Lawmaker: On camping trip, Reagan ‘won my heart’

Early one morning in southern California, Ronald Reagan — with his shirt flapping open and shaving cream still on his face — won the heart of a future 13-term congressman.

"When I was younger the threat was basically stupid liberals and communists," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) recalled to dozens of young conservatives packed into a dining room in Washington on Thursday night.

ADVERTISEMENT
When Reagan ran for California governor in 1966, Rohrabacher was the high school chairman of Youth for Reagan, which faced disbandment because of a rival group. So the young activist sought an audience with Reagan himself.

At 2 a.m. he hiked up the long, winding driveway to Reagan's home on top of a hill in Palisades, Los Angeles, and camped in the candidate's backyard. Nancy Reagan popped her head out outside at about 6 a.m.

"Who are you?" Rohrabacher recalled her saying. He was holding a little sign reading, "Ronald Reagan Please Speak to Me."

After she promised to get him a meeting with her husband's campaign manager, Rohrabacher packed up his sleeping bag and headed down the driveway.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Rohrabacher heard behind him. Reagan himself was chasing him down the driveway, his shirt open, shaving cream still on his face.

"Well, if you can spend the night on my back lawn I can certainly spend a few minutes with you," Reagan told him.

"He won my heart — and by the way, Youth for Reagan was not eliminated," Rohrabacher said, smiling.

Rohrabacher later worked on Reagan's 1976 and 1980 campaigns as assistant press secretary, then in the White House as a speechwriter and special assistant to Reagan for seven years.

Watch Rohrabacher's full speech at the Young America Foundation's annual young conservative conference here.