It was only April, but George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis were looking forward to November.
Each candidate was campaigning to win his respective party’s nomination for president. In 1988, both visited the Capital Region during the same week, in advance of the New York state primaries.
Vice President Bush showed up first, on Tuesday, April 12, and he showed up early. Bush and his 15-person entourage — which included wife Barbara and brother Jonathan — landed at Schenectady County Airport shortly before 8 a.m. A few minutes later, the group entered the Schenectady Ramada Inn on Nott Terrace, where 450 local Republicans had paid $100 per plate for the breakfast rally. The visitors shook hands and patted backs.
Schenectady County Republican Chairman Vito C. Caruso and Sen. Hugh T. Farley of Niskayuna warmed up the crowd a little more, speaking before Bush took the podium. The vice president opened with a joke, calling Schenectady the “place with a name as long as my résumé.” The 63-year-old politician also tried to downplay a perception that he lacked charisma.
“It’s tough to be Number 2 and have to keep your charisma under control for 71⁄2 years,” he quipped.
George was serious about the primaries, even though he was a virtual lock for party backing. “I intend to campaign through the end of the primaries,” he said during his 25-minute speech. “I will not take anything for granted.”
By around 9 a.m., Bush and company were back at the airport, and back to a long day of travel that would include stops in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and New York City.
Had Republicans been campaigning 25 years later, they would have been looking for the college vote — the old Ramada is now a dormitory. In 2004, Union College opened College Park Hall at the site, a residence for about 250 students.
Battling Jackson and Gore
Dukakis, the Massachusetts governor, was in Albany on Friday, April 15. Two thousand supporters cheered the Democrat in the concourse of the Empire State Plaza.
The 54-year-old Dukakis still needed primary votes. Jesse Jackson and Al Gore were among Democrats still in the running for the party nod. Gov. Mario Cuomo was at the rally, and remained true to his word — he would not endorse any candidate.
But he did support Dukakis. “Governor Dukakis is a little different from the other candidates,” Cuomo said. “I know him better than his fellow candidates.”
Dukakis was bullish in his hatred for drugs. “We’re going to wage a real war and not a play war against drugs — and I mean it,” he said during the early afternoon gathering. He was also down on President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense program.
Dukakis said the New York primary was an important milestone for his campaign. “If we can secure the victory here on Tuesday, we can ride the momentum into Pennsylvania, New Jersey and finally California,” he said.
Dukakis secured the Democratic nomination. But six months later, Bush and running mate Dan Quayle secured the presidency in a landslide win over Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen.