FORT WAYNE – Dick Prickett caught me by the escalator at L.S. Ayres in Glenbrook Mall soon after Dan Quayle had been elected to Congress. He was very concerned. The Quayles, especially Marilyn, were not big fans of the traditional Republican Party. Now Quayle had gone out and hired a complete unknown, Dan Coats, a political neophyte who had only recently voted in a Republican primary, to run his Fort Wayne office. With tears in his eyes, Dick told me that these guys were going to be the death of the GOP in this region.  

Prickett was a traditionalist. With the Albion New Era as his base, he became a force in the Indiana Republican Editorial Association. The association was very influential in GOP politics. Both parties were heavily involved in all media. In our recent book, “Television in Fort Wayne 1953-2018,” I showed how the forces of Paul McNutt battled to add television (WANE-TV, later owned by a group headed by Democrat leader Frank McKinney) to their newspaper and radio presence in Fort Wayne. They wanted to counter the influence of Republican Helene Foellinger and her then-dominant newspaper and strong radio presence, as Republican activists initially owned WKJG-TV. This, of course, was before media became “political” as it is today.

Dick had worked for Congressman George Gillie, who had been defeated by Democrat Ed Kruse in 1948. E. Ross Adair, also of Albion originally, defeated Kruse in 1950. Adair became the longest serving congressman in the history of the Fort Wayne-based seat. Prickett became Adair’s chief of staff. Adair was defeated in an ill-advised Republican effort to knock out fellow Congressman Ed Roush. Adair won the first round in 1968 but Roush won in 1970.

Roush, after dispatching Adair, proceeded to knock out state senators Allan Bloom (1972) and Walter Helmke (1974), the two best known political names in Fort Wayne. Upstart kid Dan Quayle, the Golden Boy, upset Roush, to his astonishment. And everyone else’s.

This had not occurred in a vacuum. Times had changed. The spoils system had been killed and then buried. After Otis Bowen shocked the Republican big county bosses in 1972, in spite of claims to disguise their inability to dominate and be the dominant partner (they were not dead, they just had a gradually crippling illness called political reform). Otis Bowen became the first governor eligible to serve two consecutive terms. (Henry Schricker served two non-consecutive terms but no one else ever had a symbol like his white hat.)

For the county chairmen, especially of the large counties, the problem with consecutive terms was that now a governor had to develop his own power base. County chairmen were losing license bureau control and 2% clubs, civil service was taking over in department after department, and there were other threats to county chairmen control. The only persons gaining political influence were the governors. As our political system evolved from grassroots workers to the importance of big bucks, the governor’s power increased exponentially. This happened before COVID.

Then expanding disaster struck, though a line finally held: Primaries, not conventions, began nominating people. With little patronage power, the old organizational theory of dominance was unsustainable. So many people and so little leverage.

In Fort Wayne, a shy wallflower named Marilyn Quayle became the first major campaign strategist to call attention to the fact. It was a side comment but she has a way with words. She’s very pithy. I don’t remember the quote exactly but this is what the county chairmen heard, which is more important. ‘Is Dan going to work with the county chairmen?’ or some question like that, triggered a clear response: They are a bunch of tired old men who couldn’t win an election if they had to. She may have commented on  other personal points, but they got the drift.

Dan and Marilyn were a very strong team. She was a critical person, probably the top strategist, though more behind the scenes for many reasons including that Dan was a people person and she was not. I had just moved back from the Minneapolis area when Dan asked me to meet with him for breakfast at the old Ramada Inn to talk strategy.

Dan handed me his initial campaign sheet. He said I could use some marketing help. His idea for his first fundraiser was Dr. George Roche, the head of Hillsdale College. Hillsdale was and is popular in Fort Wayne. Roche had begun to make it nationally relevant in conservative circles, though nothing like today. I actually owned and had read several of Roche’s books. But I suggested that Roche was not the way to launch.

Then, most significantly, Dan said that they had decided to implement the Kasten Plan.

The Kasten Plan further weakened Republican political party nominating power all across the nation. Robert Kasten was a young congressman from Wisconsin. He was at the cutting edge of the Reagan conservative movement that was starting to rise up post-Nixon. His ideas were simple: A candidate should build an organization focused only on that candidate. That organization should mirror local county GOP organizations, with counties divided into segments and then sub-units (essentially wards and precincts).

In addition to just focusing on one candidate, this organization would not have to worry about being associated with other candidates; the only concern at polls was for activists to hand out things and talk to voters (not handle the difficult parts). It could attract people who weren’t full party partisans or who actually opposed others on the ticket, and, most significantly, could tap into the rising issue-based enthusiasts.

Diane and I had moved into Canterbury Green apartments, which I believe at the time was the largest complex in the state. After talking with Dan, we took northeast Fort Wayne, and helped with St. Joe Township as well as Cedar Creek where I had grown up. Cedar Creek was small but heavily Republican. This illustrates another point. Maggie Gallien cut her political teeth on this campaign. Marilyn called Maggie “our human computer.”

While county chairmen knew their trends and general numbers, we had very specific, action-oriented numbers. By the time Coats ran in 1980, Maggie had it down even further. When I ran in 1994, we modified but basically rebuilt the same system but modernized it, based upon what we had learned. The original model was overly simplistic; the Republican Party began in 1856, you don’t just build another one in six months).

Maggie and the Quayles built a targeting system (I was not involved in that). But I was given vote targets and names by precinct. We started what Coats, and I later did as well in my own campaign upset, which was a series of coffees. Small events. Diane and I hosted one of Quayle’s first coffees at our apartment.

I was given by Dan a small list of names to invite. One of the people I called said he wouldn’t come but was curious how I got his name. He said he didn’t go to political things though he had done a few things with incumbent congressman Ed Roush, who Quayle was trying to unseat. We speculated about a number of ways he might have wound up my list. Then he said that he had attended a few Christian businessmen events and wondered why they would have given his name to us. We talked awhile, he came to the coffee, and became a supporter of Quayle.

This was the first campaign to activate social conservatives in our area. Roe v. Wade had legalized abortion, so Catholics were getting activated almost immediately. Evangelical leaders had a delayed reaction that began in 1976 for the most part.

After Quayle won, I lobbied him to take a poll to see why he won. He said he didn’t need to. Dan said it was his organization, especially where it was most organized in northeast Allen and southwest Allen. I reminded him that I coordinated the northeast, and that we only had one third of the precincts covered. He wouldn’t yield the point. I called Alice Beutler, who set up the southwest organization, and told her the story. She laughed. She said all she heard was how she needed to keep up with northeast.

But over the next four years when Dan Coats ran for Congress my opinion changed. What I came to realize was that having a fired up one third of precincts covered with activists brought a tremendous explosion of activity that did not stay within the precinct. People – at least up until COVID – don’t just stay in their homes. They may live in one precinct, go to a church that covers many precincts, work at a job with people from a wide area (or even in another county), and be active in groups in another area. Their enthusiasm didn’t stay inside a traditional precinct organization. But they did agree to focus on contacting people in their home area. And we tried to place a Quayle leader in our targeted precincts.

This was the start of what became a continuing trend. 

Souder is a former Republican congressman from northeast Indiana.