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Remembrance of Democratic Conventions Past

Like Jenna and Barbara Bush, or Chelsea Clinton or Amy Carter before them, the children of political figures are often observers to their parents’ political adventures.

Several Members of Congress have fond memories of national conventions they attended as children. Though few of them took an active role in the events surrounding the presidential nominations, some still have tales to tell. Here are some of the Democrats’ stories.

Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) was 13 when he attended the Democratic National Convention in 1976 with his father, David Pryor, who was then governor of Arkansas and later a Senator. Somewhat overwhelmed by the excitement around him, Mark took to answering the phone in his father’s hotel room.

He recalls that his father was head of the delegation from Arkansas. “I was sitting up in his room on the first day trying to stay out of the way,” he recalls. “The phone rang, and I picked it up. The man on the other end of the line asked to speak to my father, so I asked him his name. Then I yelled over, ‘Hey Dad! Some guy named Mondale is on the phone for you.’

“Of course, it was Vice President Mondale on the other end. That was the official phone call in which he asked my father to second his nomination for vice president.”

Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) recalls the first presidential convention he attended — the 1964 confab in Atlantic City. At the time, his father, Stewart Udall, was Interior secretary in the Johnson administration.

“The one convention that I remember now is the 1964 convention,” he says. “I was 16 years old. We went down to the convention in Atlantic City, and there were some very fun meet-and-greet events for young people. I enjoyed the convention a great deal.

“It was the last peaceful convention in the sixties because, of course, what happened in ’68. People at the convention were very optimistic about the country — they felt there was a positive role for the government to play. Once again I met President Johnson and some of the other leaders in the Kennedy-Johnson Cabinet. It was a great experience.”

Udall’s cousin, Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), remembers an important lesson he learned as a young man at the 1980 convention. At the time, his father, Mo Udall (Stewart Udall’s brother), was serving as a House Member from Arizona. When his father gave the convention’s keynote address in 1980, Mark Udall recalls him telling a story he had heard from Alben Barkley (D-Ky.), President Harry Truman’s vice president.

“A moonshiner was driving along and saw a hitchhiker, so he picked him up off the side of the road. When he got in the car, the moonshiner told him to reach under the seat and grab a jug. When the boy had gotten the jug, the man told him to take a swig; the boy refused, and the man pulled out a gun.

“‘Well,’ the boy said, ‘under these circumstances I guess I’ll have that drink.’ The boy choked down the liquor, a drink so foul he thought his teeth would fall out shortly thereafter. When the boy finally regained his senses he saw the man holding the gun out to him, and the moonshiner said, ‘Now you point that thing at me so I can take a swig.’

“My point is this: Democratic Party unity in 2004 is just as important as it was in 1980. Unity was a bitter swallow in 1980, but in 2004, we’re all swilling from the same jug and no one has to point a gun at our heads to do it.”