Sen. Floyd K. Haskell (D-Colo.) is not one of the few member of the Senate who regularly receive what their press secretaries call "national media," so viewers of ABC television's "Good Morning America" may have been surprised to see him on that program on Feb. 1.
But it was no coincidence that Haskell was there. His first term is coming to an end this year, and Haskell would like another six years in the Senate. To win re-election, he will have to tiptoe uneventfully through numerous minefields - like the coming Senate votes on the Panama Canal treaties.
Haskell's press secretary, David Michaels, knew Haskell had decided to vote for the unpopular treaties, and he was looking for ways to soften the impact of this vote in Colorado. One way, Michaels knew, was to let Haskell explain his position as directly as he could to the voters.
Michaels thougth ABC might like a Panama Canal item on "Good Morning America" Feb. 1 as a mens of plugging the broadcast the night of President Carter's fireside chat on the canal treaties. Michaels called ABC and asked if they'd like to interview a senator who would use the occasion to announce his decision to support the treaties. ABC bit.
For Micahels and Haskell this way was a sweet little victory in their almost perpetual struggle with the hazzards of election year for an incumbent official. Those hazzards transform the life of a sitting senator. They turn him into a nervous, anxious political beast, a supplicant for other people's money, a gambler and a calculator of fine percentages.
"Good Morning America" was the second phase of Michaels' efforts to make the most of his boss's decision on the canal treaties. The night before, the two of them gone into the bowels of the Capitol to the television studio there to record a five minute statement on the decision. For a total $30, the studio recorded the statement and made seven videotape copies. On a plane to Denver, Michaels shipped all seven to Colorado TV stations, so they could broadcase the statement on the same day Haskell announced it in Washington.
(It would have cost Haskell's campaign several hundred dollars to record and duplicate that statement in a commercial television studio.)
At 9 a.m. on Feb. 1 Haskell held a news conference in his office for the Colorado press corps in Washington. Dressed like the Ivy Leaguer he is (harvard, class of ('37) Haskell leaned back in his chair and told the reporters, "I'm going to vote for the Panam Canal treaties." His mail, he acknowledged, was overwhelmingly against the treaties, but he was for them. "The biggest opponent of the treaties in Panama," he noted, "is the Communist Party."
Later, the man Haskell expects to be his opponent in November, Rep. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.), attacked his announcement as willful disregard of his constituents' views. Haskell replied that in 1967, as a liberal Republican member of the Colorado legislatrue, he had introduced an unpopular resolution opposing the Vietnam war. "I was right then," he said, " and I'm right now."
At 62, Floyd Haskell is an elderly freshman senator. But he is vigorous, a fierce tennis player, and he likes his job. He feels he has unfinished business to compelte. He wants to say in the Senate.
Victory is far from certain. In Colorado they talk of Haskell as "an accidental senator" who came from nowhere in 1972 to depose Gordon Allott, then a conservative Republican leader in the Senate. Haskell has a liberal voting record, and Colorado has a lot of conservative voters - like Armstrong. The mood in the state has changed since 1972. National conservative groups are reportedly prepared to contribute heavily to Armstrong's Senate campaign.
Incumbency will help Haskell raise money and get attention at home. Membership in the Senate provides many practical advantages, from the ability to send mail postage-free to the services of the Capitol TV studio.
"Incumbents do have an advantage," Haskell acknowledges: "But they also have a disadvantage. They've got a voting record."
In his preparations for the re-election campaign thus far, Haskell has now dwelled on the voting record. He has chosen a professional campaign consultant, the firm of Rothstein-Buckley, to help plan an organize the campaign. He has named a finance chairman and raised $171,000 (as much as he spent to get elected in 1972). He has appointed a campaign manager in Colorado who had begun organizing there - a young man selected for him by Rothstein-Buckley.
In Colorado last week, Haskell acknowledged that he hadn't really decided what his message will be for the voters of Colorado this summer and fall. He doesn't have a campaign slogan, and his small staff in Denver hasn't yet decided which - if any - specific aspects of Haskell's record as a senator might be adapted for campaign purposes.
One of the frustations of the job, Haskell said in an interview, is the distance between a senator's daily work and his constituents. "They don't know what you do. They don't know about your committee work, your legislation." But theoretically at least, he is asking Colorado's voters to let him ocntinue doing that work, so he may have to demonstrate its importance.
This is one of the troublesome facts of any reelection campaign. The incumbent is a target, and American politics are often dominated by negative impulses.
Haskell is troubled by a referendum in Colorado in 1976 on the issue of repealing the state tax on food. "You wouldn't think that eliminating the sales tax on food would lose, would you?" Haskell asks.
But business interests that opposed the change organized a television campaign against it. One oft-played commercial showed a chocolate covered lemon; the chocolate was peeled away to reveal the lemon below. The message was that lifting the sales tax on food might look like a peice of chocolate, "But it's a lemon." The image stuck, and the referendum was overwhelmingly defeated. Haskell shakes his head as he tells the story.
"So a devil can be created by creative media," he says, "and of course this is what you're concerned with, that some slogan." Floyd Haskell doesn't want to be made into a lemon.
On a three day trip to Colorado last week, a visiting reporter heard or saw several reasons why such a thing just might happen. Haskell does not enjoy the vast popularity of some incumbents; his image is not strong in Colorado, and though he doesn't seem to have many convinced critics, he is also short on enthusiastic supporters.
Everyone seems to agree that Haskell is a "nice guy" and some say this is his best asset. He is not a forceful politician, and he is not a natural campaigner. Visiting with constituents last week, he spent a lot time with his hands in his pockets. At a dinner in Greeley. Colo., attended by more than 500 Democrats, Haskell fled the head table at the end of the program and made a quick dash to his car, to drive back to Denver alone. Haskell's campaign manager tried to find him after the dinner, but he couldn't.
On the other hand, Haskell "looks more like a senator than most senaors," in the words of Jill Buckley of the Rothstein-Buckley firm of political consultants. He is WASPish without being waspish - gray, chisled good looks, confident body language. Senate staff members call him one of the least pompous and vain members of the world's greatest deliberative body.
Haskell is a tax reformer on the Senate Finance Committee, and a specialist in nonpetroleum sources of energy on the Energy Committee. He was responsible for congressional passage of a tax break for small businessmen that has made him something of a hero in those circles.
Haskell's backers believe his committee assignments, and legislative contributions can be sold to Coloradans as important for them and their state. They feel a majority of the state's voters will feel he has a right to stay on the job.
Though he makes less of a public impression than his junior colleague, Sen. Gary Hart, Haskell has spent a lot of time in Colorado during his Senate term, getting home on the average of twice a month. He has three offices around the state, and his administrative assistant - his senior senate aide - lives and works in Denver, not Washington, an unusual arrangement.
"He doesn't go the extra step that others go" to romance his constituency, says Joe Rothstein of Rothestein-Buckley. But, Rothstein adds emphatically, the $15,000 poll Haskell commissioned last May shows that Coloradons appreciate his services.
Those around Haskell, and the senator himself, are counting on Rothstein devise the media campaign they all think will be necessary to reinforce what they regard as the candidate's strong points and minimize his weaknesses. This will take a lot of Rothstein's reputed skills in the political commerical business - and a money.
Haskell expects Rep. Armstrong to raise at least $750,000, and perhaps more than $1 million, to use against the incumbent. The Haskell campaign is hoping to raise nearly $600,000 in all, or which $171,000 is in the hand.
In 1972, Haskell lent his campaign $69,000 of his money, but this time he says he won't do that.
"Well, I feel that if there aren't enough people somewhere around the country that think that a person of my ideas is desirable to have in the Senate - why, so be it." He also acknowledges that raising money is both practically and personally the most difficult job he faces this year.
"I've always been for public financing" of congressional campaigns," Haskell said with a grin. "Now I'm bigger than ever."
What about the possibility of losing? How much would it hurt to get beat?
"Oh, you never know until the time comes. I tell myself if I get beaten there are a lot of things I would want to do...Now if you go into something all the way and you get beaten, you don't know what your attitude is going to be. I think the guy that took the best attitude I've ever seen who got beaten was [former Rep. ] Wayne Aspinall. He took the position - in effects, he never actually said it - but his attitude was, if those people in Colorado are so goddam dumb that they don't elect me, the hell with them, it's their loss. Now whether I could take that attitude, I don't know."