This is how deeply rooted John Von Kannon is in the conservative movement: At the age of 15, growing up in Indiana, he organized the first precinct in the state to campaign for Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona as the Republican nominee for president in 1964.
“My grandfather, who was a coal miner, said that if the Republicans nominated Goldwater, he would be the right man for the job, and that was good enough for me,” said Von Kannon, now vice president and senior counselor at the Heritage Foundation.
Goldwater, the darling of conservatives at the time, did win the nomination that year, but he lost badly to President Lyndon Johnson in the fall, though he did carry the county where Von Kannon started his campaign in Indiana.
Undeterred by the setback, Von Kannon went on to Indiana University, and when he was a senior there in 1972, he organized a petition drive to put conservative Republican Rep. John Ashbrook of Ohio on the state’s Republican primary ballot against President Nixon.
Nixon had famously declared in 1971 that “We are all Keynesians now,” and he had further irritated conservatives by instituting wage-price controls, Von Kannon recalled, so the Right looked to Ashbrook to carry its banner in the presidential campaign.
But finding conservatives on a university campus at the height of the antiwar movement was no easy matter. Von Kannon and his friends devised a plan that even “Tricky Dick” would have appreciated:
“We just set up shop in the student union and asked every student with long hair or a peace symbol if they wanted to sign a petition against Nixon,” Von Kannon told a receptive audience last week at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. “No one bothered to actually read the petition, so we were able to turn to the Left to help with the campaign of No Left Turns.”
Affectionately known as “Baron Von Kannon”—as he was listed for years on the masthead of The American Spectator, the conservative journal he began writing for in the 1970s—the Heritage Foundation veteran received the John Ashbrook Award for service to the conservative movement at CPAC last week.
Von Kannon’s service to Heritage has produced “phenomenal growth,” as the think tank described it in a news release. When he joined in 1980 as assistant to Heritage President Edwin Feulner for fundraising activities, the foundation had a budget of $4 million. After three decades in which Von Kannon was vice president and treasurer for most of the time, Heritage now operates on more than $80 million and has more than 700,000 members around the globe.
In 1988, Von Kannon left the foundation to become vice president of the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., and the following year he became president of Russell & Von Kannon, a marketing and consulting firm outside Chicago. He rejoined Heritage in 1991.
In 2009, he moved from vice president for development to his current position, focused on planning, messaging, mentoring, and public speaking.
This article appears in the Feb. 16, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.