“The Walk” Journal

In 1970, Lawton Chiles made the decision to run for the United States Senate. Although he had previously served in the Florida House of Representatives (1958–1966) and the Florida State Senate (1966–1970), Chiles had a low statewide name recognition level. Additionally, he was not personally wealthy and did not want to spend his days soliciting campaign donations or “dialing for dollars”, as he liked to call it. He had experienced enough of Florida’s political system to know that you quickly became “beholden” to those that gave you large contributions, a position he did not want to be in.

As he and his wife, Rhea, discussed a way to increase his name recognition as well as get news coverage for his candidacy, Rhea came up with the idea of walking the state of Florida. While friends and associates called him “crazy” for even considering the idea, Chiles warmed more and more to it.

Thus, Chiles embarked upon a 1,003-mile, 91-day walk across Florida from Pensacola to Key West. The walk earned him the recognition he sought, as well as the nickname that would follow him throughout his political career– “Walkin’ Lawton”. In this journal Chiles wrote that sometimes he walked alone, while other times he met ordinary Floridians along the way, totaling close to 40,000 people. In later years, Chiles would recall the walk allowed him to see Florida’s natural beauty, as well as the state’s problems, with fresh eyes. But he was most profoundly affected by his interactions with Florida’s people; he would claim that “the walk” changed him forever. After the walk, Chiles was elected easily.

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