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Billboard? What's a billboard?

Back in the campaign season in 1972, Jim Abdnor from Kennebec told me excitedly about a new billboard he had just authorized in his run for Congress.

Terry Woster

Back in the campaign season in 1972, Jim Abdnor from Kennebec told me excitedly about a new billboard he had just authorized in his run for Congress.

Billboard? Yup. I said "back in 1972.'' Billboards were a pretty big deal for some campaigns in those days. You still see them, but I don't know if people really "see'' them these days. They don't move or talk.

Abdnor, a popular Republican from Lyman County, served in the state Senate and as lieutenant governor who lost a 1970 race for Congress. Back then, South Dakota had two House seats. Abdnor came back and won in 1972, served in the U.S. House until 1980, beat incumbent Sen. George McGovern and served a term in the U.S. Senate.

Maybe the billboards got him going. He was pretty proud of them. They showed a big picture of Abdnor's face covered with names of people who were supporting him. You laugh today, but it was a simpler time.

How simpler? A lot. A candidate didn't expect wall-to-wall coverage of events or statements. Citizens didn't expect to have every newscast, on all three networks, filled with moving pictures of candidates. Political reporters didn't expect to have their in-boxes stuffed to overflowing with statements and videos and audios and charges and counter-charges from every campaign. Of course, political reporters didn't have real in-boxes. Oh, my, it was a simpler time.

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With the Associated Press back then, at least in the South Dakota operation, we had this thing called a "political roundup.'' We'd take whatever statements came into the bureau from whatever candidates and roll them into a single story, giving each candidate a couple of paragraphs. I used to rotate which candidate got the lead item, an attempt to avoid charges of favoritism.

What? Oh, yeah, even in those days the candidates and campaigns would look for signs that the media was rigging the election. (As if a bunch of reporters and editors could agree on anything long enough to rig it.) In the 1972 election cycle, one of the campaigns approached me to say they'd measured the column inches devoted to each candidate in the political roundups for several weeks. Their opponent had received something like three or four more column inches of space. Clearly, the AP was in the bag for the other guy.

Thinking back, the roundup was a pretty good system. One story every day with every statement from every candidate dumped into it. If it existed today, I could ignore it and follow instead news about the destruction in Syria, the offensive against ISIS in Mosul, the flooding all over the southeast and the massive storm damage out in the northwest.

Instead, my Twitter feed all day every day with Trump and Clinton stuff, most of it repeats of previous Trump and Clinton campaign news, with a side of Pence and Kaine thrown in, as well as a bunch of what they call surrogates for each campaign re-repeating the stuff that's been repeated for days and days. Fortunately, a lot of that stuff has a photo of Trump or Hilary with it, so I can skim on by, safe in the knowledge that I won't miss anything I haven't seen or heard before. Still, I get a fair amount of news from my Twitter follows, and the clutter takes some of the fun out of the morning read.

My Facebook account is clogged with angry, sometimes crude, stuff from people who seem not so much to support one of the candidates as to absolutely hate the other one. I mean, some of this stuff is like they've been hating since back in junior high, man. It's like Bears and Packers. What's up with that? Again, I've learned to ignore the stuff with pictures of the candidates. I'm getting better at not reading stuff from friends if it has politics mentioned prominently.

Some guy got my email address and has been sending me stuff that starts out, "Dear Patriot.'' Well, I consider myself a patriot, for sure, but I'm not reading that stuff.

All of this sometimes has an aging reporter looking around for a good old-fashioned campaign billboard.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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