Magazine article The New Yorker

DRY; THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

DRY; THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

As the Democrats just demonstrated in Boston and the Republicans are likely to show later this month in New York, mainstream political conventions don't offer much in the way of unscripted drama. For heated debate, backroom rainmaking, and eleventh-hour surprise, one must turn to the Prohibition Party, which has been fielding candidates for high office since 1872. After a poor showing in the 2000 general election (two hundred and eight votes), the Party split into two factions, each of which has already held a convention and nominated a ticket. As a result, this year two sets of presidential hopefuls will be running on the same platform: Put down that drink.

The Prohibition party was founded in 1869, by the Reverend John Russell, a Michigan Methodist, in reaction to the Republicans' conservatism under Ulysses S. Grant. At its height, it ran governors, college presidents, and army generals in races for the White House, once winning 2.2 per cent of the vote, and it landed candidates in the Florida governor's mansion and in Congress. But by the early nineteen-twenties the party's glory days had come and gone. "The Eighteenth Amendment sort of knocked it for a loop," Michael Kelly, a Party historian, said. "I guess Repeal didn't do it much good, either."

For the past twenty-five years, the Party has been led by Earl Dodge, a genial Baptist from Massachusetts, now seventy-one years old, whom even rivals call Mr. Prohibition. A onetime life-insurance and cemetery-plot salesman, Dodge found his passion for temperance in the early fifties. He has run, several times and in several states, as a Prohibition candidate for the House, the Senate, and the governorship. He has also run for Vice-President, and since 1984 he has been at the top of his Party's ticket. "My first act as President would be to remove the wine cellar that Mr. Eisenhower had installed in the White House," he said recently.

Dodge's critics say that, during his tenure, the Party has suffered a significant decline. It has lost ballot access in every state except Colorado and more than fifteen thousand votes in the bargain. In 1999, Dodge sold the condo in Denver that had been the Party's home for twenty-two years and announced that he was putting the proceeds into the Party's nonprofit foundation and building a wing on his house in a Denver suburb to serve as Prohibition headquarters. But reports started to circulate that the only noticeable addition to Dodge's property was a toolshed, and a growing number of dissidents called for him to give a financial accounting. …

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