Our Man Inside The Carter Administration

From Time to Thyme

By Paula Dunn

When I heard the sad news about former President Jimmy Carter entering hospice care, my thoughts automatically drifted back to Noblesville’s man in the Carter White House, Tim Kraft.

I never met him, but I sure knew his father, Dr. Haldon Kraft. Dr. Kraft delivered me and was my doctor through my high school years. Besides being a good doctor, Dr. Kraft was a very civic-minded individual.

Tim Kraft inherited his dad’s dedication to volunteerism and public service. After graduating from Dartmouth College with a degree in government in 1963, he spent two years with the Peace Corps in Guatemala.

He also inherited the family allegiance to the Democratic Party. Upon returning to the States, he entered the world of politics.

In the mid-1960s, he worked for Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and in 1970 he helped with the first (and unsuccessful) congressional campaign of future Indiana Congressman Phil Sharp.

The following year Kraft moved to New Mexico, where he’d trained for his stint in the Peace Corps. His work there as a consultant to the Bernalillo County Democratic Party led to him being named executive director of the New Mexico Democratic Party.

It was through his fund-raising efforts on behalf of the New Mexico Democrats that he met Jimmy Carter.

In the fall of 1974, Carter, who was then governor of Georgia, came to New Mexico to speak at a dinner for the Democratic candidate for governor of that state. During the visit, Carter let it be known he was planning to announce a run for the presidency in December.

When Carter returned to New Mexico in January as an official presidential candidate, Kraft arranged a two-day trip through the state for him and got to know him well.

Thoroughly impressed by the Georgia peanut farmer, Kraft kept in touch with Carter’s people in Atlanta after the visit. A couple of months later, he was hired as a full-time member of Carter’s campaign staff.

At that time, most people’s reaction to Carter’s candidacy was “Jimmy Who?

That soon changed, due in no small part to Kraft’s efforts. Put in charge of Carter’s Iowa campaign, Kraft’s tireless work resulted in Carter coming out on top at the Iowa caucuses and being recognized for the first time as a genuine contender for the presidency.

After Carter defeated Gerald Ford that November, Kraft was rewarded with the job of Appointments Secretary to the President. Tucked into a small cubicle next to the Oval Office, he acted as the President’s gatekeeper, organizing Carter’s daily schedules.

In 1978 Kraft was promoted to Carter’s inner circle of advisors, becoming the presidential assistant for political and personnel affairs.

The following year, when Carter was scheduled to address Hoosier Democrats at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Indianapolis, Kraft came with him. Members of Kraft’s family attended the event and heard Carter praise Kraft. They also got to meet briefly with the President after his speech.

(The fundraiser is now known as the “Hoosier Hospitality Dinner.”)

Two months later, Kraft was tapped to run Carter’s 1980 re-election campaign.

In September, 1980, right before the election, Kraft was accused of having used cocaine during his time as Appointments Secretary. Concerned that fallout from the accusation might damage Carter’s re-election bid, Kraft took a leave of absence from the campaign.

Like Hamilton Jordan, the other top Carter aide who’d been similarly accused a year earlier, Kraft was exonerated of the charge, but not until the following March, too late to try to help Carter remain in the White House.

Tim Kraft currently resides in New Mexico and, although his interest in politics has never waned, he leads a less hectic life these days.

Thanks to John Kraft and Bret Richardson for their help, and to Nancy Massey for additional research.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com