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One of America's political treasures today is Larry Sabato, the guru who heads the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia here in Charlottesville. Larry is universally recognized in the co-dependent worlds of politics and journalism as having all ten fingers on the political pulse of America.
Just as important, he's not afraid to put his mouth where his mouth is and make predictions. His constant appearances on TV, radio, and print gain him the thanks of news editors and the label "Dial-a-quote" by admirers. Larry is one of the few people today who, after listening to him, we know more.
Being involved in politics in the same small town, Larry and I were friends, but he outpaced me decades ago. I can testify he earned and deserves the distinction he enjoys today.
I was reminded yesterday, when cleaning out closets and crannies for a yard sale, that Larry was not always right with predictions. High on a closet shelf I ran across pictures I took of Larry cheerfully preparing to dine on crow at a luncheon meeting of local politicos.
This was 1985, a momentous year in Virginia and the nation. That was the year an African-American state senator, L. Douglas Wilder, was elected Lt. Governor of Virginia.
Sabato was one of ever-so-many who predicted not only that Wilder would lose but that there was no question he would lose. His loss was so certain Larry said he had but "one chance in a hundred."
Larry could hardly be blamed. He knew Virginia. As Jim Latimore, Virginia's leading political reporter, explained it later:
"... traditionalists made a basic mistake: they agreed with the conventional wisdom that anybody with a white face could trounce the best of well-known blacks in ... racially conservative ... Virginia ....
"On election day, 1985, the black turnout was relatively low but Wilder netted some 44 percent of the white vote, polled 52 percent of the total turnout, and racked up a winning margin of 48,634 votes."
So Larry cheerfully dined on crow at our next luncheon. I re-captioned some old New Yorker cartoons and made up a booklet commemorating the event. A copy of that was in the closet. Here's a couple:
Four years later Wilder became the first African-American in US history to be elected governor of a state.
Larry had no problem calling that one.
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