Billed as the ultimate communicator, the biggest surprise about Ronald Reagan was how little he actually said as supporters raved about his appearances.
As a reporter for an Illinois daily that circulated in his hometown of Dixon, I journeyed several times with Mr. Reagan during his various political campaigns to Dixon, his boyhood home of Tampico, and once with him as president back to Eureka College, the school he attended. I also interviewed him once in Rockford, where I lived.
I don't remember in any of those times his ever making much more than very generalized references to policy positions, telling stories or jokes about how government was too big or money being wasted.
Looking back, in modern terms, the best ways to describe it is similar to the Arnold or Jesse effect. It was partly politics, but like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, the presence of a former movie star added a spark to campaign activities that just isn't there for politicians alone. I'm not sure if it was the aura or the time, but people who didn't particularly thrill to politicians didn't seem to give a second thought about attending a Reagan gathering.
I also remember how Mr. Reagan represented a rebirth for Republicans after Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1964 and President Nixon's resignation 10 years later. He could win.