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Landon Marks 100th Birthday, Looks Forward to ’88 Race

September 9, 1987

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Alf M. Landon, who turned 100 today, predicts a lively race for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination, an event ″I don’t want to miss.″

Landon, whose own White House bid in 1936 ended in an overwhelming defeat by President Franklin Roosevelt, said in his annual Associated Press interview Tuesday, ″I think it’s too early to pick a winner. But I predict it’s going to be entertaining.″

The former Kansas governor and the oldest of the GOP’s elder statesmen was to spend his birthday more quietly than he spent Sunday, when President and Mrs. Reagan came to Topeka to pay tribute and help him blow out a single candle on a cake shaped like an elephant, the symbol of the Republican Party.

Today, Landon accepted congratulatations from Vice President George Bush and received an old political antagonist, former New York Congressman Hamilton Fish Sr.

Bush called Landon to wish him happy birthday, a follow-up to President Reagan’s visit last Sunday. Landon said he told Bush he has been following his campaign for the Republican nomination for president with great interest.

Fish, who will be 99 next Dec. 7, arrived at the Landon home about 11:30 a.m. and spent about 10 minutes with Landon, whom he had opposed for the presidential nomination.

″You had a great career,″ said Fish, who’s making a cross-country automobile trip.

″My God, it’s good to see you,″ Landon told Fish. ″It brings back a lot of memories.″

Landon’s daughter, U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., spoke in the Landon Lecture series at Kansas State University, marveling at her father’s longevity and noting that his life had covered half the period since the Constitution was signed.

In Washington, the U.S. Senate marked the day by passing a resolution describing Landon as a man who ″remains the voice of wisdom with a unique perspective of American political history as the grand old man of the GOP.″

The only public event planned on his birthday was a midday party featuring free ice cream, cake and punch in nearby Gage Park, sponsored by local and state Republican officials.

On Tuesday, Landon sat in the cool shade of the porch of his large colonial-style home, reflecting on Sunday’s events and his life and times.

″I just want people to know what a great country we have here, and that so much of it is still undeveloped. There is still great opportunity here for people,″ Landon said.

Since losing the presidency, Landon said, he has devoted his life to speaking out to stimulate debate on issues.

″It meant no personal benefit to me, but I’ve tried to call attention to problems and sometimes offer possible solutions. Yes, I’m proud of the role I’ve filled,″ he said.

Gazing through blurred eyes onto the large lawn in front of the home he built after losing the presidential bid, Landon said Reagan ″did a swell job″ with Sunday’s party.

He said he also has high regard for the job Reagan has done as president. ″I don’t see how he could have dealt with all the problems he’s had to handle any better, and he inherited some of them,″ he said.

For years, Landon has given his assessment of world conditions. This year, for the first time, he declined, saying he’s ″just not informed enough.″ But he did say he anticipates a ″pretty lively race″ between Bush and Kansas Sen. Bob Dole in the Iowa GOP caucuses in January.

″I don’t want to miss it,″ he said.

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