Remember what I wrote about Gresham Barrett in my last column for The State? Actually, it wasn’t the last column that ran in the paper, but it was the last I wrote. I’d already written the piece about Robert Ariail, who was leaving with me, and my “unfinished business” piece that ran the Sunday after we left.
But I was determined to get a Gresham Barrett column written, if only because I’d been frustrated trying to get ahold of the guy. I had decided to do a column on each gubernatorial candidate as he or she announced, and Barrett was the second to come along (I’d already written about Vincent Sheheen). I was doing this because I regarded the choice that voters would have to make in 2010 to be so important that I wanted to help the conversation along as much as I could — even if I weren’t around to do columns on any of the rest of the candidates.
The weird thing about this one was that I had been trying to get Barrett on the phone to interview him for a couple of weeks. That may not sound weird to you, but it was a unique experience for me in the 12 years that I served as editorial page editor of the state’s largest newspaper. I couldn’t remember when it took more than a few hours to reach anyone who was serious about wanting to be governor. It’s not that I was so special; it’s that they were that eager for the free media.
But I don’t think I’d ever have gotten Barrett if I hadn’t made a nuisance of myself. On that Wednesday morning, I told his aide B.J. Boling — who had always been so helpful when he handled media for the McCain campaign in 2008 — that this was it. I didn’t want this to be the last piece of mine ever to run in the state — I wanted it to be one of the other two previously mentioned. Which meant I had to reach him that day, and write it the same day for Thursday’s paper. Even then, B.J. was unable to get him on the horn until 5 p.m., which meant I had to make Cindi Scoppe stay late to read behind me. But I got it into the paper.
Since I was writing it in such a rush, I was wary of my own irritation with the candidate. So I held back from fully expressing just how unsatisfying that interview was, beyond noting that he was “light on details,” and that his “crowning achievement” from his time as a legislator in Columbia was a partial-birth abortion plan. That was the biggest thing he did, “absolutely, without a doubt.” Being a pro-life kind of guy, I’m all for such bans. But I would not list the need for one as being among the burning issues of South Carolina. Against the blank backdrop that his career seemed to me to be, that was pretty disappointing.
Beyond that, I dutifully listed each fact I was able to draw out of him, thin as it all was.
Anyway, I have since referred to just how blank a slate Mr. Barrett seems to me, and been taken to task by B.J. And I accepted service. He’s right; I haven’t interviewed the guy since. And with that in mind, I called B.J. the other day hoping to get some time with his candidate. But B.J. hasn’t called me back. He probably thinks I’m calling about something else.
Bottom line, since I haven’t talked with the guy for a year, I’m not qualified to judge. But I read with particular interest Cindi’s column last week in which she describes the results of a 90-minute interview with the guy:
I HAVE A HUGE problem with Gresham Barrett.It’s not his political positions or his rhetoric. It’s not even that frenetic thing he does with his hands in his TV commercial, though if I watched more TV ….It’s that I can’t figure out what I think about him.I can’t get a clear impression of what distinguishes him from his opponents. Even after he spent nearly an hour and a half with our editorial board earlier this month, answering every question I could think of to try to help me and my colleagues form some opinion, I came away empty. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.This is both disappointing and bizarre.Disappointing because I had such high hopes for him. It’s no secret that I’ve been impressed with the job Henry McMaster has done as attorney general, and came into this campaign thinking he would be my favorite Republican. But when he went over the top on tax policy and I had that whole bizarre conversation wherein I couldn’t get him to give me a clear answer, and then he started blurring the line between candidate and attorney general, I started hoping for a better choice. Since I have had the least interaction with Mr. Barrett, and since the main thing I could recall his having done in the past few years was to change his mind and act like a grown-up by taking the least evil of the two horribly horrible positions on the TARP, he was the obvious place to pin my hopes.Bizarre because usually I get the most out of meetings with the candidates I know the least about. First impressions and all that.
So it’s not just me.
With me, you could chalk up a lack of results from an interview to my loose, let’s-see-where-this-goes style. But Cindi is a high-organized, task-oriented interrogator. She goes in determined to get answers to questions X, Y and Z, and woe to the subject that stands in her way.
So this struck me as interesting. Is Gresham Barrettt the Zelig of this campaign, the “curiously nondescript enigma” of 2010?