Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Flashback: Humphrey Tosses a Reverse-English Slider in Mid-Winter Special Election

[More memories of almost fifty years ago in Minnesota politics].

While down in the dumps after the disastrous and expensive television show which, we feared, could well have sealed Quie’s doom, I received a phone call from my patron. I almost feared to take it. On the other hand, she couldn’t have seen our abortive telecast in exurban Wayzata so I grabbed the receiver and said, “hello?”

“Good news!” said Mrs. Elizabeth Heffelfinger. “I knew you would spell the difference when you went down there!”

How cruel can you be? I thought. But she burbled on.

“I’ve had an inside look at the Minnesota poll which will be published in the [Minneapolis] Tribune Sunday!” She had a close relationship with John Cowles, Sr., the publisher. “It shows Quie ahead by ten points. That’s wonderful given no one really knew who he was when he started running. That’s really your doing, darling so I wanted to congratulate you for being a smart kid. Did you ever get a Minnesota drivers’ license?”

Yes, I said, but I can’t believe it. She read the numbers and the analysis. The writer said that the preponderance of Republican votes in the 1st was due to its Republican heritage dating back to when Augie first ran in the Depression. I still couldn’t believe it. He added that DFLer Gene Foley’s dependence on labor union support meant he had to take a heavy pro-union line which seemed to be anathema in the rural and small town 1st. No, it didn’t sound right to me. We had been getting reports that Foley’s meetings—especially the ones where Hubert Humphey and Gene McCarthy would introduce him—were outdrawing us.

“Well, are you saying you know better than the Minnesota Poll?” she said, miffed that I wasn’t exhilarated. I said no—but it’s hard to believe.

“And that’s not all,” she added. “I have the private poll here from General Mills, the NorthStar which was taken especially for Peavey and me. It has Quie ahead by twelve. Ten point in one, twelve in another. When is that special election—ten days from now?”

No. Closer than that. Next Tuesday.

“Grand. Peavey and I want to throw a celebration bash for the campaign. I understand Quie doesn’t drink. A shame. But we’re having some people over and you can tell them what went on. Let’s plan it on the next day—Wednesday.”

First, I said, there’s something scary to me about planning a victory party.

“Oh pooh. You’re an old fogy for somebody who’s only 29.”

Second, if Quie does win, the major credit should go to Ed Viehman his campaign manager.

“Double pooh. He’s an old guard reactionary. He was for Bob Taft for God’s sake.”

Brad, I’ve seen `em all and he’s a genius. Com’on. I can’t go without him being there.

“All right. Will he regale us with stories from the Birch society?”

Brad, he’s not like that. He’s the best thing this state has had—since, of course, you and Peavey.

“Hmm. I hear he really [double worded explective] the TV show.

No. It was an act of God. I’ll tell you about it when I see you.


As soon as he heard, Viehman stormed into my office. Humphrey was holding a news conference at the Kahler hotel in a half-hour. Could I slip in? My days of slipping in news conferences were over since I was pretty well identified—but I’d go: they couldn’t very well kick me out. But I’d be the goat.

“No one fits the part better,” he said.

As he walked into the news conference, the junior Senator spotted me sitting in the back. He was uncharacteristically subdued. He began without the usual back-slapping of campaign aides.

We in the DFL have a policy of sharing not just good news but difficult news for us, he said somberly. The difficult news will cheer Mr. Roeser here, who is auditing us but we’ll share it anyhow. Our personal poll shows that the 1st district is still a horse-race but that we haven’t so far been able to close the gap that we would have liked to. We’re still seven points down. I’m distributing the poll now. I am told that other polls that have been taken report similar findings. But seven points is not insurmountable. I was ten points under Joe Ball when we went into Election Eve in 1948 and Harry Truman was so far down against Dewey that year that pollsters stopped taking them.

Let me say and Mr. Roeser better put this down in his notebook and get his track shoes on because we’re going to run his millionaire farmer candidate who inherited his spread out of this district with the facts that despite how well he has done with the Benson program, our neighbors have been suffering. And let me tell him along with all of you: this campaign to elect Gene Foley has just begun. I have never seen a better candidate and we will take the issue of slumping farm prices, an economy that rewards the haves and provides short-shrift for working men and their families…Now let me introduce the next Congressman from the 1st district, Gene Foley, who will outline a progressive program for small business…

I went back to Quie headquarters where Viehman was on the receiving end of phone calls cheering the good news that Humphrey released. He hung up, waved other calls to the campaign staff and said, “what do you think?”

I said Humphrey’s setting us up. It’s a standard DFL tactic. We’re not ahead and he’s hoping our volunteers will slow down or quit while his people, the labor union and Farmers Union people, will work even harder. It’s a setup. They did it in 1946 when they elected Fred Marshall over Harold Knutson who was chairman of Ways and Means. Humphrey who was state DFL chairman virtually tossed in the towel. It encouraged our people to relax. Marshall became national news for beating the highest ranking congressional Republican in the state. Same thing here I think. He’s trying to encourage Republicans to stay home by the fire in the coldest winter in years.

“I think so, too,” he said. “But why are the polls so bad for them?”

They’re not. The Trib poll is run by a DFLer who knows how to weight the numbers. NorthStar, although owned by General Mills, is run by a liberal Ph.D who worked in the Ag Department under Truman.”

That’s all I need to hear, he said. Call me a news conference. Which I did but it didn’t get Humphrey’s attention.

Early the next morning as the papers said Quie Leads Foley in House Race, Viehman held the news conference.

This race is not only close, said Viehman, contrary to what you heard from Hubert Humphrey Gene Foley is ahead. We can close the gap but only if our volunteers—and we have only volunteers while they have paid union and Farmers Union organizers—don’t listen to that siren call and syrupy blandishments from the junior Senator. Accordingly, I’m getting in my car as soon as we’re finished and am going to visit all fourteen counties in this district and am going to meet personally night and day with the campaign chairmen. Here is the schedule.

It showed that he would meet with Winona county at 8 p.m., Mower county at 10 p.m. and Winona county at midnight with the schedule beginning at 7 a.m. in Rice county, 8 a.m. in Goodhue, 10 a.m. in Olmsted. On and on. The press gasped. Lindroos the driver did, too until he was told he would have a sidekick driver to ride along and take over while Viehman dozed in the back seat. Moreover it started snowing again.

At 3:45 a.m. on election day, Viehman came into the office, kicking the snow off his boots and pulling off his commissar-style fur cap, waking me up and giving me marching orders for getting out the vote. I was to drop the press gig for that day and stay on the phone with county chairmen nagging them to get out the vote using every panicky word I could. All of us worked round the clock, taking brief naps in the office. I was to concentrate on the labor counties: Freeborn where Albert Lea was the county seat, Mower, with Austin the heart of the Hormel plant and Winona with two liberal Catholic colleges.

“Aw, gosh, Roeser,” said the chairman of Winona, an economics Ph.D at St. Mary’s, “Viehman was just here raising hell and the specter of everlasting socialism under Humphrey and Foley. Now you’re calling me every ten minutes. I tell you, we’re way ahead here.”

It was an election night counting the ballots—all paper and hand-marked, that lasted until 9:30 the next morning as all night the TV and radio exulted that the Democrats have unleashed a “last minute surge.” By 9:30 with the snow melting, the sun out, it was announced officially that Quie had won by 411 votes. The Dems trotted out their pet young lawyer, Fritz Mondale to urge a phony recount but there was no vote fraud in the pure 1st district. And the national reporters at the Kahler wrote that a once solid Republican district had just barely tipped Republican by the narrowest margin, repudiation indeed for Dwight Eisenhower. When they got around to it, they said that the district’s new Congressman, Albert H. Quie, was only elected by a hair due to hyper-energized volunteers who beat back paid organizers. We lost Mower by 20 votes, Freeborn by 200 but we were scheduled to lose them heavily. The economics professor chairman in Winona “Gosh, I don’t know where those Democrats came from. They just kept coming!” But we carried it narrowly. It seemed Irish Catholics liked the idea of Gene McCarthy and Gene Foley visiting them. Surprise.

While he didn’t negate the possibility of a recount winning for him, Gene Foley, a class guy, conceded anyhow, conditionally on the results of the recount: but that was gamesmanship. Quie, another class guy and I rode over to his election night headquarters to shake hands. We were greeted fairly well but ruefully. Gene McCarthy had vamoosed rather than face the music after an Irish Catholic Democrat lost—but Humphrey was there.

As Quie and Foley grinned and shook hands for the photos, I stood next to Humphrey and called him quite forgetfully by first name for the first time.

“You almost turned it around, Hubert with that reverse English,” I said.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well it worked when you pulled it for Fred Marshall in the 6th.”

“Fred was always ahead.”

“Then why did you tell everybody Knutson was ahead?”

“I liked you better when you were at the St. Cloud Times.”

Later, when we parted he said, “See you in Washington.”

What do you mean?

“If Quie doesn’t take you with him he’s dumber than I think. Remember we have a re-match with Foley and Quie this coming November so enjoy working for a Congressman while you can..”


“I see why you were pessimistic,” said Mrs. Heffelfinger on the phone. “But congratulations anyhow! We’re having the party Wednesday. Lots of people and you can bring your Mr.--.”


“Bring him along. I must admit from what I’ve been hearing Viehman and you saved the day with that last-minute drive-around.”

Viehman did.

“Oh stop. I only hope you’re not catching his conservative views.”

Me? Conservative?

I was exhilarated. We saved the 1st district and I wanted to resume my campaign to get Congressman Walter Judd to prepare to run against Humphrey in 1960 and to find a really good candidate to run for Governor that same year against Orville Freeman. At the party I drank a bit too much and trundled to bed in the coach house of the mansion.

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