Recalling the Maharishi and Carville’s Killer Ad
WITH his high-pitched giggle and his gentle ways, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is not someone you would expect to be used as a blunt-force weapon in a political campaign.
The Maharishi, who died last Tuesday, was the man who introduced transcendental meditation to the West. The Beatles were his most famous disciples, but another was William W. Scranton 3d, who went to Europe in 1970 to study TM.
Mr. Scranton came from a wealthy and renowned Pennsylvania political family. He went to Yale where he used drugs “recreationally,” protested the Vietnam War, and sported long hair and a beard.
After meeting the Maharishi, Mr. Scranton became a life-long proponent and practitioner of transcendental meditation and returned home to pursue a more conventional career in politics, serving two terms as lieutenant governor.
Then Mr. Scranton ran for governor. He was a formidable candidate, a moderate Republican in the days before that was an insult.
His Democratic opponent was Robert P. Casey, the state’s former auditor general, who had run for governor three times before and lost.
Mr. Casey brought in James Carville to run his campaign and ramp up the aggression level. It was a big break for the “Ragin’ Cajun,” the most important campaign he had handled to date.
Mr. Carville was itching to make Scranton’s baby boomer habits an issue, but feared it could backfire — among boomers, for one.
In mid-October, Mr. Scranton scored a strategic coup. He announced that his campaign was pulling all negative ads, promised to run no more, and challenged Mr. Casey to do the same. Mr. Scranton took the lead in the polls.
The move flummoxed the Casey camp. Then the Scranton campaign made a fatal misstep. It sent a mass mailing to Republicans that featured a letter from the candidate’s father. A second brochure that harshly attacked Mr. Casey was also included.
Scranton aides said the piece was sent out by mistake, but a copy got into Mr. Carville’s hands. It gave him the opening to use what came to be known as the “guru ad.”
The TV spot featured sitar music, pictures of the young, long-haired Mr. Scranton, a mug-shot like photo of the long-haired, bearded Maharishi and a sneering mention of transcendental meditation. Though the exact words were never used, the message was clear: Mr. Scranton is a weirdo!
The ad was timed to air the Saturday before Election Day, too late for the Scranton camp to respond. Mr. Carville chose not to run it in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh media markets, fearing a backlash in the state’s two major urban areas. Instead, he made a big buy in central Pennsylvania, hoping to undercut Mr. Scranton’s support among that region’s conservative Republicans.
On Election Day, Scranton won in the state’s conservative heartland, but by a lower margin than expected.
Out of 3.3 million votes cast statewide, Casey defeated Scranton by a margin of 79,216. A victory of 2 percent.
The political consensus was that it was the “guru ad” that did Bill Scranton in.