1972 was a true watershed in Maine politics. Following a hundred years of Republican dominance, Democrats led by Senator Ed Muskie had achieved a string of victories that threatened to sweep Republicans from the board of congressional and gubernatorial offices. On election day only the win by first time Republican congressional candidate Bill Cohen would stop the Democrat shut out.
Cohen won by determination and perseverance, charisma, and grit, and by his campaign 650-mile walk across Maine’s expansive second congressional district from Gilead on the New Hampshire border to Ft. Kent on the Canadian border. The Walk, as it became known, was an over-arching feature of that campaign and soon became a staple of the subsequent successful campaigns by congressional, senate, and gubernatorial candidates in the Pine Tree State. On the fiftieth anniversary of a campaign that would change the course of Maine politics and propel Cohen onto the national political stage where he would play prominent roles in the House, Senate, and as secretary of defense, this book captures, in the vivid and often surprising words of the participants, how The Walk came to be.
Christian P. Potholm, professor of political science at Bowdoin College and a leading expert on Maine politics, is the author of This Splendid Game: Maine Campaigns and Elections, 1940-2002. He resides in Harpswell, Maine.
Jed Lyons was one of Bill Cohen’s advance men during the 1972 walk. He helped organize four counties, including Androscoggin, a Democratic stronghold. Jed worked in Bill’s Washington office in 1973. In 1975, he cofounded the precursor to Rowman & Littlefield, the publisher of this book. He currently serves as its CEO and president. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Affairs.
Preface by Jed Lyons
Foreword by Christian P. Potholm, II
Introduction by The Honorable Williams S. Cohen
Chapter 1: Oral History Discussion with Secretary Bill Cohen and Professor Chris Potholm
Chapter 2: Oral History Discussion with Secretary Bill Cohen and Professor Chris Potholm
Chapter 3: Oral History Discussion with Secretary Bill Cohen and Professor Chris Potholm
Chapter 4: Oral History Discussion with Secretary Bill Cohen and Professor Chris Potholm
Chapter 5: Oral History Discussion with Jim Harrington
Chapter 6: Oral History Discussion with Peter Webster
Chapter 7: Oral History Discussion with Robert Loeb
Chapter 8: Oral History Discussion with Bill Webster
Chapter 9: Oral History Discussion with Rob Witsil
Chapter 10: Oral History Discussion with Cindy Watson Welch
Chapter 11: Oral History Discussion with Bob Monks
Chapter 12: Oral History Discussion with Mike Harkins
Chapter 13: Oral History Discussion with Severin Beliveau
Chapter 14: Oral History Discussion with David Emery
About the Contributors
Political scientist Potholm (This Splendid Game) and Rowman & Littlefield CEO Lyons revisit a groundbreaking congressional campaign in this amiable oral history. In 1972, 32-year-old Republican candidate Bill Cohen faced an uphill battle for Maine’s second congressional district: Democrats controlled all but one of the state’s major elected political offices, and the Maine Republican Party was viewed as “moribund, old, and out-of-touch.” To help improve Cohen’s visibility and showcase his youth, vigor, and blue-collar background, campaign manager Potholm proposed a 650-mile walk across the largely rural district, which stretches from the New Hampshire border to the Canadian border and “comprises 80 percent of the state’s geography.” Lyons, then an undergraduate at Bowdoin College, served as one of the campaign’s advance men. In digressive conversations with former campaign staffers, Cohen, Potholm, and Lyons discuss the complicated logistics of the walk, which involved spending each night with a different Maine family; share amusing anecdotes about blistered feet, uncooperative horses, and awkward sleeping arrangements; and detail Cohen’s subsequent legislative accomplishments and the campaign’s influence on Maine politics. Niche yet perceptive, this is an illuminating look back at a less polarized political era.
During the summer of 1972, when I was home from college, I volunteered on Bill Cohen's campaign. During his famous walk in the St. John Valley of Aroostook County, I drove the car that was emblazoned with signs saying "Bill Cohen Ahead—Honk & Wave." The car also carried water and extra sneakers. Bill returned to Caribou to spend the night at our home. My parents were big supporters. It was an exciting experience. I admired Bill so much.
I couldn’t put it down! Bill Cohen was a trailblazer. This book covers not just his public side, but also the personal, private, and family side of him, told in his own words. I thought the give and take between the three of them kept it moving and got Bill to be more personal.
The new book… edited by Potholm and Jed Lyons, is an oral history. Though the participants engage in a wide-ranging discussion of both historic and contemporary issues, its North Star is Cohen’s successful 1972 campaign, the first of several major Maine elections in which a walk was credited with providing the momentum for victory by a prevailing Republican candidate…. [The book] is a fascinating perspective and commentary that’s an effortless but inspiring read on a compelling array of subjects.
9/23/22, WGAN Radio (Portland, ME): Christian Potholm was interviewed about the book on the Morning News program.
10/9/22, Sun Journal: The book and the 50th anniversary of “The Walk” were highlighted in this piece.
10/20/22, Down East Magazine: An excerpt from the book was posted.
10/21/22, Maine Public Radio: Christian Potholm talked about the book and how campaigns have changed in the past fifty years on the Maine Calling show on Maine Public Radio.