McCain reminds us that once upon a time presidential campaigns began after Labor Day

September 3, 2014

Then Rep. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and daughter Meghan, then age 2, appear with Sen. Barry Goldwater at a McCain rally in March of 1986.
(Arizona Republic)

On this hallowed day in history, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants us all to pause to remember the (losing) 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, the late senator from Arizona.

It was a half century ago on September 3, 1964 when the oft-considered godfather of the modern conservative movement launched his general election campaign for president from the steps of a courthouse in Arizona. (Yes, 50 years ago you would only begin general election campaigning two months before Election Day, although the lobbying for the nomination began months earlier.)

McCain, who shares his predecessor’s record of a bruising presidential loss, believes the kickoff of Goldwater’s campaign is worth commemorating.

In an official statement, McCain noted that, in tribute to Goldwater, he has “ended all of my campaigns on those same courthouse steps, including my campaign for president in 2008.” There’s a public celebration planned at the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott in Goldwater’s honor because, despite his landslide loss, he’s revered by Republicans as a conservative icon.

Perhaps more remarkable than the this-day-in-history lesson is that there was a time in American politics when general election presidential campaigns formally began AFTER Labor Day. Goldwater received the Republican nomination for president in July, took the month of August off and then started his campaign on Sept. 3.

Notably, it was less than a week later on Sept. 7, when President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign aired the famous “Daisy” campaign attack ad that juxtaposed an adorable little girl picking flowers with images of a mushroom cloud signaling the threat of nuclear war. Considered the most negative ad to date, it set the tone for a new kind of political advertising.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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