Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) has seen his fair share of Republican national conventions. Duncan, who is serving as a delegate from Tennessee at this year’s convention, attended his first in 1964 in San Francisco, at the same time his father, also named John Duncan, was running for Congress from the Volunteer State.
“I rode the train for 77 hours from Knoxville to San Francisco, and celebrated my 17th birthday on that trip,” he recalls. “There were a lot of interesting people on that train, including a dancer on her way to Las Vegas. I was serving as honorary assistant sergeant at arms for that convention. There is not a lower position you can hold, but it got me into the convention.”
The 1964 convention — which nominated conservative trailblazer Barry Goldwater in what would become a doomed race against President Lyndon Johnson — was “a great, great experience for someone between his junior and senior year in high school. Barry Goldwater made such an impression on me as a candidate that I sent the very first paycheck that I earned from A&P bagging groceries to the Barry Goldwater campaign.”
Four years later, Duncan attended the Republican convention in Miami. He fondly remembers how his desire to appear in the local newspaper got him into trouble with his family.
“There was a big dance for all of the young people who were working on the campaign,” Duncan says. “A reporter from The Miami Herald was going around and asking some of the folks why they were working on the campaign. Most people were saying that their families were lifelong Republicans, so I thought I would stand a better chance of getting into the newspaper if I said that I come from a long line of Democrats.
“Well, the reporter actually led off with my quote, and my father was a little surprised — since he was a Republican Member of Congress.”
This would not be the last publicity that the younger Duncan would be ribbed about, however. In 1996 he attracted more attention on the sports report than the news headlines.
“During the San Diego convention, I played in Gerald Ford’s golf tournament,” Duncan says. “CNN covered the event, and video of me at the tournament became the lead-in to one of their stories. They must have run that video at least 50 to 60 times. Needless to say, that led to a lot of teasing when I returned to Knoxville.”
New York may be one of the world’s greatest cities, but in Duncan’s mind, it has a run for its money as a convention host. The Philadelphia convention in 2000, Duncan contends, was the best of all those he has attended.
“The people of the city went out of their way to show us their equivalent of Southern hospitality,” he says. “No city will ever surpass Philadelphia’s willingness to bend over backward for a smooth, well-run, friendly convention.”