Twenty-five years ago today Paul Laxalt, the former two-term senator and ex-governor of Nevada, formed an exploratory committee for a long-anticipated bid for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination.
One of President Ronald Reagan’s closest friends, Laxalt had served as national chairman of Reagan’s presidential campaigns in 1976, 1980 and 1984.
Declaring that “there is much unfinished work to do,” the 64-year-old Laxalt made his announcement before 200 cheering supporters in the ballroom of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Claiming that he had been at Reagan’s side for much of the previous decade, the former senator said that he was determined to continue the Reagan Revolution.
“Do we build on our successes or do we turn back the calendar and re-institute the failed policies of the 70s? It is my overriding conviction we are on the right course and that to turn back would be a terrible mistake,” he said to the cheers of his supporters.
“In Western parlance,” he quipped, “this hired hand is ready to take over as foreman.”
Laxalt’s campaign, however, turned out to be one of the shortest in the annals of presidential politics.
Setting a fundraising goal of $6 million, including $2 million by October 1, Laxalt fell far short of his goal — raising only $1.3 million — and withdrew from the contest in late August of 1987, barely four months after forming his exploratory committee.
“While the political response was encouraging, the financial outlook was not as bright,” said Laxalt, who wasn’t independently wealthy. “We are a family of very modest economic means, and I wasn’t about to embark on a campaign that would have led us into a financial black hole,” he lamented in withdrawing from the race.
The former Nevada senator said that fundraising was nearly impossible in a crowded field that then included Vice President George H. W. Bush, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Jr., U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, former Delaware Gov. Pierre duPont and television evangelist Pat Robertson.
Most pundits expected Laxalt’s withdrawal to benefit Jack Kemp in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.