Abilene, June 5, 1952
EISENHOWER'S RETURN TO the familiar Kansas soil marked the debut of the General as a contender for public office, a role very different from the kind of politics he had perfected while in uniform. At SHAPE, for example, he was strictly General Eisenhower to all callers; nobody dared to call him Ike in any kind of an official situation. Even his closest aide, General Alfred Gruenther, reserved that nickname for private, off-duty moments. Eisenhower's own sense of dignity was immediately understood and accepted by his associates. He was never one for off-color humor or ribaldry. His baptism into a different kind of political world was noted by correspondent David Schoenbrun, who stood alongside the General under the floodlights of Kansas City's Fairfax Airport on the night of June 3, 1952. Governor Dan Thornton of Colorado, a big, outgoing man who customarily wore cowboy boots and a ten-gallon hat, greeted the General with an enthusiastic "Howya, pardner!" and a hearty slap across the back. As Schoenbrun has noted, "there was a tense moment as the General's eyes blazed and his back stiffened. Then, with great control, he gradually unfroze into a smile and reached out his hand to say, 'Howya, Dan.'"1
The next day Eisenhower went on to his disappointing political performance at Abilene. If his image on that day showed him as something less than a military hero and worried his followers that, without his military uniform, he was a dull, gray figure very much out of his field, the following day brought the first real indication that Taft's rival was not merely a patriotic apparition. Within the confines of Abilene's little Plaza Theater he conducted a press conference that salvaged his image.