It appeared that “the whole world” was running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination when Larry Tenopir addressed the Democratic midterm conference in December 1974 in Kansas City, Missouri, he recalled Sunday.
Tenopir, a Topeka attorney, said he decided there that his preferred candidate was Georgia peanut farmer Jimmy Carter, who was about to finish a four-year term as that state’s governor but had little name recognition beyond out of it.
Tenopir said he liked that Jimmy Carter was smart, cool, and soft-spoken.
Tenopir didn’t meet Carter at the conference, but he spent perhaps an hour in conversation with his oldest son, Jack Carter, he said.
Jimmy Carter went on to win election for president and spent four years in the Oval Office.
Jimmy Carter visited Topeka and Kansas several times
Tenopir spoke to The Capital-Journal after the Carter Center in Atlanta announced Saturday that Carter, 98, had checked into a home care center in Plains, Georgia, so he could spend his remaining time at home with his wife. his family.
Carter entered the race for president in December 1974 as a Washington outsider seeking to bring about positive change in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, which had caused President Richard Nixon to resign earlier that year .
Carter came to Kansas several times during his campaign and had many interactions with Democrats here, Tenopir said.
He recalled how Carter was a guest speaker on March 1, 1975, for Kansas’ Washington Democratic Party festivities in a grand ballroom at what was then the Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka.
Carter and the others sitting at the head table were driven into the building in classic cars, which entered through garage doors that had been opened behind that table, Tenopir said.
Tenopir obtained Carter’s autograph that day, which remains on the wall of his Topeka law office.
Carter then sent Tenopir a personally signed letter congratulating him upon his April 1975 election as president of the Kansas Young Democrats. Tenopir also has that letter on the wall, he said.
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President Carter’s car followed the lost driver to Lake Shawnee
Tenopir knocked Carter out on June 7, 1975, he recalled Sunday with a sense of amusement.
It happened while Carter was traveling to attend a fundraiser at Lake Shawnee Shelter House No. 1. Carter was traveling in a car driven by the late Topeka hotel owner Bob Brock, who was following a car brought to the lake by Tenopir.
“They thought I knew where I was going,” Tenopir said. “I did not.”
Carter and Brock continued to follow Tenopir as he went around trying to locate the correct shelter, Tenopir said.
“We finally found the right place,” he said.
Capital-Journal’s coverage of the fundraiser included a photo of Carter eating a barbecued rib.
Carter told the paper at the time that he considered former Alabama Governor George Wallace his biggest opponent, although he didn’t think there was “a chance in the world” that Wallace would win the Democratic nomination.
Tenopir recalled attending a separate rally during that campaign featuring an appearance by Carter, which was held at Brock’s West Topeka home.
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“All she wanted to do was talk about her son, Jimmy”
At the 1976 convention where Carter was chosen in New York City to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Tenopir said Kansas was among a small number of states whose delegates stayed in the same hotel as Carter’s campaign.
He said Carter’s mother – Lillian Gordy Carter, known as “Miss Lillian” – stopped by at one point and talked to him there for “quite some time”.
Lillian Carter was the “best mother of the president ever,” Tenopir said.
“All she wanted to do was talk about her son, Jimmy,” she said.
Tenopir said she was surprised to see Lillian Carter ride an elevator with actress Candice Bergen to see her son.
“I was too self-conscious to say ‘Hi,'” she said.
“Good memories of being in Topeka”
Carter failed to win Kansas in the November 1976 general election, gaining 44.9% of the vote there to incumbent Republican Gerald Ford’s 52.5%, but he did win the presidency gaining 297 electoral votes to Ford’s 240.
Ford also had a connection to Topeka, as his daughter, Susan Ford, spent several weeks in the summer of 1975 working in Topeka as a photography intern for The Capital-Journal.
Tenopir said he covered Carter’s inauguration for the Manhattan Mercury in January 1977 in Washington, D.C.
Tenopir said he and a couple of friends were later allowed briefly into the Oval Office at one point in Carter’s presidency during a visit to Washington, DC, even though Carter was not there that day.
Carter served four years in office, a term plagued near the end by an energy crisis and the taking of 52 US hostages by revolutionaries in Iran.
Ronald Reagan beat Carter in the 1980 presidential general election in a landslide, sweeping states that included Kansas by receiving 489 electoral votes to Carter’s 49.
Carter returned to Kansas in April 1991 and gave a Landon Lecture at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for the work he had done since his presidency to promote and expand human rights.
Carter has also written 30 books. Tenopir said he last spoke to Carter many years ago when Carter appeared at a book signing in Kansas City, Mo.
“He had fond memories of being in Topeka,” Tenopir said.
Contact Tim Hrenchir at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.