It is all there—the good-natured crinkling around the eyes, the boyish if slightly pugnacious earnestness, the guileless grin that dispels all suspicion. It is space-age hero John Glenn’s look in 1974 just as it was wartime hero Dwight David Eisenhower’s in 1957. This year, as then, it was the look that many Americans yearned for.
The surprising thing, in fact, is not that John Glenn was finally elected to the Senate from Ohio, but that his victory took so long to achieve. All things considered, the tenacious former astronaut had less trouble getting himself blasted into a three-orbit journey around the earth than simply reaching Washington. When he first went after a Senate seat in 1964, two years after his historic five-hour voyage in space, he was kayoed by a fall in his bathtub. (It damaged his inner ear, which upset his ability to balance properly.) Six years later he was beaten in the Democratic primary by Cleveland businessman Howard Metzenbaum. Then last spring in a rancorous, gut-fighting campaign that sorely tested Glenn’s Mr. Clean image, he defeated Metzenbaum in a primary rematch and won by a landslide in the general election.
Today, at 53, Glenn is older and shrewder than the shiny political neophyte who once announced he wanted to start in the Senate because “that’s where there’s clout—why should I vegetate at the county commissioner level?” Not even a decade in the hurly-burly of Democratic politics in Ohio seems to have tarnished his armor much. In an age of cynicism toward most things political, Glenn seems capable of evoking trust. Even the blandness of his public pronouncements is more a boon to his career than a hindrance. Conservatives think he tends toward conservatism; liberals believe he’s really one of them. That curious ambiguity alone might qualify him as a spiritual successor to Ike. Quite properly, Glenn deflects all questions that deal with the Presidency. “I’m going to Washington to be the best senator I know how to be,” he answers automatically when the subject is raised. “That’s what I tell everyone who asks.” Then he grins.