Sometimes things happen in the body politic that are fun, satisfying, and even profitable. So here, while we sit in the between campaign doldrums, I will brighten your day and share how a watchful eye and Chuck Robb’s tells won me a $200.00 bet in the Fall of 1994.
You will recall that in 1994 then Senator Robb was running for reelection against Ollie North (R) and former Virginia AG Marshall Coleman (I). The campaign was a rough and tumble affair. North had been convicted of felonious activities due to his Iran-Contra operation, followed by reversals on appeal. Robb had a lackluster first term in the Senate, and was bedeviled by bad relations with Doug Wilder, stories about wild parties in Virginia Beach and “nude massages” with beauty queen Tai Collins. It was the year of the Contract with America, and the GOP was on the road to some big wins in November-and the Robb senate seat was expected to be part of the take.
Depending on whom you talked to, Coleman’s late candidacy was a quixotic attempt for the perennial candidate to stay in the limelight, a sincere effort thinking he could win in a split field, or a deliberate attempt to keep North out of the Senate by giving moderate GOP voters a place to park their vote. Personally, I pick door #3. I guess a bunch of folks agreed, as many of the same conservatives who backed North against Reagan OMB Director Jim Miller in the 1994 Virginia primary then backed the same Jim Miller against John Warner in 1996 in retaliation for Warner getting Coleman into the 1994 race.
North led in the polls throughout the fall, even with Coleman’s entry into the race…and still led in the polls about two weeks out. Ten days out from election day I had a chance to be a judge at the Vienna Halloween Parade. There on the reviewing stand we got to see civic groups, kids clubs, marching bands, and -finally-candidates come down the main drag.
First came North in his de rigeur khaki pants, flannel shirt, and bomber jacket. He was surrounded by an adoring mob, and got lots of cheers. But what I noticed was how dazed he looked, like he was not in the moment…distracted even.
Next came Robb in his de rigeur grey flannel suit, white shirt, maroon rep tie. Robb walked in front of his adoring mob, darting back to both sides of the street, kissing hands and shaking babies, seemingly having a great time of it…not at all the face of someone who was running behind.
The next day at lunch I recounted these events to a couple of friends who were also political junkies. I thought the behavior meant something, but they just thought it was a false dawn.
“No”, I said, “You had to see them. Robb was ecstatic, and North was just dazed. I bet something is going on.”
“Inconceivable…North has this thing sewed up,” they replied.
I parried, “”I disagree”
They thrust, “Wanna put a little wager on the election?”
So, in a moment of wild spontaneity and considerable stubbornness I put up $50 against each of my four friends. The bet-they said North wins, I said Robb. A Coleman win was a push.
Two days later, a new WaPo poll. Robb had pushed ahead for the first time, while North had lost ground. One of my friends speculated that the candidates probably got word of the poll on the day of the Vienna parade.
Well, things did not change on election day. Robb won in a three way race. I had lunch with my friends the next day at Brady’s in Old Town Manassas. My pals covered the tab, and each paid up with an air that was somehow both grudging and dumbfounded. They offered up all sorts of explanations, rationalizations, and excuses.
All I could say in response as I collected my money, using my best Inigo Montoya voice?
“You say a Robb win was inconceivable? I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”
And that is why I have a long time warm place in my heart for Senator Robb…for the tell that won me some money.
You may ask, “But did you bet on Robb in 2000 against Allen?”
Nope-sometimes inconceivable means exactly what the dictionary says it means.