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President George H. W. Bush is not known to have campaigned in Lebanon County, but with friends in Pennsylvania like Joe Paterno and Arnold Palmer, a whistle stop wasn’t even necessary.
In the 1988 presidential election, Bush won Lebanon County by about 12,500 votes or a 34% margin. He would take the county again in 1992, this time by about 9,200 votes.
Former Governor Tom Corbett would go on to serve as his US Attorney for Western District of Pennsylvania from 1989 to 1993.
None other than Penn State legend Joe Paterno seconded the nomination of then-VP Bush for the presidency on behalf of the Middle Atlantic region.
I know a lot of people are wondering what an Italian-American football coach from Penn State is doing here…. so am I! However, I hope that after 40 years of trying to help young men and women reach their potential as human beings, I’m here as an educator.
I’m here because I believe George Bush will be one of America’s great presidents.
I’m here because like President Ford, I’ll be DAMNED if I’ll sit still while people who can’t carry George Bush’s shoes ridicule him. After a lifetime of being around great competitors, I know a winner and I know a leader. I know the difference between bravado and the quiet dignified confidence of a Joe DiMaggio… a Walter Payton… and a GEORGE BUSH!
A 1999 biography of Paterno by Michael O’Brien offers some background on how the Paterno-Bush friendship came to be. O’Brien writes that the friendship began in 1980 when the coach supported Bush over Reagan in the 1980 primary.
His first campaign event was going door-to-door in New Hampshire for their primary, held February 16, 1987 and a Bush victory by 37% of the vote compared to Dole’s 29% of the vote.
Paterno’s appearance was not without controversy. An August 17, 1988 article by the Associated Press titled Bush Regrets ‘Mess’ Surrounding Paterno Speech quotes then-student government president Seth Williams as saying, “It’s wrong for an academic institution to actually involve itself in partisan politics.” Williams would go on to become the District Attorney of Philadelphia, but resigned that position after pleading guilty to bribery following an indictment on bribery and extortion charges.
Then-Governor Robert Casey said it was “probably not a good thing for the university” that Paterno appeared at the convention.
As for Paterno’s response, he told the press syndicate that he briefly second-guessed doing the speech but followed through because of his respect for Bush.
Paterno would campaign for Bush again during a September 1992 campaign event on Old Main Lawn, attended by about 20,000 people.
As Onward State pointed out, this wasn’t the only time Coach Paterno campaigned for a Bush. He also appeared at campaign events in York and State College for candidate George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.
George H.W. Bush also holds connections to York County, through his first cousin seven times removed, Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Manchestor Township. He was also known to visit Latrobe where his friend Arnold Palmer lived.