We were way down in the polls and I was busy leaving messages on answering machines when a young volunteer came bounding into my rabbit warren and announced breathlessly, "Paul Newman is on the line." A little skeptical, I shot back that I was on the line with Vladimir Putin so hold all calls, but our savvy volunteer suggested that this was a call worth taking.
"Thanks for calling, Mr. Newman," I parried.
"Cut the Mr. Newman crap, it’s Paul," was his opening line — unmistakably the real deal.
Warming up to the task, I got right to the ask – ads, robocalls, direct mail, fundraisers, autograph. He said that he was a little hesitant since he had done a little work for John Kerry and that a WSJ blog had immediately called for a boycott of Newman’s Salad Dressing, which funded his Hole in the Wall Gang charity. But Paul never sat on the sidelines and he later said, "I hate those things, but let’s do the automatic telephone call."
Before you can say "Cool Hand Luke" we had drafted up a short script, which he said was crap and he would do his own.
He wrote something up and then called around Connecticut, pretending to be a robocall and judging the reaction. He called back with the results: a couple of no answers, two answering machines, and one guy who shouted, "Hey Marge, there’s some kook on the phone pretending to be Paul Newman."
I sympathized, noted that I had developed a close personal relationship with hundreds of answering machines around the state, and he said ok. He liked writing his own scripts, and later did a TV ad where he called me ‘spunky,’ not senatorial, just spunky, and towards the end of our campaign he ad libbed a radio ad where he accused Joe Lieberman of sneaking off with his Ned Lamont for Senate lawn sign in the back of Lieberman for Senate Hummer. Let’s make sure that his Hole in the Wall Gang charity does not suffer from Paul’s indiscretions.
To me, Paul was Cool Hand Luke, challenging the good ol’ boys and the conventional wisdom, with a delighted twinkle in his eye.
We’ll miss you, Mr. Newman.