In those bone-chilling days of January, when there were so many candidates with so many hopes, it looked like this would be the most memorable election year in a generation.
People like W. L. Heaesemayer of State Center, Iowa, were tickled. "This county is being put on the map. I've never seen anything like it. Almost every day there's another candidate coming through," he said on his comfortable bank office, sheltered from the subzero temperature outside. "It looks like people have a real choice this year."
With almost a dozen primaries and a host of attention grabbing caucuses ahead, there was reason for the whole country to feel the same way. Never before had so many Americans been offered a chance to be part of the presidential nominating process.
The prospects for high drama seemed limitless. An incumbent Democratic president was being challenged by a Kennedy. Seven Republicans, representing every conceivable wing of the party, offered the GOP its broadest choice in memory.
But five months later, the remarkable thing about the 1980 primary season is how unremarkable it became. The battle that began in the snows and media hype of Iowa, has ended in a celebration of the obvious.
As incumbent Democratic president has gained enough delegates to win renomination. His all-but certain opponent will be Ronald Reagan, the Republican front-runner for most of the last four years.
Now all that remains is a series of faded snapshots, lingering personal memories of the great battle that wasn't.
Scene One: The St. Patricks Day Parade, Chicago, the city's annual celebration of its Irish roots and Democratic power. The wind off Lake Michigan is raw, and a heavy wet snow swirls over State Street. Booze flows freely. The crowd stands eight and 10 deep along the parade route. Few in it feel any pain.
The parade is to be the grand finale of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's ill-fated Illinois campaign, a massive show of political muscle by his most outspoken supporter in the state, Mayor Jane Byrne. But, in effect, it marks the end of Teddy Kennedy's hopes of undertaking Jimmy Carter.
A string of firecrackers goes off just moments after Kennedy and his family leave their limousine. Kennedy's knees buckle, Secret Service agents swarm around him. But he continues, bareheaded, down the parade route. a
The crowd is surely. They boo Byrne. They boo Kennedy. Kennedy drops behind the mayor, hoping the boos won't follow him. But they do.
A few blocks away, an excited crowd hovers around Rep. John B. Anderson of Rockford, Ill. "The people are listening. It's a new message we've given them. It's a different message," he tells them. "But it is the same message the last Illinois president [Abraham Lincoln] took to the White House."
Anderson hasn't been invited to march in the parade. So he heads for the sidewalks along State Street. Old men and young girls reach for his hand saying, "Keep it up, John. Way to show them." A slow chant goes up at one point: "Anderson. Anderson. Anderson."
A crowd of Secret Service men and cameras move down the parade route as Anderson continues up the sidewalk.
Who is that? someone asks.
"I think it's Teddy Kennedy," comes the reply.
Scene two: For decades, Serb Hall has been the Democratic Party's temple on Milwaukee's south side, the home of many of the city's Serbian, Polish and German families. Hubert Humphrey, Edmund Muskie, George Wallace and almost every Democratic presidential hopeful who has ever passed through Milwaukee has droped by. The place has also been the site of some of the city's largest and most vicious antibusing rallies.
Last March, Serb Hall recorded two firsts. The most dramatic was a visit by D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, one of the few black politicians ever to venture into the hall. Rising at the end of a Kennedy rally, Fauntroy broke into a rousing rendition of Impossible Dream," a song that has become his political trademark.
The crowd, initially stunned, broke into applause as he finished the song's last line -- "to reach the unreachable staaar."
But if Fauntroy's apearance was a theatrical success, the great political success of Serb Hall this season was a visit by Ronald Reagan, the first Republican presidential hopeful ever to hold a rally there.
"It was a natural, and they were glad to have us," said Regan's country coordinator, Louis Collison, who rented the hall. "The people who live on the south side are working people the guys who run the machines. They are the most conservative, family-minded people in the country. Reagan has the same image as these people have of themselves. He stands for the home and the family. He's against abortion. He's against waste."
On election day in Wisconsin, these traditional Democrats crossed over and voted in the Republican primary in droves. Reagan outpolled Carter, Kennedy and all of his Republican opponents in Milwaukee's south side.
"There's only one way to vote this time, that's for Reagan," declared Gilbert Leack, a retired railroad worker. "This guy Carter just doesn't fill the bill."
"I was always leaning Carter's direction. He's a good Christian.But it looks like we're being sold down the river on Iran . . . I think we've been too pussyfoot."
Scene Three: Every campaign has it own cadence and rhythm, an atmosphere that sets it apart. The astonishing thing about the campaign of Republican George Bush, the quintessential Ivy Leaguer, was that it marched to a country music beat.
This was partially due to Bush's professed fondness for country music and the open comfortableness of his staff. But it also reflected the genuine country blues quality about his campaign, a combination of frustration, down- and out-despair and eternal hope.
Two songs played constantly on the Bush campaign bus provide a fitting postscript to the primary season. The first was a Jimmy Buffett tune, adopted as the unofficial campaign theme song.
It reflects the weariness of the endless days of campaigning and latenight drinking habits of the press and his traveling entourage. It goes like this:
My head hurts. My feet stink.
And there ain't no Jesus.
It's that kind of morning.
Cause it was that kind of night.
I'm telling myself my condition is improving
If I don't die by Thursday,
I'll be rolling Friday night.
The second, such a favorite that Bush used several lines from it in a press conference, was a Kenny Rogers song, called "The Gambler." The key lines go like this:
You have to know when to hold them,
Know when to fold them.
Know when to walk away
And know when when to run.
Bush, like most of the other 1980 candidates, gambled and lost. He folded last week.