The running game.

After twenty-five years I guess it's time I come out of the closet on this one: I was an independent candidate for United States President for 1984.

It began as a sociological experiment of sorts, to test the premise that any American citizen can—and has the right to—run for US President, even a rock musician. In fact, I immediately discovered that it doesn't cost a dime to run for national office. (It costs a tad more to win, however.)

It proved easy to grab media attention for my "Everyman candidacy" as the news corps desperately pursued any storyline it could find in an otherwise tediously dreary campaign, dominated by the likes of incumbent Ronald Reagan and challenger Walter Mondale.

My campaign motto seemed to connect with working folks: "Ask not what money can do for you, ask what you can do for money"—and my alternative campaign was underway.

I appeared on radio and TV too many times to remember, was interviewed in dozens of newspapers and magazines including Rolling Stone, and was endorsed by celebrities and media personalities from Regis Philbin to Tom Snyder. My campaign story was even the basis for a screenplay by David Crane and Marta Kaufman, "Only in America" which unfortunately has not made it to the silver screen yet. (Crane and Kaufman were the creators and writers of the smash NBC TV series, Friends.)

All in all, a wonderfully illuminating experience, which I highly recommend to others with similar delusions of grandeur.

In the end I pulled out a hard-fought moral victory (though Reagan technically won the election). Second-place finisher Mondale, despite spending wheelbarrows of cash, won only one more state than I did. (It's true—you can look it up.)

My campaign cost only a few hundred dollars, setting a bold standard for fiscal restraint in US presidential races—a standard still unsurpassed in modern American politics. After paying off my campaign debt, I quietly retired from public life, entered a twelve-step program for managing my addiction to politics, moved onto management consulting, and never looked back.

The lighter side of my campaign was captured in this 1984 rock video, "The Running Game," directed and produced by Mark Pines—whose directing credits include work with the Rolling Stones ("Time Is On My Side," "Tatoo You") and Jackson Browne ("Lawyers In Love").

The video was shot one beautiful autumn day in Saxton's River and Bellows Falls, Vermont. The music was produced by AJ Gundell, winner of eleven Emmy awards.

Famed studio bass-player Will Lee, from the David Letterman Band, can be heard on the band track. "The Running Game" was also the title of my campaign journal, which was excerpted in Harper's Magazine in 1984 and—I'm happy to report—is still selling in triple digits.

Is there a business lesson here? Let me know if you find one.

View the archive »

Never miss a post… get 'em by email or rss »


  1. Ronald Reagan "technically" won? What's technical about a 49 state sweep? Here's a business lesson - campaign on other people's $$. Good vid though. Will Lee is a monster of a bassist. -- Tom Hsieh

  2. Tom: I consider it technical because they never counted the write-in votes. And then if they did, there would have been the pesky Supreme Court to deal with. But, like my idol Dick Nixon in 1960, I magnanimously chose to not contest the election. Thanks for the business tip, but my political fundraisers always seemed to lose money. Yeah, Will Lee is a giant. I pulled him in late at night to re-do the original bass line and he nailed it in one take. A pro. The great session musicians always save you money in the long run. They charge five times more than the competition but finish the job in one tenth the time. (That's a business lesson in the "duh" column: high-priced talent pays for itself eventually.)

  3. "All in all, a wonderfully illuminating experience, which I highly recommend to others."

    I'm typically quite brave, but this seems incredibly daunting. Hats off to you! Nice fun video and beats too. Like the money sandwich. This is where we seem to be more than ever before right now. We love money so much that we want to eat it. Good greedy image. Could work for today too.

    One obvious business lesson is that anything is possible if you first believe, enjoy, and work at it. Another such lesson is giving the people what they need and meeting them wherever they are.

    I love the motto; it met the people where they were. In such an independent campaign or in any business this is essential. You can try to sell a product or policy over the heads of your customer or constituent and it will get you nowhere. You know that old familiar saying "know your audience."

    By the way, I'm a huge proponent of campaign finance reform. If you can run for president on a couple of hundred dollars, surely hundreds of millions aren't necessary.

    Would like to see it on the silver screen. Keep us posted. You know, the song is pretty catchy. It's still in my head. Good beats make this so.

    Bravo, John! (And, what a handsome man you are. :-))

  4. Golly gosh, Judith, thanks. Yeah, 25 years ago I was reckless enough to do just about anything. Now I have responsibilities, including a stray cat to feed.

  5. That is fabulous John - I am a mate of a Presidential candidate - wait till I tell my kids :-)

    Great stuff John and of course there are many lessons for business. Not least keep it simple and always hold on to your dream and go for it. Nothing is impossible. Push at doors 'cos they are very often ajar.
    I will post this on my Blog in the next week or so - I'm sure Simplicity readers will love it!

    Just a thought - I have recently been bemoaning how dull and boring politics is right now here in the UK - we should have a few folks like you running in our General Election in Spring 2010 to brighten up the scene

    Cheers my friend - I love the video

  6. Trevor, I don't know the final count because they were write-in votes. But I know that in Connecticut (my home state at that time) I got more votes than Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck COMBINED (which was no small achievement given the sophistication of US voters in the Reagan years). The Mouse vote was always the wild card.

  7. Tricky Dicky Nixon, the commie-bating, justice-obstructing, criminal politician is your idol?? The same statesman who tried desperately to get John Lennon (another idol of yours) deported. -- TH

  8. Tom, the way I see it, no one's perfect. Dick Nixon admittedly had a few issues but even when he was carpet bombing Hanoi he always flashed us the peace sign. We knew he meant well and just wanted a little respect.

    Even John Lennon appreciated the inner Dick. Many times when I'm channeling John Lennon for church groups John reminds us that Nixon's views would be considered quite liberal by later standards. (After all, he did enact wage & price controls and he was palling around with terrorists like Mao.) I'm afraid that if Nixon were sharing his views today, his own party leadership would label him a Bolshevik and consign him to Alaska for reeducation.

  9. an amusing video -- even to someone who doesn't live in the states. how do you loose money on a fundraiser? what do you think you accomplished with your campaign?

  10. Perj, it's easy to lose money on a fundraiser if you order too much beer & chips and your guests drink more than they contribute. Next time I'll buy cheaper beer. What I believe I accomplished in the '84 campaign was getting thousands of people registered to vote (many of whom did not have the surname "Mouse"). I encouraged all of them to vote early and often.

  11. If you inspired people to register and vote, then you certainly accomplished something! Another voice was (and IS) a good thing to hear. To know it existed at that time!

    Apple Man, Jobs, wasn't he laughed at for liking fonts and print styles? But he didn't listen to the nay sayers, he KNEW they were cool. Eventually, something great happened.

    I think your campaign was a work in progress back then and it has come to fruition now with your business consulting work and great presentations!

  12. Thanks, Gerri. Yeah, I'd like to think I got voters into the system who are up on the issues and are still voting 25 years later. But at the other end of the spectrum I occasionally run into former supporters who ask me if I won the 1984 election. (Of course I tell them I did.)

  13. Nick, big promo money for a political campaign goes by a different name of course. That was something we politely declined at the O'Leary for President Election Committee (also known as OPEC).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View the archive »

Never miss a post… get 'em by email or rss »