"I've got a great story for you," says Joe Canada, his eyes gleaming with pleasure.
"I ran into a waitress down in Southern Virginia recently and she told me . . .", he hesitates. "No, I guess I won't get into that."
Yes you will. He laughs.
"We-elll, we ran into this waitress who was highly incensed. She felt like she'd been insulted by Lynda Bird. She felt like she'd been talked down to! And I can understand how that could happen."
It seems, recount Canada and his wife Sandy after a tiny bit of prodding, that at one recent political event the waitress had asked Lynda Bird what she would like to drink and Lynda Bird had refused to answer her. Twice. Finally, so the story goes, Lynda Bird turned to the waitress and explained carefully that one does not ask a lady what she wants to drink. One asks her husband.
"Maybe," says Sandy Canada sweetly, "maybe she just behaves that way because she's used to having people wait on her, because she's been the daughter of a President.
"As you travel around you hear stories about her! People will say, Lynda Bird was here and ....but then I suppose they give her reports on me too."
A lot of people have never heard of Joe canada. Everybody's heard of Lynda Bird Johnson Robb. And some people have heard of her husband, Chuck Robb, who is in fact running for Lt. Governor of Virginia on Nov. 8 against Joe Canada.
The irony is that nobody would have heard of Joe Canada if it weren't for his wife.
And nobody would have heard of Joe Canada if it weren't for Chuck Robb.
Still, it drives Joe Canada up the wall. Because he thinks he's actually running against Lynda Bird.
"If Chuck Robb were married to somebody named Jones do you think he'd ever have gotten the Democratic nomination? asks Canada rhetorically. @
If you judge him on merits, what has Chuck Robb ever done for Virginia? If he's got a record I'm waiting to hear it.
"I turn on 'Good Morning America" and there they are, Lynda and Chuck. I pick up People magazine and there they are. And I'll tell you, it's a hard thing to run against Lady Bird Johnson."
It seems, in Canada's view, the classic example of the famed, moneyed, against the beleaguered, down-home, put-upon poor boy who's risen on his own!
And it seems clear from the beginning that CAnada, 42, who is a lawyer, a State Senator and the Republican canditate for lieutenant governor, is obsessed with his Democratic opponent's access to publicity and money. Chuck Robb has managed, through his mother-in-law (Lady Bird Johnson) to attract an enormous array of celebrities and a whole lot of money for his campaign. "His list of campaign contributiona," says Canada's press aide, "looks like Lyndon Johnson's Cabinet."
And in fact, Joe Canada, 38, finds himself more in the running against chick and Lynda Bird Robb than in the running for lieutenent governor.
He and his wife Sandy, 30, talked about their concerns and their life during an interview in the Hospitality House Motel recently in between fund-raisers, meetings and speeches. Sandy Canada is a small, pretty, young woman with long silky blond hair. She has umrecise and sure way of talking. She does not romanticize her husband or his efforts, but is almost detached nd realistic about his capabilities.
Joe Canada, on the other hand seems less sure of himself, of what image he wants to project. At first he comes on strong, very much the proto-type of a confident politiian. A big "Hi there," a big smile, a big hand-shake, a few jokes. But later he becomes quieter, subdued, deferring often to his wife, answering questions quietly, carefully, but always with a tiny edge of suspicion. He relaxes but he is never unaware that he is a politician so that his answers (unlike his wife's) tend tosmack of formula political answers and often they are incomplet.
Joe Canada is a nice guy. But then that's not the question. Many who have worked with him in the Virginia legislature say he's not too swift. He is aware of that and is conscious of trying to improve his intellectual image.
The one thing he is sure of, and the one isue he has complete grasp of is the Lynda Bird Robb issue. And the conversation keeps coming back to that.
"My background is very different from Chuck Robb's" he'll say. "Igrew up in Lynchburg, Va., My parents died when I was very young and I had to work my way through school...
"I think the people of Virginia want somebody who knows the state, who doesn't need a road map to find Smithfield. Chuck Robb did, you know," he emphasizes.
"Chuch Robb is claiming he's got all these relatives buried all over the state. Well, they may be buried there but he isn't."
"Chuck Robb is from Wisconsin. What would the people of Wisconsin say if Joe anada ran for office there with out-of-state money?"
"I think I'm different from Chuck Robb," says Canada, "because I know that side of life. I've had every type of job.
"So I can get along with all sorts of people. I can sit down and arm wrestle with a truckdriver and I can get along as well with a local banker."
Sandy Canada says she is different from Lynda Bird because, she chuckles, "Lynda Bird is a lot taller than I am."
"I worked in a steel mill, as a carpenter, a ditch digger, I drove a tractor . . . " and he'll tell a couple of truck-stop stories on the way. "My grandfather was a coal miner for 34 years, you know," he likes to say.
And she'll say, "I like to speak on the same platform with Lynda Bird. I like to talk about issues, Joe's background, all his awards, the fact that he's one of the outstanding young men of America. Lynda talks mostly about her background, her family. And how Chuck wa a leader in the Marine Corps and a Leader in the Boy Scouts."
"I love the Boy Scots," interjects Canada. "I was a Boy Scout."
Then he reflects on Robb's leadership. "My opponent has no experience," he claims hotly. "He says he has leadership, that he was a leader in high school. His campaign brochure just doesn't make sense to me. His claim to fame is that he's been a Washington lawyer for two years."
Joe Canada does think that the wife of a candidateis more important now than ever before. And he says he thinks Sandy could beat out Lynda Bird, though "I don't think Sandy could do as well as Lynda in Texas."
When Sandy and Joe firstmet each other it was on a blind date about four years ago. He was just divorced with four young children and she had been a school teacher for 10 years in Virginia Beach. As she says, the pickin's in Virginia Beach were slim and when she saw Joe Canada she went forhim right away. He was in the state senate at the time.
"I liked his looks," she says. =And I was impresed with his high values and integrity. After two months of dating I said, 'Are you for real?" I couldn't believe he was so nice. I'm not saying," she adds wryly, "that he doesn't have his faults. He does."
Joe Canada is less able to articulate what he liked about Sandy. This is not his favorite conversation.
"I liked her dog," he jokes uneasily. "Well, she's very pretty."
He also says that one of the most important things was the fact that she got along with his children, especially since two have chosen to live with him.
They have now been married two years and she has ben both a co-campaigner and a step-mother.
She quit teaching just for this year to campaign. "I can't say it's been easy, with the children," she says. "But it's worked out better than a lot of my friends' situations have where there have been a lot of anger and resentment towards the stepmother."
Sandy Canada has been particularly active in this race but she was not when he ran for the state senate. She is active this time because she wants her husband to be lieutenant governor. She says when she married into a life of politics, "I knew exactly what I was getting into." And you know she means it. She says she isn't interested in running for office herself. "Not at this particular time."
Joe Canada is banking heavily on his working-class image to get him elected and he loves to talk about his earlier hardships. He feels most comfortable on that subject and has obviously worked out his smooth and professional campaign rhetoric around it. And he repeats his recitation of the facts of his upbringing which has become almost a litany. Yet his ivy-league clothes, his well-mannered appearance belie the past which he is so proud to cite.
He tells about living after his parents died, with a friend whose house had holes in the roof. Canada had to sleep in his raincoat when it rained so as not to get wet. He tells how he ran a sandwich stand to put his sister through college and made up his own sandwich recipes. "And I've got a recipe for Chuck too," he jests.
He worked in a library, worked for a trucking company nights to put himself through law school, bought old sports cars, remodeled them and sold them to pay tuition. When it was all over he took a job in Virginia Beach to pay off his debts.
"I'm more understanding and compassionate with the everyday problems of people than Chuck Robb," he trumpets.
"I've been to the ditches and I've been to the country clubs," and he beams with pride.
And now he wants to ge to Richmond. To be lieutenant governor. And now only one thing stands in his way.
So obsessed is he with the idea of running against her that he even concerns himself with her clothes. His wife, forinstance, has not been able to afford an ultrasuede dress,Lynda Bird's wardrobe staple and campaign trademark.
"But we're going to get one though," says Canada, jumping up from his seat in a mock-campaign stance. "And that's a promise."
The tough part about all this is that recently some voters have been reacting badly to his use of Lynda Bird's background as a campaign issue. And some Rupublicans have strongly suggested that Canada cut it out.
He's just not sure yet, though, whether he will. Or can, for that matter.
"I don't know," he says reflectively. "It just sort of comes out."