Shooting To the Right

Brad Campbell, Affable Conservative

Even without his guns, Brad Campbell is disarming.

The Eliot House senior slides into a booth in the Wursthaus restaurant in Harvard Square, fingers the bill of his dark cap with "NRA life Member" in gold print, and flips open the menu.

A companion might be expecting a conservative tirade from the former president of the Harvard Republican Club and a guardian of Peninsula, a conservative campus magazine. Instead, Campbell, who spent three years rowing crew, jokes about his growing waistline. The NRA cap? He likes to shock Harvard liberals with the cap and by "whistling `Dixie' in the Yard." And when he meets someone open-minded, the cap can prompt a conversation that bridges ideological divides.

"I have a number of liberal friends who have friends who say' I can't believe you talk to that guy,"' Campbell says. "I love it when after a section, people ask who was that making comments, and they can't believe it's really me, the guy in the NRA."

Talk to some liberals and moderate Republicans around campus, and you think an impostor has shown up for this interview at the Wursthaus. William Zerhouni '98, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican board that succeeded Campbell's (the outgoing president didn't like Zerhouni's moderate stands on abortion and other social issues), calls him "sleazy, bigoted and intolerant."

"Brad is the essence of what people see in politics and what people hate about politics," Zerhouni says.

Campbell retorts that Zerhouni's complaints are those of someone who had his chance for election, and lost. Yes, Campbell is socially conservative and politically ambitious, and no, he won't apologize for it.

"Having The Crimson or somebody call you a fascist is a badge of pride," he says. "At Harvard you can describe your success by the quality of the enemies you make. When you see someone react that way, you know you've struck a blow for real America."

Campbell's ideas may be controversial, but his explanations are reasoned and thoughtful. He argues that George Bush acted hastily in resigning from the NRA, and, nothing the government's errors in Waco and the Randall Weaver Case, offers a spirited defense of the controversial NRA fundraising letter which called some agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms "jack-booted thugs."("Those comments were referring to those specific cases where lives were lost or there was damage because of the ATF," he says). On abortion, Campbell says the debate is between those who put "self-interest" first versus those who believe in moral principles.

Campbell, who will work for new U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.)next year, plans to run to think about possible districts from which to launch his campaign. And nearly everyone who knows him believes Campbell will make it to Capitol Hill.

Many students think of him for his guns, which he and other members of the Harvard Shooting Club keep in the University police station.(He refuses to say how many guns he has but acknowledges he owns an AK-47,

Which he uses "for fun, to shoot cans andstuff").

What fewer people know is that Campbell may be,in the words of one friend, "the best listener oncampus." He leans in close and looks you right inthe eye. He is charming, unfailingly polite andoften funny. Many would disagree with hispolitics, but what is there to dislike about Bradcampbell?

WARSAW (population 1697) comfortablystraddles the Osage River in the Missouri Ozarks.Brad's mother, Joan, says Campbells have beenliving, working and teaching on this jagged, rockysoil for five generations.

Warsaw, which was founded in 1837 in what hadbeen Osage Indian territory, was named in honor ofa Polish general who aided the Colonies during theRevolutionary War, according to John Owen, a92-year-old Warsaw resident and a member of thelocal historical commission. The town is the seatof government for Benton County, named after aU.S. Senator from Missouri.

A dam built in 1931 by Union Electric createdthe area's main landmark, the Lake of the Ozarks.A little further upstream, the U.S. Army Corpserected the Truman Dam a decade ago. Before thedams, steamships came up the Osage River from theMissouri River, and some early settlers thoughtWarsaw might one day grow to rival Kansas City inpopulation and commerce.

Instead, the tiny town has three majorindustries: hunting, fishing and the manufactureof gunstocks, the wooden part of guns. In recentyears, wealthy suburbanites from St. Louis andKansas City in search of fresher air have turnedthe area north of the river into a rich man'sneighborhood, according to Campbell's high schoolguidance counselor, Bill Gott. But Warsaw is stilla place, Campbell says, where school attendancedrops on the first day of deer season.

The Campbell family is as much a part of thelandscape as the dam. His paternal grandfather hadserved as principal at Warsaw High, and Brad grewup on 200 acres of Campbell land about 15 milessouth of town.

Brad's father, Jim Campbell, left Warsaw forcollege and found a teaching job in an affluentsuburb of St. Louis where he met another teacher,Joan Polmantier. Joan grew up in the college townof Columbia, where her father was an educationalpsychologist at the University of Missouri.

They had a Baptist Wedding in Columbia (thoughthe Campbells now belong to the Church of theBrethren), and quickly moved back to Warsaw. Thenewlyweds taught for a year, but soon decided togive up teaching to start an insurance agency.

They have prospered in insurance and in thetown, Warsaw residents say, by virtue of carefulplanning. The night before Brad was born, an icestorm was about to hit southern Missouri. Notwanting to risk the drive in bad weather, theCampbells left early for Sedalia, the site of thenearest hospital 40 miles away. The next day,December 20, 1972, the storm, and Brad, appearedin full force.

Joan stayed home until Brad was old enough togo to school, but she had a passion for politicsthat would be passed on to her son. so the firstcandidate Brad Campbell ever campaigned for was aDemocrat. When brad turned 3, his mother becamethe local campaign chair for Jerry Litton, aconservative Democrat running against RepublicanJohn Danforth. Joan took Brad on the road, as sheput up signs and knocked on doors around thecounty.

After a victory in the Democratic primary, thecampaign ended tragically when Litton was killedin a plane crash. With him died some of Joan'spassion for politics. "The crash is the onlyreason Danforth won," Joan says.

Brad had caught the political bug, however, andduring his childhood he argued tirelessly with hismother, calling her a "closet conservative." Joansays he seems happier now that she is voting forboth Republicans and Democrats.

"Whatever he ends up doing, from the time hewas born, we've known he was a special child," shesays. "We've always felt that he was going to dosomething important."

the Campbells taught their only child torespect other people's values while alwaysstanding up for his own. To give her son her fullattention, Joan didn't return to work until Bradwas ready for elementary school.

"You've got to look at people like me who grewup in the '60s in two ways," Joan Campbell says."We are willing to change and do thingsdifferently. But I still prefer that peoplebelieve in God, believe in family and believe intraditional values. I don't want them to believein Jane Fonda."

Jim Campbell seems to have handled most of thepractical education. Brad says his father taughthim how to fire a gun when he was in second gradebecause "he thought it was irresponsible not toteach a child gun safety." The family keeps 50Angus cattle on its property, and Brad wasexpected to help out. Brad did, though he didn'talways seem enthusiastic. "He doesn't seem to havea big love of working with animals," Joan Says.

In high school, Brad would drive his brown 1978Ford Thunderbird 15 miles to school each day. Histeachers say he was the brightest and mostargumentative student they have ever seen. "Weused Macintosh here," says Bob Lemon, his computerteacher at Warsaw High, "and he's a very strongIBM person. We often talked about it....He's anexceptional personality who could talk to adultsas easily at students."

Campbell didn't play football, a sport sopopular that as many as 60 of the 150 boys in thehigh school suit up for the varsity. Instead, hewas the announcer for a team that has used arun-oriented veer offense to win two statechampionships in the last six years. He alsoedited the school news-paper, the Warsaw Wildcat,and won an award for his regular column" Little tothe Right."

Lemon and others say they were startled whenBrad, who was known as an actor but not a singer,took the leading role of Curly in Oklahoma!during his junior year. Finishing first in hisclass of 80 was no surprise. Owen, the 92-year-oldunofficial town historian, says he can't recallanyone else from Warsaw ever going to the IvyLeague.

Campbell was best friends with Blaine Cooper,even though Cooper was two years younger. Theywere the town intellectuals; teachers at WarsawHigh School say they are the only two students inrecent memory to attend college out of state.

"Both of us stood out in the town," saysCooper, now a sophomore at Boston University. "Wepretty much kept to ourselves. There were fewpeople who shared the same interests. We read alot and developed an interest in Monty Python."

Cooper says Campbell was always more serious."When I was in the fourth grade and he was insixth, he ditched the tennis shoes. For the mostpart after that, Brad always wore sacks and wingtips."

Warsaw has only one movie theater, and whileCampbell was growing up the closest McDonald's andnearest Interstate (I-70) were more than 40 milesaway. But Campbell says he never found town lifestifling. "I really appreciate having growing upin a place with such a strong sense of values andcommunity," he says "The downside to life in thesmall down, of course, is the gossip net-work."

Cooper says the town gossips didn't bother themmuch. The two friends spent many afternoons aloneat the Shawnee Bend golf course, playing thenine-hole layout. "At the beginning at least, wewere hack golfers, though Brad was on the highschool team. It was a good break from the rurallife."

JOAN CAMPBELL SAYS THE proudest she hasever been of Brad was when he was accepted atHarvard, though she was surprised at how liberalthe campus turned out to be. "I always hadassociated Harvard with [John F.] Kennedy ['40],whose values were basically traditional," shesays.

Campbell worshipped and served as an usher atHarvard's Memorial Church until the minister, Rev.Peter J. Gomes, announced he was gay in Novemberof his first-year. "I don't consider MemorialChurch a Church at all," he says. "I find it hardto believe a homosexual can be minister andPlummer professor of Christian morals."

On Campus, Campbell quickly became a forceamong Harvard conservatives. Sumner Anderson '92says he knew Campbell was somethingD-9CAMPBELLPhoto Courtesy of Brad CampbellBRAD CAMPBELL '95 poses in front of a gunshop in Europe in 1993.