State Sen. Terry Bruce was daydreaming behind his cluttered desk in the state capitol here when the rasp of the intercom woke him with a jolt, and made his dream come true.
"Ever since the primary," Bruce, the Democratic candidate for Congress in Illinois' 22nd Congressional district, recalled later, "I'd been thinking what would happen if the president came out here. That's big medicine, you know, when a president comes to your district. That's perfect for a candidate - it really gets attention.
"So one day I was sitting there in Springfield and my secretary buzzes me and she's all flustered, you know, because she just answered the phone and it's the White House calling.
"And I picked it up and the guy says, 'What would you do if we gave you the president for 15 minutes?"
Bruce quickly found something to do - he invited eight of the 22nd's leading farmers to "a talk with Jimmy Carter," and the session, just as he had hoped, got attention. It was featured news in almost every newspaper and radio station serving the district.
"Yeah, we got great media from that thing," Bruce said happily after Carter's trip here in May. "It was like pennies from heaven."
For both Terry Bruce and Dan Crane, Bruce's Republican opponent for Congress here in the rural 22nd district in central Illinois, political favors from the president, from various would-be presidents and from other prominent politicians have been raining down like pennies from a particularly generous heaven.
Two Carters (Jimmy and Chip) and Vice President Mondale have traveled here to campaign with Bruce, and leading Democrats in Congress have sent him money and personal notes of encouragement.
Crane, for his part, has received offers of campaign aid from several of the GOP's leading VIPs although the offers dried up somewhat after Crane's brother, Rep. Philip M. Crane (R.Ill.), announfed his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, a development that seems to have made the 22nd off-limits for the party's other White House hopefuls.
The big-name politicians' interest in this relatively obscure congressional campaign stems partly from the intrinsic importance of the election here - but only party. For most of the outsiders, the 22nd's race for Congress is also a means of scoring points in some larger political game.
Mondale made no bones about the White House's interest when he flew to the district in August for two appearances with Bruce. The 22nd, he observed, was a chance to prove that the pundits were wrong when they called the Carter administration a drag on Democratic candidates.
The vice president showed Terry Bruce his briefing paper for the trip, which noted that both parties consider the 22nd's race "marginal." Moreover, the document noted the campaign was receiving an unusual amount of press coverage. If Bruce won, then, Carter and Mondale could share the credit and get some favorable publicity.
In addition to the White House help, Bruce has been receiving encouragement, advice, and cash from such Democratic luminaries as House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and Majority Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.). Terry is pleased with the attention, but not completely surprised. He knows that both Wright and Bradems have hopes of becoming House speaker some day, and are anxious to make friends with potential colleagues.
On the Republican side, the extra-curricular interest in the 22nd's election is even greater. It is probably safe to say that the success of the Crane-for-Congress campaign here this year is an integral part of the strategy for the Crane-for-President campaign in 1980.
There are actually three "Crane-for-Congress" campaigns. Crane's older brother, Philip, the presidential candidate, seems sure to win reelection to the House from his surburban Chicago district. Don Crane's younger brother, David, trying to unseat a Democratic incumbent in Indiana. If all three win, they will be the first three-brother team in Congress in more than a century.
"It will just be a tremendous asset if Danny and Dave both win this year," Philip said recently. "It would bring us an incredible amount of publicity. I mean on a national scale. For my campaign - it would get me the kind of name recognition that I probably couldn't get any other way."
For that reason, the managers of Philip's presidential campaign have already started working out the complicated logistics of geting all three brothers together in front of a TV camera on election night so that the parade of publicity can begin instantaneously.
If Dan and David lose, though, the presidential campaign could suffer. Instead of a bright new dynasty, the Cranes would be just another family that tried to emulate the Kennedys, and failed - not exactly the image needed to propel an underdog into the White House.
For the candidates here, the outsiders' interest is pure gravy. A VIP visit tends to galvanize the campaign staff, an important benefit in a long campaign. The big names also generate two precious commodities - cash and media coverage.
Last spring Philip Crane sent out 70,000 letters around the country soliciting contributions for Dan, and that mailing has proven to be a perpetual money machine, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars.
Bruce's campaign netted nearly $10,000 in ticket sales from Mondale's half-day visit, even though Terry was stuck with the travel and hotel tab for the vice president's considerable entourage.
The VIPs take toll, though, on a candidate's time. Bruce had to devote almost two weeks to preparing for Mondale's trip, ranging from a tour of the tennis courts in Mattoon, Ill., to find one suitable for vice presidential use to a Secret Service inspection of the kitchen where Mondale's breakfast was to be prepared.
Then there was the moment when Terry was getting into the vice president's limousine and stopped to call instructions to his staff. As Terry stood by the door, the limousine started off without him, to the giggles of the crowd.
Such mild indignities, however, are old hat by now to the 22nd's candidates. Both have learned the hard way that the path to high office is littered with low moments, indiscretions, and ignominy.
Next: "I'm just a hunk of meat."