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 begins a series remembering some of our favorite campaign one-hit wonders and asking: Where are they now?
First up: 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.