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    Primary memories

    In ’88, an uncomfortable meeting with Pete du Pont

    Pete du Pont’s ideas were mocked by some on the campaign trail.
    Jim Cole/associated Press/File 1988
    Pete du Pont’s ideas were mocked by some on the campaign trail.

    In the 1988 New Hampshire presidential primary, a two-party drama with 13 characters, no one beat former Delaware governor Pete du Pont for sticking to his convictions. George H.W. Bush, the vice president, called du Pont “Pierre” and called his ideas nutty.

    One idea proved to be ahead of its time — privatizing the post office. Du Pont peddled it before a postal workers’ bowling league, whose members gave him what-for. At a Concord Monitor interview soon afterward, I complimented him on his courage. “Oh,” he said, “I didn’t know they were postal workers.” What I took for courage was in fact lousy advance work.

    Two months before the primary, Bush’s campaign announced that for Concord’s First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve he would receive the public at a pricey downtown clothing store. We at the Monitor decided his tiptoe through the tweeds and tuxes called for an editorial. The editorial placed each candidate at an equally appropriate downtown spot.

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    We had Gary Hart panting on the front window of a lingerie shop, Alexander Haig taking charge at the Army-Navy store, and Pat Robertson standing at the creche in front of the State House diverting snowstorms. Du Pont we stationed at a local delicatessen between the nut rolls and fruitcakes.

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    Well, the day the editorial was to run, who walked into the Monitor newsroom five minutes before press time but Pete du Pont. He and his wife, Elise, had come by to wish us all a Happy New Year.

    Ralph Jimenez, who had written the editorial, gave me a look that said, “We gotta get this guy outta here before the press rolls.” The du Ponts were chatting with staff members. I butted in and maneuvered them toward the door. We were almost there when . . .

    Along came John Fensterwald, the managing editor. “Hey, Governor,” he said, “why don’t you hang around a couple of minutes? We’ll give you a paper hot off the presses.’’

    Fensterwald headed for the pressroom, and Jimenez slinked away, leaving me alone with Pete du Pont. “Governor,” I said, “we’ve got a tongue-in-cheek editorial in today’s paper. I hope you’ll take it in the spirit in which it’s intended.”

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    He read it right before my eyes as editors and reporters, alerted to my predicament (good news travels fast), receded into the walls and peeked from behind poles into my plexiglassed office.

    Du Pont, though a little red-faced, made a gracious remark and shook my hand before departing. And I wondered how many other editors had ever twiddled their thumbs while the victims of their hijinks read the biting words at such close range.

    Only in the New Hampshire primary, I said to myself.

    Mike Pride, a former editor of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, is administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes.