Fed Up with the Presidential Candidates? No Need to Play Possum When You Can Go Pogo

updated 05/26/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/26/1980 01:00AM

Ballot after ballot has gone by and still the convention is deadlocked. In the smoke-filled rooms, party pols hit upon the perfect compromise candidate. A middle-of-the-road Southerner, he is already a veteran of two presidential campaigns and retains a powerful grass-roots appeal. As his name is placed in nomination, the convention hall is filled with the strains of "Yankee Doodle, "and the cry goes up: "Pogo for President!"

After 24 years licking his wounds in the Okefenokee Swamp, America's premier possum is nursing political fantasies again. Despite trouncings by Eisenhower in '52 and '56, Pogo is back for 1980. "I go Pogo," runs his campaign slogan. "Vote early. Vote often."

A commentator on the American scene for more than 25 years, Pogo was created by cartoonist Walt Kelly in 1948. The comic strip disappeared two years after Kelly's death in 1973. But this year Pogo has found a new champion and aggressive campaign manager: Kerry Stowell, the 48-year-old owner of a Washington, D.C. film company that will release a 90-minute Pogo feature later this summer. (Still, the Pogo movement is more than a movie hype; it seems to reflect a genuine political disillusionment over the existing candidates among the young.) "Why not the best?" asks Stowell. "Pogo is a nonpartisan candidate who represents everything good in America. He is clean, decent, concerned and tolerant." Peter Kelly, 32, a Connecticut newspaper reporter and the son of Pogo's creator, considers the possum "the best nontoxic alternative" to the "human beans" already in the race. Endorsed by Georgia Tech's newspaper Technique, Pogo has found a devoted constituency on several college campuses. But his campaign manager at Clemson University, Mark Sublett, worries that he "won't do quite as well as Snoopy did in '68."

Political animal though he may be, Pogo is, as ever, a reluctant candidate. Sometime after the national conventions he is expected to repeat his previous Shermanesque disclaimer: "If nominated I will not be elected, and if elected I will not run." Still, he seems determined to neutralize past liabilities. "The problem was," figures Stowell, "that he wasn't a golfer then. Now he fishes, jogs, swims and has lusted in his heart after certain catfish."

Both the Carter and Kennedy campaigns are said to be eager for the possum's support. "No way," says Stowell. "We told them we would be delighted for them to endorse Pogo. If they're smart, they will." The Federal Election Commission has given tacit approval to the Pogo candidacy, notes Stowell, "as long as he doesn't ask for matching funds."

That's not a problem. Stowell opened Pogo's national campaign headquarters in a Georgetown storefront in January with seed money of $750. Contributions have kept it open since then. A handful of volunteers sent letters to 200 college newspaper editors asking for their support. In just eight days, 40 answered yes. "That's a superb response," marvels direct mail wizard Richard Vigurie (a conservative who backs Reagan). "But, as for Pogo, I thought we elected him in 1976."

Stowell says her candidate's motives are purely altruistic. Because there are some 50 million unregistered voters between the ages of 18 and 34, she has offered Pogo to the Federal Election Commission as a symbol for registering new first voters. The commission is interested. "A couple of months down the campaign trail," she adds, "Pogo will probably withdraw and urge people to register and vote for another candidate of their choice."

Meanwhile the mild-mannered marsupial is keeping his options open. In a recent interview with reporter Excelsior P. Tribune of the Possum Paper, Pogo declared, "It's time for the younger voter to realize we have met the electorate—and they is us! If'n they do see that, the youth vote just might be enough to repel me straight from the Okefenokee to Pennsylvania Avenue. But as yet I remain undecisioned, and intend to keep fishin' till my luck runs out or my country comes a-callin'."

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