Thursday, July 6, 2006

Flashback: Minnesota Republicans Concentrate on the Governorship With Humphrey in Temporary Decline…Judd Explores Running for the Senate…Augie Shows How it Was Done in the 19th Century…and Fritz Enters the Scene

[More memoirs from fifty years ago—1956--for my kids and grandchildren]

With Hubert Humphrey desperately striving to re-unite his fractionated party which he divided in the 1956 presidential primary by endorsing Adlai Stevenson and trying to ram him down the throats of his grassroots workers, we thought it would be advisable to concentrate on trying to elect a Republican governor against Orville Freeman, Humphrey’s cohort who had been trying to build a boss-type organization in a state that deeply resented those tactics. Also to take advantage of Humphrey’s weakness and try to find a good Republican candidate to oppose him in 1960, when Humphrey would try for his third term.

The governorship was too big a meal for us to swallow in 1956 although Augie Andresen gave us a hot tip which we used to effect. Augie was riding in his car turning the pages in his hometown newspaper, the Red Wing Republican Eagle when he came upon an AP dispatch of a speech Governor Orville Freeman made in the hard-pressed northern part of the state. He was stressing the hardship of the farmers caused by the Ezra Taft Benson program and in a moment of complete excess pronounced that state farmers were living in a condition of “misery and terror.” Augie knew farmers better than any other group and told me that this was an insult, not unlike comparing U. S. farmers to serfs in the USSR. I was doubtful that the comparison was that strong but we turned out a speech for our candidate, Ancher Nelsen, condemning the quote. The reaction among farmers were terrific. “Misery and terror” seemed to them to equate them with the underclass of peasantry. Emboldened by the response, we started to drive it home and mention it in every speech. Freeman started to back up. Once again, Augie Andresen was astute. He helped us in the southern part of the state by using the quote.

Good as it was, it wasn’t enough. Farmers were definitely hurting and not impressed with the Ezra Taft Benson program. With Nelsen stuck in the ratings, I did several other things: one of which was to visit with Congressman Walter Judd, now on the upswing in the 5th district, to see if he would be interested in running against Hubert Humphrey in 1960. It turned out he was. Judd’s predicament was that he would always have a tough go in Minneapolis which was growing in labor union intensity but he might very well be more popular across the state with his international reputation as medical missionary to China, a humanitarian and an expert on foreign policy. It turned out that he was definitely interested in seeking the Senate and I was thrilled. Here was the one candidate who could debate Humphrey tro a draw. But he had to adjust in order to be a statewide candidate.

I suggested that now was the time to start distancing himself from the Benson farm program which he supported as an urban congressman but which he needed to amplify into a more liberal program if he were to run across the state. Then I came cheek to jowl with Judd’s intransigence in support of principle. He said no, he believed in the Benson free market approach and that he would stand with it do or die. I said, “Com’on, doctor, can’t you give a little bit? You can continue with your admirable foreign policy stand which would be a tremendous contrast to Humphrey’s ultra-pragmatic foreign policy—but can’t you give us a little leeway?” He said, “I beg your pardon?” and acted as if I had invited him to visit a bordello. But I left with the attitude that even so, espousing the Benson program and all, he’d be a terrific candidate. And in a presidential year, given that we would have a good candidate and the Democrats a bad one, Judd could win. That would preclude Humphrey being the nominee for president which would deliver Minnesota hogtied for a favorite son. But I had the idea Humphrey wouldn’t make the cut. I certainly didn’t imagine that John Kennedy would, but I thought perhaps Stuart Symington of Missouri would be a candidate. Far wrong.

With Nelsen seemingly going nowhere running for governor, I turned the media over to a subordinate and went downstate to see how Augie, my favorite, was doing. I knew he would be doing fine but I hankered to savor his rural wisdom. I’m glad I went. This was an invaluable opportunity to see the last of the old time great Congressmen campaigning person-to-person in a style that had characterized House campaigns for one hundred and fifty years including the one waged by one Abraham Lincoln of Springfield, Illinois. There were very few differences. Augie did use television but very sparingly (and inexpensively). He had still photos of himself with a recorded voice-over. No films whatsoever. He had a few radio spots where an announcer read his bio and a few words. Otherwise the campaign he waged that year was entirely town-by-town. And the way he did it was intriguing.

He had the trunk of his second-hand used car (not his but one he used) filled with black and white placards reading “Reelect August H. Andresen”—catchy title, huh?—with a photo of him taken probably twenty years ago when his black hair was truly of his natural color (the black hair he had now was dyed, effecting a marked contrast with a weather-beaten old face with wrinkles like a road map). He had a quanity of handout cards for distribution saying the same thing with the same photo. He stacked the placards in the trunk and, with a driver armed with a map, headed down the highways with no definite schedule. He would come into town and drive to the main street, where they would park it and Augie would hightail it down the street, handing out his small cards to whomever he met. Quickly the word shot around town that he was in town. He would head for the central part of time—probably either a drug store or hardware. He would amble in and the proprietor would get excited, introducing him to all his customers. Quickly the word would spread through the town that Augie was in Finlayson’s Hardware Store so lots of people would crowd in there. Then Augie would conduct a colloquy with farmers and small businessmen about the condition of the country and the Congress.

As people jammed around him, some of shorter stature standing on their tip-toes to catch a glimpse of him, they would hear first-hand his views of the farm economy, how he was dissatisfied with Benson but not with Eisenhower…him ranging the spectrum through farm policy, economics, foreign policy (at which he was very good, by the way) and our challenge with the Soviet Union.

Then came the important part for Augie. He said to the proprietor that he had come to ask permission to put his placard in the store window. He asked very deferentially if he would be allowed to do so. The proprietor blushed and said, “of course!” Then Augie asked the proprietor and the crowd for their opinion as to where to put it up. Should he put it in the front window near, say, the other placards announcing the forthcoming speakers at Rotary? No, the proprietor would say, it has too much competition. Why don’t you put it on the other side of the front window? But, a woman would say, that’s where all the people look so the best place is with the other placards.

Someone else said, why don’t we take down the other placards and just put Augie’s there? No, Augie would say, that wouldn’t be fair. The discussion would go on for at least 20 minutes. I thought it was a terrible waste of time—but I was wrong. The townspeople were hugely involved in helping him put the placard where it would best be seen. And the word swiftly got out about the town meeting in the hardware store or pharmacy.

With the argument unresolved, Augie would walk slowly to his car at the curb, get out his key and open the trunk. He had about 1,500 placards in the truck which no one could see, but he took one out and held it lovingly in his hand as if it were a priceless artifact. Then he would gingerly carry it into the store where the owner would receive it tenderly. Augie said that on reflection he would leave the decision as to where to put the placard with the proprietor and the audience. He would then doff his fedora to the women, bid all goodbye and leave with the admonition, “Don’t let the sixth of November be the last of August!” It was the line they had waited to hear and had heard since his first race in 1934.

All the time he had runners racing through other stores and posting the signs with much less deliberation—but Augie made this central store the focal point. Then he’d go to the towns’ weekly newspaper, pull up a chair, cough up an asthmatic lunger and visit with the country editor, tilting the chair back and shoving the fedora to the back of his head as he would give the editor an inside view of the Congress which the editor would scribble down as the photographer would crouch and take a photo of him in the editor’s office.

There were no press releases. Augie hated them and thought they would give his campaign a canned effect, which of course they would. The question was, of course, were press releases more efficient—dropping one off town-by-town? I thought they were but Augie calculated that it was far more beneficial—and more conducive to better coverage—if he would do things his way. Frankly, the old gent was right for a press release would not have fit this icon from a bygone age.

At my insistence, Augie would add the radio station and consented to do an interview either on tape or live with the station manager or news director. He had not considered doing this until I got there but he was glad he did when as we were driving around, he would hear himself expounding on agriculture. He would move his lips silently to himself as he heard his voice and his face showed that a bit of ego was coming through the calculated humility. As that was the beginnings of television coverage, he would allow me to take him to the two stations there were in the district—in Rochester and Austin. I had called ahead and the news directors would film him or put him on live. Actually, to my amazement, Augie came across very well on television—just as good as Everett Dirksen did. Television respects one who is entirely himself and doesn’t put on airs and Augie was too wise an old man to try to make of himself something he wasn’t.

That was the beginning part of Augie’s campaign. The windup on the last week before election was a 14-car caravan with automobiles festooned with Augie posters, with local candidates riding along and Augie in the central closed car. They would go town-to-town in each county, the process taking several weeks…Augie getting out and walking through the town, volunteers circulating through the towns handing out fliers. In that one campaign I served with him, he delegated me to take my car and go ahead to the next town, the car outfitted with a loudspeaker. I would slow up and go through the town announcing, “See and hear! Meet and greet! Your Congressman, August H. Andresen! He’s due to be in the town square in five minutes!”

By the time he got there either I would introduce him with a statesman’s buildup, which he preferred, or if not a local candidate would insist on doing it, which he hated because he recognized that local candidates had their own enemies which he didn’t want to gravitate to him. So he would say, “why don’t you just go ahead, hurry up and do it before somebody suggests he do it. Forget the local guy and if he gets mad he gets mad at you but what the hell.” Many were mad at me but Augie got a good introduction from a stranger without a lot of homegrown enemies clustered around.


When election came around, Ancher Nelsen lost but not by all that much. It was an encouragement for the future when, with the farm issue behind us, we might win. We did take one state constitutional office, State Treasurer with Val Bjornson who had held the office earlier and who had given it up to run against Humphrey: meaning we had two state offices out of five. The election for Treasurer was close but decisive. The DFL though, insisted on a recount, which was done to put the victory in some public doubt. That was to be expected and we would have done the same thing. We hired lawyers, they hired lawyers and for the beginning of the hearing in court to decide whether or not there should be a recount (these were the days of paper, hand-marked ballots) the two parties had spokesmen to meet the media while the lawyers haggled backstage. I was the spokesman for our side and the DFL put up a young, newly-minted lawyer who had passed the bar earlier that year. He was the same age as I (six months older, actually) had been born in Ceylon, in southern Minnesota and had been the head of the College Republicans before he saw the light and signed up with the DFL about which he staunchly Republican father was displeased . The fact that he was drafted to be the spokesman was seen that he was “in” with Humphrey and Freeman. His name was Walter F. Mondale whom everybody called Fritz. He was a law clerk for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The negotiations lasted several days during which we had coffee and sweet rolls a number of times. I found Fritz to be engaging, very witty with a gift of mimicry and a wholesome irreverence—qualities that were never captured by the media in his long public service. If he had been able to wrest free from the frozen-faced Norwegian standoffishness which controlled him in public, he might have gone farther—not that he didn’t anyhow: state attorney general, U. S. Senator, Vice President of the United States, Democratic presidential nominee and ambassador to Japan. Running as nominee against Ronald Reagan was a terrible thing to happen to him. Later, at an advanced age, he tried a comeback but lost to a conservative Republican Senator, Norm Coleman: Jewish, Brooklyn-born, former Bobby Kennedy worker and mayor of Democratic St. Paul turned pro-life.

The idea of a Humphrey protégé, a former vice president of the United States losing to a St. Paul conservative Republican mayor was the final chapter in the end of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor liberalism, an unthinkable political occurrence as it seemed in those days—but done because Minnesota, always religious, embraced evangelical Protestantism along with tax cuts and put it to the service of the Republicans because the party of Hunphrey disdained conservative social issues: something Humphrey would not have done. It is significant to note that social conservatism when allied with tax cuts have been snuffed out in Illinois by Big Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan who embraced an alliance with the Democratic party and its social liberalism. A victory of social conservatism can and will come here as it did in Minnesota: but only when the last vestiges of Thompson-ism, anent Judy Baar Topinka, are wiped out.

Fritz and I intersected at various points in positive and negative capacities which I’ll talk about later.

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