There were clues all over the place - so many that savvy political detective like Terry Bruce should have known there was tricky business afoot. When the announcement came, though, Bruce was as surprised as everybody else in the 22nd Congressional Direct.
"As soon as I heard it, everything that had happened last summer made sense," the casual, candid lawyer from Olney recalled not long ago. "I guess if I were some political wizard, I would have figured it out eariler."
In truth, Terry Bruce need not have been so modest. Not even a wizard could guessed, in the summer of '77, that George Shipley, now 50 was about to give up his seat as the 22nd's representative in Congress. And no wizard could have believed that Shipley had handpicked his successor.
Morever, if anybody in southeastern Illinois could be called a political wizard, most local Democrats would have bestowed that title on Terry Bruce. At 33, the likeable state senator was a raising star in Illinois' Democratic firmament.
Bruce had first displayed his wizardry in 1970. Twenty-six years old, six months out of law school, and unknow, he had challenged a popular state senator in a solid Republican district - and won. He had won by bigger margins in each subsequent election.
In the legislature, Bruce signed on early as a foot soldier in the age-old war between downstate senators and the Chicago-Cook County bloc. State-house veterans wrote him off as just another downstate Don Quixote - until he started putting dents in the Cook County windmill.
He won committee assignments no downstater had held in dents in decades. He won a chairmanship and a leadership slot. By 1977, Terry Bruce was assistant majority leader, and seemed destined to capture the Senate's top job.
If he stayed around long enough, that is. There was a consensus that the Illinois legislature was too small a pond for a fish of Bruce's capabilities. The boy had a future, most Democrats were sure of that.
Bruce, too, had dreams of his future - a future in the U.S. Congress. But last summer, he was still biding his time. He knew that the only Democrat running for Congress from the 22nd for years to come would be George Shipley. Shipley had represented the district, a sprawling chunk of east central Illinos, through 10 Congresses, and was so popular he seemed sure to win five or even 10 terms more.
Which was why Terry Bruce failed to spot the clues.
First there was Shipley's constituent newsletter. Late last summer, it added a new feature: a detailed itinerary for Shipley's district representative, Don Watson, telling when Watson would be in each of the 22nd's communities,
Then, when Bruce was calling on a recently widowed constituent, the bereaved woman had proudly shown him a note of condolence on the letterhead of the U.S. House of Representatives. Bruce noted with passing interest that the letter was signed, not by Shipley, but by Don Watson.
The matches, of course, should have given the game away.For 19 Year the 22nd's voters had received free matchbooks emblazoned with the congressional seal and a single word: Shipley. Last summer, a second word was added: Watson.
"But I still didn't catch on until I heard in September that Don had asked for a county chairmen's meeting." Bruce admitted recently.
"Right then it hit me. George Shipley was going to quit, and he was going to try to pass the seat down to Don."
Shipley's announcement that he would not seek re-election in 1978 should have marvelous news for Terry Bruce. Instead, Bruce recalls, he was "miserable."
"Of coures I wanted to go to Congress. But it came at an inconvenient time. My little girl's were happy in Olney. My wife, Charlotte, had a good job at the junior college. It kind of meant leving my family."
There were other obstacles. After all the years in politics, Bruce still hated - positively hated - asking people for money. A congressional race would take far more than he'd ever raised.
And Bruce hated to lose. "You get your ego involved," he said. "It's not a game anymore when you start to lose." With Don Watson in the race, Bruce might not even win the primary.
In the end, however, ambition conquered anguish - and quickly at that. Within the week of George Shipley's withdrawl, Terry Bruce was a candidate. He set out to run, and win.
He could win, he thought, because he had a winning issue that he would never even have to raise: Nepotism.
"Everybody here knows that Don is George's assistant," Bruce explained.
"And everybody knows that Don is George's brother-in-law. They're keeping it all in the family. I don't think the people will accept them."
"We won't be accepted socially, I know that," Jo Ann Watson announced, the soft twang of southern Illinois dancing lightly through her words. "I don't mean invitations to embassies of like that. I mean the inner circle - Georgetown and them. They won't accept us socially, I'm ready for that."
Over lunch at Olney's most popular restaurant the Holiday Inn coffee shop, Jo Ann was looking forward to her new life-to-come in Washington, D.C.
"It won't be like last time, when Don was George's A.A. and I never got out of the house," she said. "It will be a lot different when Don is in Congress and -"
"If I'm Congress, Jo Ann," a quiet voice interrupted. At 45, Donald H. Watson was too much of a realist to write a trumphant finale to his election campaign when the first act had barely begun.
"You wouldn't hardly need an election if everybody was as sure of me as Jo Ann and George," Don said, his kind, weathered face spreading into an embarrassed smile. "Those two have got me elected already."
It was fitting. "Those two" - George Shipley and Jo Ann Watson - were largely responsible for his candidacy in the first place. If the whole affair had been up to him, he might not be traipsing around the 22nd now, trying to follow in Shipley's footsteps.
But then, Don Watson had been following those footsteps most of his adult life.
Don had been a "roughneck" in the little oilfields along the Illinois-Indiana border when he married Jo Ann in 1950. He was a happy roughneck, but family responsibilities demanded more secure employment. So Don turned to his sister's husband. George Shipley, a young Democrat who had just been elected sheriff of Richmond County.
Don Watson was signed on as a deputy sheriff, and the brothers-in-law found they worked well together. When George was elected to Congress in 1958, Don Watson went along as his administrative assistant. The Waltons spent two years in Washington, but they were unhappy years. "I'd never lived in a town bigger than 10,000 people," Don explains.) When Shipley was re-elected in 1960, his top aide moved back to Olney and has run the congressman's district office ever since.
For Don Watson it has been the perfect job. He loved helping people, he loved Olney, he loved his montly paycheck - for Shipley saw to it that his brother-in-law was well taken care of. Today, at $44,000 per year, Watson is one of Congress' best-paid staffers.
"Nothing gold can stay," the poet said , and for Watson the golden days began to go last August, when George Shipley called from a vacation retreat in Florida. "Don," the congressman said, "I'm getting out. It's all yours if you want to run."
It was the toughesh decision of Don Watson's life - but he had help with it.
"George left it to me, but I new what he wanted," Watson recalled. "Still, I decided not to run about a hundred times. Evertime, Jo Ann told me it was my decision to make, and I ought to think it over again."
By the third week in August, Watson was a candidate. By the third week in September, after Shipley had time to make some telephone calls, he was the solid frontrunner in the Democratic primary race.
There was a problem, Watson acknowleged recently - a minor one, but a problem nonetheless.
"I'm . . I'm proud of the fact that I'm George's brother-in-law," Watson said, his soft voice straining a little. "Hell, everybody's always know it. I don't think there are many who would hold it against me.
"There are a lot more people - most everybody, I guess - who've had occasion to have a problem with their VA, or Social Security, or FHA. George and I have helped them. People don't forget."
Dave Hill was sitting pretty.
There he was, a 26-year-old from Capitol - and just a few steps off the Senate floor to boot.
The job itself, unfortunately, wasn't all that hot. As an assistant Senate bill clerk, Hill was responsible for stamping numbers on each new bill and report that came along and logging the numbers in the Senate's big legder books. It was tedious, but the Senate's unusual pay scale made up for that. For his stamping and (logging, the taxpayers paid Dave Hill $20,040 per year.
Best of all, the job fit nicely into what Dave Hill liked to call his "Main Plan."
"I had always planned to get into politics," Hill explained not long ago in the resonant voice he had perfected as a public speaking major in college. "So working in the Senate - you know, at the heart of politics - was just right. I was going to move home eventually, run for state office, and then someday run against George Shipley for Congress."
Obviously, then, Hill was "darned excited" when he heard of Shipley's sudden decision not to run in 1978. "I was on the phone a lot Mattoon after that," he said. "I began to realize that there was no strong candidate in the race - at least, not as strong as I would be."
Eventually, in late November, Hill made what he called "the terrifying decision": he quit his perfect job and went home to Mattoon to undertake a shoe-leather campaign for Congress.
He had hardly any money, but that didn't disturb Dave Hill. "The way I look at it, money doesn't matter much in politics," he said "I feel like, that through hard work, I can be a factor."
Nor was the young candidate disturned when everybody - except Don Watson, who suggested that Hill drop out and take a job on Watson's staff - seemed to be ignoring him.
"That's part of my plan," Hill said confidently. "By the time they come to recognize I'm a serious threat, it'll be too late. I'll have shaken more hands than anybody, and I'll win this things."
Although matters of national political import are not the most common topics of conversation in the bars, general stores, and church basements where the people of the 22nd District tend to congregate, there are some national issues that do get the local dander up.
Perhaps the hottest current topic is Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. ("that creep," people here call him, whose war on cigarette smoking has been received with the same withering hostiliyt that awaits the government's occasional efforts to register firearms.
Another subject received coldly here is women's liberation. Indeed, a mention of the Equal Rights Amendment generally draws the kind of sneer that might greet a slice of cold, two-day-old pizza served for breakfast.
Tim Thut found that out the hard way.
Thut (pronounced "toot") is a 34-year-old native of Clarleston, at the 22nd's geographic center, whose wanderings have taken him far from home. He was selling smog filters in Los Angeles when he heard about Shipley's withdrawal, and hurried home to fulfill a boyhood dream: running for Congress.
Thut had a solid strategy: he would pick some issues, take a firm stand, and win support from all the voters who agreed with him. The problem was that Thut took all the wrong stands.
His predominant issue has been support for the ERA. That has won him support from the 11 female lawyers among the direct's 464,000 residents, but from almost nobody else. His advocacy of government paid abortion and approval of the Panama Canal treaties has not noticebly added to the numbers of his backers.
"The campaign has been sort of a catharsis in my mind," Thut observed recently. "I was born right here, but now - I'm not sure I belong here. The people are just incredibly conservative."
For the four Democrats, and their three Republican counterparts competing for the March 21 primary election, the campaign in the 22nd was heating up.But with so many candidates in the race, the voters would have troubleeven learning their names. .
Next: Getting Knows