A 91-day trek through Florida in 1970 made virtually unknown politician Lawton Mainor Chiles Jr. unbeatable.
Florida State Senator Lawton Mainor Chiles Jr. walks alongside the road during his campaign for US Senate in 1970.
While this year there are not one but two Florida politicians—Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush—front and center in the race for the presidency, in 1970, there was one Sunshine State politician who took hitting the campaign trail more literally than all others. In a successful bid for a spot in the US Senate, former Florida Governor Lawton Mainor Chiles Jr. trekked more than 1,000 miles from the Panhandle to the Keys, earning him the moniker “Walkin’ Lawton.”
Born and bred in Florida, Chiles stuck to his roots for his nearly 40 years in public office. Making his political debut at 28, the Democrat was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he held his post for eight years, until moving to the state Senate in 1966. Although Chiles spent a dozen years in the Florida legislature, his name lacked statewide recognition—until “the walk,” that is.
With the hope of acquiring a seat in the United States Senate, Chiles endured a 91-day journey on foot, stopping to speak with anyone and everyone he encountered along the way. This “man of the people” approach earned him the public appeal he craved and a place in national politics.
It wasn’t just his out-of-the-box campaigning that Chiles is remembered for, but his ability to “walk the walk,” as it were. Following 18 years as senator and eight as governor, Chiles (who never lost an election) gained a reputation as a fiscally responsible lawmaker (and the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee) with a solid respect for the voter, focusing on “sunshine laws” that mandate governments to make decisions public—not to mention that, through Chiles’s service, the Sunshine State’s population nearly doubled to 14 million. Chiles, in more ways than one, left tough shoes to fill.
Photography by: photography by State archiveS of florida, florida MeMory