the staff section with us having drinks with the press corps - Judy Woodruf, Helen Thomas, Sam Donaldson, a few others.
Jody had gone forward to take that call from Caddell. It was bad news. Pat was back at the White House with Hamiliton Jordan and Jerry Rafshoon, who’d been with Carter from the beginning.
When President Carter came forward and took the phone from Jody, he got the news - hard. He was going to lose the election by ten percent - a landslide. I remember Rick Hertzberg, the president’s chief speechwriter coming back to the staff section and saying “Jody’s a soldier.”
Jody Powell, who’d been Carter’s press secretary, and a lot more than that, all the way, was now asking us to write something the president could say to both get out the best vote for his party while lessening the anti-incumbent heat that had grown through that long, brutal year of the Iranian hostage-taking and bad economic news.
There was Jody, still giving the commands, child of the South, standing up for the good fight, remaining at his post. “Jody’s a soldier.” Can’t say it better than that.