WASHINGTON - All these years later, Mike Huckabee still avoids touching the glass when he opens a door. He remembers a thankless task at JCPenney's as a teenager, scrubbing away fingerprints only to have customers smudge the glass all over again.
Mitt Romney worked in a sewage pipe on an Idaho ranch when the effluent was still flowing. In Alaska as a post-grad, Hillary Rodham Clinton spooned the guts out of fish.
Let it not be said of the presidential candidates that they've never done an honest day's work.
Today they are officeholders past or present, governors, members of Congress, a mayor, and for the most part they are rich to very rich.
Once they were a haberdasher, a landscaper, a bouncer at a drag strip, a gofer at a textile mill. Whether children of privilege, the burbs or tiny towns, they've worked hard at crummy jobs, in a distant past remembered as if it were yesterday.
The Associated Press asked them to talk about their worst jobs in a series of interviews exploring their personal side. They also named foods they hate, cracked favorite jokes on cue, spoke of keepsakes, reflected on what they do on a rare lazy day, and more.
They answered with relish - sometimes spoiled relish long past its best-before date - when asked about lousy jobs.
"Backbreaking work," Democrat Bill Richardson said of his summer of laying sod on Cape Cod. A banker's son and Tufts University sophomore, he worked for a meager wage to cover room and board while pitching in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 1967. "The pay was terrible," said Richardson, now New Mexico governor. "And I think the minimum wage at the time was under two dollars." (It was $1.40 or less, depending on the work.)
Republican Fred Thompson, son of a used car salesman, remembers his years before law offices, Hollywood and the Senate. "Well, let's see," he said. "I've worked in a factory, I was a bouncer at my uncle's drag strip, I worked at the post office, I sold children's shoes, I sold ladies', I sold men's clothing, I was a night clerk at a motel.
"I can't think of a job that I had that I wasn't thankful for at the time."
Romney never went begging for dollars - his dad was head of American Motors and governor of Michigan. But the Republican presidential candidate got up close and personal with sewage while spending time at his uncle's spread, doing chores at age 15. He said he spent a week on his assigned task of cutting the sewage pipe.
Middle class in her youth, Hillary Rodham was already on a promising track when she spent the summer of 1969 working her way across Alaska. The year before, her commencement speech at Wellesley College in defense of war protesters was such a hit she was featured in Life magazine.
In Alaska, she washed dishes in Mount McKinley National Park, the better of two brief menial jobs that financed her travels. "My worst job was sliming fish in a fish cannery in Valdez," she said without hesitation.
The Democratic New York senator elaborated on this in her memoirs: standing in bloody water in knee-high boots on a pier removing salmon guts with a spoon; supervisors yelling when she didn't slime fast enough; switching to the packing line where she reported spoiled fish to the boss, who soon fired her.
In her husband Bill's hometown of Hope, Ark., another presidential aspirant worked two jobs at age 14. Huckabee remembers his gig at a radio station with fondness; his department store stint, not so much.
"When I worked for JCPenney it was a great job and it was a great company but they worked me hard," Huckabee told AP's Online Video Network while campaigning at a college tailgate party in Columbia. "Just as I'd get all the fingerprints wiped off the door, somebody would come and they'd put their hands all over the glass.
"To this day, I'm still very sensitive about never touching the glass, but touching the handles, because I had to wipe those windows so many times."
Democrat John Edwards, who made his own wealth as a trial attorney, had awful cleaning duties earlier at the textile mill where he worked summers and part-time during school.
"I cleaned out overhead in the weave room," he said, his eyes raised skyward and arms clawing the air as he talked about where all the junk goes. "And I' d be up there climbing around, knocking the stuff down. And it would go down on the looms. The weavers would be, uh, not happy with me for that.
"And the other part of that job was mopping out from under the looms - the grease."
Republican John McCain, son of an admiral, had post-grad employment unlike most - war. The Navy pilot landed in a vicious Hanoi prison and has no complaints about other circumstances of his youth: "I've never really had a bad job."
Democrat Barack Obama cleared a construction site for a summer on Manhattan's Upper West Side while attending Columbia University. But he says his worst job was scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins because he ate too much of it. Republican Rudy Giuliani weighed the priesthood and medicine before pursuing law.
Democrat Chris Dodd did construction work for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. He counts his job selling clothes in a haberdashery as his worst job.
"It was boring," he said. And the boss? "We used to call him the good thief."
AP writers Ann Sanner in Washington and Mike Glover in Iowa contributed to this story.