John Seaton, owner of the Bella Coffee house on Maple Street, said he was 27 years old at the time and running a men’s clothing store in St. Paul, Minn. The year was 1968, a time of turmoil. Dr. Martin Luther
King and Sen. Robert Kennedy had both been assassinated and demonstrations at the Democratic convention in Chicago had turned into a riot. Richard Nixon was making a political comeback as the Republican candidate and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was the Democratic nominee.
Pat Paulsen, a deadpan comedian on the popular “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” on CBS-TV, announced that year he was running for president, a tongue-in-cheek campaign to go along with the show’s satirical nature. When he was asked why he was running, Paulsen would always reply, “Because I’m as good as those other comedians who are running.”
Seaton said he was at a party when the discussion turned to Paulsen’s campaign. Somebody suggested Seaton run for vice president, so he decided to go with it. He appointed himself as Paulsen’s running mate, since Paulsen didn’t have one at that time. He said Paulsen didn’t choose him, “I chose Paulsen,” he said.
“I felt at the time that politics was taking itself too serious and needed a bit of levity,” he said.
Seaton converted his store into a Paulsen-Seaton campaign headquarters, put up huge signs, printed bumper stickers and began to draw media attention in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. This was right in the home territory of Humphrey.
“It started as a spoof, but then it took on a life of its own,” he recalled.
Although Paulsen and Seaton never made a campaign appearance together, Seaton said he did correspond with Paulsen about the campaign.
Seaton would always start his campaign appearances by making an upside down “V” with his fingers, a takeoff on Richard Nixon’s famous gesture.
He called his party the “Apathy Party,” and predicted “a groundswell of complacency” would sweep the country.
Seaton made one speech, standing on a manure spreader, which had a sign reading, “Spread the Word.” He sometimes threw peanuts out to the audience. His campaign poster showed him dressed in a sunbonnet, with an automobile tire over his shoulder and a candle in one hand.
“It had no significance, but it looked good,” he said.
Commenting on crime in the street, a popular campaign issue that year, Seaton told his audiences, “We’ll take crime off the streets and put it back in the alleys where it belongs.”
On air pollution, he said, “We recognize the right of every American to hold his own breath.”
His answer for the war on poverty was to “bomb them with dollars.”
“We had a lot of fun with the campaign,” Seaton said Friday, recalling all the rallies, TV appearances and newspaper stories that came about. “I made a lot of friends.”
Seaton said he spent a grand total of $252.68 on his campaign, including $3 he spent for the peanuts.
The Minneapolis newspaper announced on the day after the election, “Dynamic Duo is Soundly Beaten, No Votes Cast for Paulsen-Seaton.”
“I didn’t even vote for myself,” Seaton admitted.