A Tale as Old as Time
Throughout History, Traveling Presidential Campaigns Have Relied on Hotels
Every four years, the presidential campaign season turns commander-in-chief hopefuls into traveling nomads as they stomp across the country “shaking hands and kissing babies.” Given their ideal combination of services and venues including lodging, dining, and meeting rooms, hotels are uniquely equipped to accommodate transient presidential campaigns – whether they are setting up shop in town, or just passing through.
Little Rock, Arkansas thrust into the national spotlight 20 years ago when then-governor, Bill Clinton, announced he was running for President of the United States – and would be doing so out of Little Rock. National media, campaign workers, political heavyweights, and volunteers poured into the city, making it their home away from home and rejuvenating the downtown district. At the center of it all, the historic Capital Hotel quickly became the place to see and be seen during the 1992 campaign. From James Carville to Al Gore, the Capital Hotel served not only as a place to spend the night, but also as a meeting room, watering hole, living room, and all-around headquarters.
The Capital Hotel is no stranger to politics. Since its opening in 1872, The Capital has been the state’s “unofficial political headquarters” – where decisions, deals, and even careers are often made over drinks at the bar, or a meal at Ashley’s restaurant. Indeed, shortly after the hotel opened in 1877, President Ulysses S. Grant became the first presidential guest when he spent a night in Little Rock. Today, The Capital Bar and Grill remains one of the city’s biggest power lunch spots among local politicians.
Politicians’ relationships with hotels often extend beyond the presidential trail – after all, they don’t get to move into the White House until two months after the election. When George H.W. Bush was transitioning from vice-president to president following the 1988 election, he selected his cabinet in the meeting rooms at The Jefferson, Washington, DC, and in January his family stayed at the hotel during the inauguration.
Even looking back to 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s longtime friend and political mentor turned campaign manager, David Davis, rented two rooms in Chicago’s Tremont House Hotel to serve as the campaign headquarters. A few years later in Galena, Illinois, Ulysses S. Grant made the DeSoto House Hotel, where Lincoln had previously given a memorable speech from the hotel’s balcony, his campaign headquarters. During Herbert Hoover’s campaign in 1928, an entire floor of the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York City was used as the headquarters for “Hoover National Republican Club.” In Kansas City, Harry Truman began using the Muehlebach Hotel as his local headquarters beginning with his vice presidential run in 1944 until he left the presidency in 1953. In fact, he was there so often that the Presidential Suite is named for the 33rd president.
Others have an even more personal connection with hotels – Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson went to the Driskill Hotel in Austin on their first date long before LBJ used the hotel as his headquarters during his congressional races. The two later watched the results of the 1964 presidential election from their hotel suite.
Democrats and Republicans may not agree on most, but hotels seem to find a comfortable respite for Presidential hopefuls on the campaign trail.