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Patrick Hruby

Where Are They Now?

Daisy Girl, Hanging Chad Guy and more: Catching up with presidential campaign overnight celebrities (updated regularly!)

The Race for the White House produces two things: lots of attack ads, and unwitting overnight celebrities. Think Sister Souljah. Joe the Plumber. Clint Eastwood’s empty chair. The little boy who spelled “potato” without an “e,” only to have Vice President Dan Quayle helpfully “correct” him.

With election season again upon us, The Washington Times presents series remembering some of our favorite campaign one-hit wonders and asking: Where are they now?

September 24: Hanging Chad Guy

Even today, the photo remains iconic, the snapshot seen ‘round the world: a man holding a magnifying glass, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, peering at a disputed punch card ballot, riddled with questionable holes.

This was Florida. The 2000 presidential election. The recount. Democracy hanging by a chad. And as for the guy in the picture, eyes bugging wide, deciding the fate of the free world one drop of Visine at a time?

Turns out he has a name.

“Nobody knows my name, nobody knows who I am,” said Robert Rosenberg, a 69-year-old Florida judge. “But everybody knows the man with the magnifying glass. People look at me and think they know me, only they can’t figure out where or how. Who is this person?

“If they ask me, I’ll tell them. You can see the light bulb go on.”

Twelve years ago, the judge was tasked with heading the recount of Broward County’s 1,800 disputed ballots. In the process, he unwittingly became that rarest of cultural creatures: an overnight presidential campaign celebrity.

Of course, Judge Rosenberg never wanted to become semi-famous. For that matter, he didn’t want to spend his Thanksgiving examining “pregnant” and “dimpled” chads.

In fact, when first asked to oversee Broward County’s ballot review, his response was blunt.

“I asked, ‘Can’t you find somebody else?’” the judge said. “They said ‘no.’ I had been appointed by a Democratic governor and a Republican governor. They told me both parties agreed that I would be fair, diligent and straight.”

Judge Rosenberg laughed.

“I said, ‘I have a full docket and other things to do,’” he said. “They still said, ‘no.’”

From a national perspective, the Florida recount was both thrilling drama and a head-scratching, lawyered-up mess: a premature declaration of victory for Vice President Al Gore, five weeks of legal wrangling, suits and countersuits, protests and the “Brooks Brothers riot,” disputes in multiple counties, the eternal mystery of the butterfly ballot, and ultimately, a still-controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision that tipped the presidency to George W. Bush.

For Judge Rosenberg, by contrast, the event was more quotidian. Day after day, he would arrive at Fort Lauderdale’s Voter Equipment Center at 8 a.m. and leave at 11 p.m.

“The one exception was Thanksgiving, where I think we left around four in the afternoon,” Judge Rosenberg said. “When you get home after 11, you’re exhausted. I would maybe take a shower and go to sleep, get up, shower, get dressed and go back again.

“They brought food in for us at lunch, and sometimes for dinner. They had snacks. That wasn’t bad. Though there comes a point where you’re thinking, ‘How many pizzas can I eat? How much rigatoni?’”

While the country was glued to nightly newscasts, the Florida jurist hardly saw any television. He was a judge. There was a job to do. The work was tedious.

Had a voter poked a hole? Had they attempted to poke a hole? Such were the questions at hand. Judge Rosenberg had studied a previous disputed election in Illinois, familiarized himself with more than a dozen different types of chads, the small bits of paper that are supposed to separate from punched ballots. He would examine ballots, one at a time, and then hold each ballot up to Democratic and Republican observers while making his call.

“I didn’t want there to be any mystery to what I was doing,” the judge said. “I remember on one occasion, Senator [Bob] Dole was sitting across a table from me. Somebody had put one of the ballots into a machine sideways.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Look at this, it’s as if they gave it to their dog to chew on, and now they’re trying to have me make a call!’ He started laughing. But I give them credit. Nobody ever approached me to do something one way or the other. They left me alone.”

The hardest part of the recount, Judge Rosenberg said, wasn’t deciphering mangled ballots. It was the eyestrain. He had 20-200 vision. With astigmatism. Squinting at ballots proved painful. He tried eyedrops. They weren’t enough.

One day, Judge Rosenberg turned to one of his clerks.

“I asked him, ‘Do you happen to have a magnifying glass?’” the judge recalled. “He could have said no. But he obtained one and gave it to me. It made things a lot easier.”

As soon as he started using the magnifying glass, he noticed something else.

“The press went crackers,” the judge said. “Everyone was taking pictures all over the place.”

At first, the judge thought nothing of it. Granted, the task at hand was a bit unusual: He had a two-car, 24-hour police escort, a pair of deputy sheriffs he later invited inside his family’s home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Still, Judge Rosenberg considered himself the equivalent of a baseball umpire. Call balls and strikes. Ignore everything else. Let the players — in this case, the lawyers and politicians — be the stars.

“I think it was a day or two after I got the magnifying glass that one of my sons said to my wife, ‘Hey, is Dad not telling us something? He’s all over the television!’” Judge Rosenberg said. “Then I saw the picture in the newspaper and knew. Friends from college and other people I knew started calling me.”

Following the recount, the judge recalled, he “might have taken a day off.” He returned to his day job as a circuit court judge, declining interview requests from news networks and late-night talk shows while explaining that “after the game’s over, you don’t interview the umpire. You talk to the coach and the players.”

When the National Museum of American History asked Judge Rosenberg to donate a magnifying glass for a 2004 election exhibit, however, he happily complied. He also broke his silence, telling Smithsonian magazine that his wife jokes that he “should have done an ad for Visine.”

“Am I historical figure?” Judge Rosenberg said. “I don’t know. It’s a historic thing. I’m happy I did it. I never asked for it. Never wanted it. I have good, close friends on the Republican and Democratic sides.

“After it was over, both parties came to me and said I was decent and fair and honorable, and that they respected that. That’s what a judge is supposed to do. That’s my job.”

Today, he is still Judge Rosenberg. He plans to retire next year. He has three adult children and recently celebrated his 42nd wedding anniversary. He still has old sample ballots and chads — “Oh God, I have loads of those,” he said — which he sometimes donates to charity auctions.

The judge still has a magnifying glass, too. In fact, he keeps it in his office desk. Just in case.

“A few years ago I was elected president of a B’nai B’rith chapter of lawyers and judges down here,” he said. “I gave a speech, and afterward they gave me some kind of award.”

At that point, the judge continued, he pulled the magnifying glass out of his pocket and held it up to his face, recreating his well-known photo.

“I said, ‘Let me take a closer look,’” he said. “The people who remember [the recount] got a big laugh out of that.”

September 25: Daisy Girl

Then: A freckle-faced toddler, Monique Corzilius was the face of the most notorious attack ad in campaign history, 1964’s “Daisy” spot. Aimed at Republican Barry Goldwater, who favored using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam, the commercial featured Monique plucking petals from a daisy and counting down from 10 — only to have her image and voice replaced by a male countdown and a nuclear mushroom cloud. A President Johnson voice-over then intoned, “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live. Or, to go into the darkness. We must either love each other, or we must die.”

Now: The 50-year-old Monique Luiz is a mother of two and lives in Arizona, where she works in finance. She did not see the ad until 2000, an experience she later told Newsweek left her shaking and teary-eyed.

Fun fact 1: During a recent talk at Louisiana State University, Ms. Luiz said that when she first moved to Arizona, she avoided Goldwater department stores because “I felt he might recognize me.”

Fun fact 2: Ms. Luiz was paid $105 for appearing in the ad, which aired only once because of the public furor.

Quotable: Ms. Luiz’s parents didn’t know what the ad was about until they saw it on television. “It was after the commercial aired that my parents received phone calls from their friends and family,” Ms. Luiz said. “I remember them being very surprised and proud that I was actually on TV. My grandmother was very concerned because of some of the backlash. She was concerned for my safety.”

September 26: Admiral Stockdale

Then: James Stockdale was a Navy commander, an author and an academic.

The former pilot and bona fide Vietnam War hero received a Medal of Honor after spending more than seven years in a North Vietnamese prison, where he led a resistance movement of his fellow prisoners and repeatedly beat his own face to a pulp so his captors couldn’t use him in a propaganda film. Of course, none of that mattered in 1992, when his memorable opening line in the vice presidential debate — “Who am I? Why am I here?” — became comedy gold.

Now: After the 1992 election, Mr. Stockdale retired to private life. He died in 2005 at age 81 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease and was survived by his wife, four sons and eight grandchildren. Four years ago, the Navy named the guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale after him.

Fun fact: Mr. Stockdale agreed to serve as Ross Perot’s running mate only after his good friend assured him that he would act as a placeholder until a more suitable candidate could be found.

Quotable: Mr. Stockdale, who frequently wrote and lectured about stoicism, told the The World & I magazine that his famous debate line was chosen deliberately, the better to showcase his view of himself as “a philosopher.”

Then: “God damn America!” Those three words were replayed ad nauseam in 2008, when video of a fiery sermon delivered by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright threatened to derail Barack Obama’s presidential aspirations. Mr. Obama, whose family had recently left Mr. Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, ultimately repudiated his former pastor and delivered a well-received, campaign-saving speech on race relations in America.

Now: Although Mr. Wright retired from his church in 2008, he remains as outspoken as ever — during a summer guest sermon at a Washington, D.C., church, he quoted Frederick Douglass on the necessity of speaking truth to power, attacked the tea party, railed against “black politicians who steal money” and seemingly encouraged blacks to be wary lest their children be brainwashed by white teachers.

Quotable: Said Mr. Wright in the same sermon, “take that baby, him or her away, from the African mother, away from the African community, away from the African experience … and put them Africans over at the breasts of Yale, Harvard, University of Chicago … UCLA or UC-Berkeley. Turn them into biscuits. Let them get that alien DNA all up inside their brain, and they will turn on their own people in defense of the ones who are keeping their own people under oppression. Sheep dogs there’s white racist DNA running through the synapses of his or her brain tissue.”

October 1: Gayle Quinell

Then: Ms. Quinnell, a 75-year-old McCain-Palin volunteer from Minnesota, called Barack Obama “an Arab” during a 2008 campaign event, leaving a flabbergasted John McCain to respond, “No, ma’am. [Mr. Obama is] a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Now: Ms. Quinnell was parodied on “Saturday Night Live” and her family claimed she received death threats. Her daughter, Carol Rue, later told reporters that her mother checked out a library book that incorrectly identified Mr. Obama as Muslim and that Ms. Quinnell laughed when she saw the “SNL” skit.

Fun fact: During a January rally for Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, an audience member said that Mr. Obama was an “avowed Muslim” with “no legal right to be president.” Perhaps said library book remains in circulation.

October 2: Bernard Shaw

Then: While moderating the final 1988 presidential debate, former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw triggered gasps from the press room and national controversy by asking Michael Dukakis, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?” Mr. Dukakis‘ quick, seemingly unemotional answer — “No, I don’t, Bernard, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life” — produced a dramatic overnight polling drop and contributed to his electoral defeat.

Now: Mr. Shaw went on to anchor CNN’s highly acclaimed, live-from-Baghdad coverage of the first Gulf War. He retired in 2001 at age 60 and lives in suburban Washington, where he golfs, gives corporate speeches and occasionally opines on the news.

Quotable: Before the debate, Mr. Shaw previously had asked Dan Quayle if it was “fear of being killed in Vietnam” that had caused him to join the National Guard, asked Al Gore what he would do if he or one of his children got AIDS and asked Al Haig, “Do you think [George H.W.] Bush is a wimp?”

Fun fact: Mr. Shaw recently recorded a voice-over for a television special on the 80th anniversary of the Washington Redskins.

October 3: Obama Girl

Then: Model and actress Amber Lee Ettinger became a national sensation when her 2007 YouTube video “Crush on Obama” tallied nearly 25 million hits, eventually landing the 29-year-old New Yorker on “Saturday Night Live.”

Now: Miss Ettinger reportedly has moved to California, where she is taking acting classes. As for her feelings about President Obama? In a February interview with Politico, Miss Ettinger fretted that the Obama Girl tag might be “stuck” on her forever, confessed that Ron Paul supporters had asked her to switch candidates and said she wasn’t sure who she was going to vote for in November.

Fun facts: Despite prodding from Fox News host Sean Hannity, Miss Ettinger refused to say during a June interview that Mr. Obama “has failed”; in the same month, she released another video imploring Mr. Obama to “step up, ‘cause I need that man, if my old crush on you was true/’Cause across the land … all our hearts were bet on you.”

Quotable: The New York Times wrote that the original video “probably had more to do with shaping Obama’s complicated public image — young and exciting but maybe a bit shallow — than any Internet appeal devised by the candidate’s own aides.”

October 7: Sister Souljah

Then: A Rutgers graduate and House legislative intern-turned-Afrocentric rapper and social activist, Sister Souljah courted controversy via sharp-tongued criticism of racism and the federal government. Two of her videos — most notably “The Final Solution: Slavery’s Back in Effect,” in which she rapped, “if there are any good white people, I haven’t met them” — were banned by MTV. When Ms. Souljah responded to a 1992 newspaper interview question about Rodney King and the Los Angeles riots by stating “if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton pounced, denouncing her in front of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. The term “Sister Souljah Moment” has since entered the lexicon as shorthand for politicians publicly repudiating individuals or ideas seen as extremist and attached to themselves, their candidacy or their party.

Now: Born Lisa Williamson, Ms. Souljah is married with a son and is enjoying a second career as the author of the best-selling “urban lit” novel “The Coldest Winder Ever” and a series of books about the globe-trotting adventures of a Sudanese Muslim man named Midnight. She also continues to speak at colleges, asking a group of Clafin University students in 2006, “How can you be a physics major and be shocked when you get pregnant from having sex?”

Fun facts: Following Mr. Clinton’s attack, Ms. Souljah released a long, point-by-point statement in which she argued that her comments were taken out of context and then pilloried the future president for being: (a) a hypocritical draft-dodger; (b) a “reefer smoker”; (c ) someone who “could never quite get his own personal and social behavior together,” particularly with respect to Gennifer Flowers; (d) a former member of an all-white segregated golf club; (e) someone who “takes shots at Dan Quayle’s intellectual feasibility yet he has not presented America with any substantive, comprehensive agenda around economic development, foreign policy, budget containment or social policy”; (f) an integrity-lacking candidate falsely “painting himself as a staunch patriot, a people’s servant, a compassionate liberal, a family man, a pro-woman candidate and a coherent scholar.”

Quotable: “Black people don’t know what white people are talking about when they talk about a Sister Souljah moment,” Ms. Souljah told The Root last year. “I tell them it’s the moment you meet a proud, beautiful black woman you can never forget.”

October 8: M1 Abrams Battle Tank

Then: Co-starred in one of the most iconic — and, regardless of your politics, visually humorous — moments of the 1988 presidential race, as video footage of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis wearing a Marvin the Martian-shaming green helmet and riding around in Sterling Heights, Mich., in an Abrams M1-A-1 battle tank became fodder for a Republican attack ad.

Now: Introduced in 1980, General Dynamics Corp.’s Abrams continues to evolve and serve as the Army’s main battle tank, performing admirably in the Gulf and Iraq Wars.

Fun fact: According to the Los Angeles Times, not one, but two of Mr. Dukakis‘ aides warned him that riding in the tank would make him look ridiculous.

October 11: Frank Fahey

Then: At a 1988 campaign event, Mr. Fahey, a New Hampshire high school teacher, asked Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Delaware Democrat, about his law school performance. An irritated Mr. Biden responded that he probably had a higher IQ than Mr. Fahey and that he had earned three degrees as an undergraduate, gone to law school on a full academic scholarship and finished in the top half of his class — none of which turned out to be true. Mr. Biden later dropped out of the presidential race.

Now: A 69-year-old retired teacher and principal, Mr. Fahey still has a keen interest in politics and attends New Hampshire presidential primary candidate town halls and rallies. (Editor's note: see him in the above photo on the left, listening to John McCain at a 2008 meeting). Following a 2007 event held by Mr. Biden, Mr. Fahey approached the politician and introduced himself. “He immediately recognized my name, shook my hand and said, ‘I am so sorry for what I caused to happen that day,’ ” Mr. Fahey said. “I said, ‘You need to know I supported you and had no evil intent.’ He said, ‘I know you didn’t. I was younger and you were younger. I overreacted. I apologize for what I said.’ I thought that was very, very nice.”

Quotable: “I’m very, very pleased to see [Biden] where he is,” said Mr. Fahey, who noted that he asks the same credentials question of his doctors. “He clearly misunderstood the question I asked at the time, and my intent. I was a supporter of him back than, and I’m even more a supporter today.”