Thursday, October 25, 2007

Flashback: Limping and Footsore after West Virginia, Hubert Discovers His Favorables Have Slumped in Minnesota and Has to Raise Money for 1960 Reelection…Gene Places Adlai in Nomination, Freeman Nominates Kennedy and State Holds Firm for Hubert.

Flashback: More than fifty years of politics written for my kids and grsandchildren.

Three Way Split.

It’s a regular phenomenon. After a candidate loses a national presidential bid, his standing starts to slump in his home state. So it did with George McGovern after 1972 as it did with Humphrey in Minnesota in mid-1960. Hubert’s loss in West Virginia…a stellar event played high on all the networks and newspapers…caused his standing to fall precariously in Minnesota where he had to face reelection in November, 1960. Minneapolis had a Republican mayor, P. Kenneth Peterson, who sounded staccato, almost as good as Hubert. Hubert had to regroup quickly and start raising money for his reelection. He told JFK that he was sure he would win the nomination but as his own reelection was up, he couldn’t alienate Adlai Stevenson voters in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Bobby Kennedy was anxious to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles.. He asked Sargent Shriver to Gene McCarthy to see if Gene would support Kennedy. Shriver delegated a friend, Walter T. Ridder, Washington correspondent for the Ridder newspapers (which published the St. Paul evening and morning papers), who was personally close to JFK, McCarthy and Hubert, to sound McCarthy out. Ridder did. McCarthy flatly refused to do so. Ridder recalled later: “He didn’t say why but I gathered he didn’t think Kennedy had been a very good senator or a very good Catholic and he just didn’t like him personally.”

Privately McCarthy knew what he would do. He told a friend of mine: “I’m going for Hubert on the first ballot—that’s for Minnesota. And Stevenson on the second ballot—that’s for my staff. Finally Kennedy on the third ballot—that’s for Old Joe.”

The Kennedy people, wanting somebody from Minnesota to place him in nomination, started courting Orville Freeman, the governor in hopes of getting him to turn over Minnesota’s 31 delegate votes to Kennedy at the convention. Freeman was planning to run for a fourth term but was in dire shape in Minnesota due to a Republican comeback. Sargent Shriver and Ted Sorenson came to Minnesota to try to get him to get on the Kennedy bandwagon and talked to Freeman until 4 in the morning.

Freeman and his wife Jane flew to Illinois and went to the Stevenson farm in Libertyville to see how Adlai felt about seeking the presidency one more time. They found him typically indecisive. So, dejected, they returned without a candidate. Hubert told them (a) he felt Kennedy would be nominated but (b) Freeman should keep the Minnesota delegation free from commitment to Kennedy. “Once they got you in their pocket, they’ll ignore you,” he said. “Let’s keep Minnesota up in the air for a little while and we might get some national attention for all of us.” It may have been a wrong move for Hubert because by doing so he might well have foreclosed a chance to run with Kennedy for vice president—but Hubert never agreed, believing there was no reason why JFK would want him since both of them were northern liberals. But it was never offered. Moreover, Muriel Humphrey was embittered at the West Virginia charges about her husband trying to avoid the draft and she prevailed on Hubert to arbitrarily decide not to run for anything that year but reelection.

This was a rather different convention because Humphrey’s and Freeman’s wives got involved and went with their husbands often during the dickering at the convention. They started out as fast friends—Muriel Humphrey and Jane Freeman—but they were tussling with each other. Muriel wanted to punish Kennedy for what his people said about Hubert’s draft problem; Jane Freeman wanted her husband to sometime get out of the shadow that he had been under as a Humphrey assistant.

A key liberal operative, Joe Rauh, Jr., head of the ADA had been a strong Humphrey backer in West Virginia but switched to Kennedy. He was sent on an errand to Los Angeles and tried to look Humphrey up at his suite at the Statler-Hilton, to get Hubert to endorse Kennedy and seek to become vice president. He knocked on Humphrey’s hotel room door and there was no answer. Then he heard Humphrey’s laughter coming from the room. Humphrey fund-raiser Pat O’Connor opened the next door to the suite, saw Rauh and tried to slam the door to avoid him. Rauh caught the door before O’Connor could close it and wedged his foot to that O’Connor couldn’t shut it. O’Connor, unable to free his foot, tried to block O’Connor from coming in. Rauh swung a fist at O’Connor and missed. O’Connor swung back, hitting Rauh on the chin. But before O’Connor could finally slam the door, Rauh saw that inside the room was Hubert, Lyndon Johnson, Texas governor John Connally and Jim Rowe, a former Humphrey adviser who was also close to Johnson. Rauh decided they were trying to put together a stop Kennedy move on the convention floor. But interesting as it was, Rauh had to look up a doctor because O’Connor had dislocated his jaw.

Inside the room there was desperate last minute parley to stop Kennedy. Humphrey told LBJ that “Muriel would divorce me if I ran with Kennedy.” Muriel who was in the room nodded vigorously but she was grinning. She also opposed Freeman’s attempt to swing Minnesota over to Kennedy. Johnson asked if he thought he could stop Kennedy. Humphrey said yes but suggested that he should make a deal right then to name Gene McCarthy as his vice president. “The man to run for vice president on your ticket is Gene McCarthy,” he said. “He’s the guy for you. But you’ve got to promote him.”

Meanwhile, Stevenson at long last decided to run. Kennedy’s people calculated that they almost had the nomination sewed up except for California (81 votes) and Minnesota (31). Kennedy met with Gov. Freeman on the day of the balloting and said he would give Freeman top consideration for vice president if he could have Minnesota’s votes. Freeman went to Hubert and said. “Com’on, Hubert. I’ve done everything for you this far—from helping you become mayor of Minneapolis to Senator to running for president. Now let me have my turn.” Then their wives got into it. Jane Freeman said, “Hubert, you can’t act like a big pig and control everybody’s future destiny as you have for more than ten years, running Orv around like a galley slave!” Muriel counted: “What? Orv is governor today because of Hubert—remember that, young lady!” Their husbands pleaded with them to quash it.

“Tell you what,” said Hubert. “I’ll urge the Minnesota delegates to support you [Orville Freeman] for vice president and maybe that’ll sweeten it so they’ll nominate you.”

Freeman thought that would be a good deal but Jane Freeman—the tougher negotiator—said: “No, there’s no percentage in that. Kennedy needs the votes to get him over the top and the only chance Orv will get if he you release them.”

They broke up at this point and Humphrey said he’d think about it. He did, talked with Muriel, got her calmed down and then decided to back Kennedy. No sooner did he decide than there was a knock on the hotel suite door and it was Gene McCarthy who came in to visit with both Humphreys, Hubert and Muriel..

McCarthy had the perfect solution which turned Hubert back to his and Muriel’s original proposition of not backing Kennedy.

McCarthy said: “Hubert, I understand you’re going to throw in with the Kennedys. I think that’s the right decision. I’ll go to Kennedy with you and we’ll kneel down and seek absolution together. All those stories about Bobby bringing FDR Jr. into West Virginia and calling you a slacker—they’re totally unfounded!”

That irony inflamed Muriel again and she said no, by god, they’re not going to do it. Hubert agreed. That was Hubert’s final position at the convention. McCarthy said Hubert might want to consider placing Adlai Stevenson in nomination even though Stevenson didn’t have much of a chance. Hubert said: no, too much sour grapes. But he was seriously thinking about letting the Minnesota delegation go to Stevenson. Then Kennedy called Freeman—who was always a dog on a leash begging to be let go so he could endorse Kennedy and maybe land the vice presidential nomination. Kennedy told Freeman: “I’ll let you place me in nomination if you can get Hubert to pledge that he wouldn’t make the nominating speech for Stevenson”

Freeman came running back to Hubert and said: “Kennedy will let me make the nominating speech for him—and maybe I’ll get the vice presidential nomination. Will you for the love of God let me go? Will you let me tell them that you won’t nominate Stevenson?”

“Tell you what,” said Hubert. “Yes—but I won’t be bound by that pledge until I see on the news ticker that you’ve been picked to nominate Kennedy.”

Hubert met with the Stevenson people and told them since the Catholic Kennedy picked a Minnesota Lutheran, Freeman, to nominate him, why didn’t Stevenson, a Unitarian, pick a Minnesota Catholic, Gene McCarthy to nominate him now that Stevenson had finally decided to run? The Stevenson people agreed so McCarthy was picked.

And Muriel Humphrey said to her husband: “That’s fine. Now keep the delegation firm for you even if you’re not running. Don’t give that [explective meaning Kennedy] any of our votes.”

That’s exactly what happened. McCarthy announced his support for Stevenson at the Minnesota caucus and sat down to write the nominating speech—which incidentally proved to be the best speech he ever made…and the best convention speech journalist Robert Novak said he ever heard in his life. Freeman wrote his for Kennedy. And the Minnesota delegation told the Kennedy people that they weren’t for sale or rent by Old Joe.

“I love it!” said Muriel.

Thus Minnesota played a climactic role in the convention (as it had in the Republican one of 1960 with Walter Judd’s keynote). Hubert kept his faith with Muriel and his own conscience and the state at his direction didn’t go for Kennedy. He released Freeman to place Kennedy in nomination (Freeman not getting the vice presidential nomination and losing reelection as governor but becoming Kennedy’s agriculture secretary). McCarthy placed Stevenson in nomination. He made notes and talked it over with his former aide Larry Merthan and said, “I think it’d be good to ask them not to turn their backs on this man [Stevenson].” Merthan nodded but thought it over.

Before he ascended the convention rostrum, Merthan, grabbed his shoulder. He said: “No, don’t say they shouldn’t turn their backs on Stevenson. It sounds too much ike Dean Acheson saying he wouldn’t turn his back on Alger Hiss.”

McCarthy said: “All right.” So when he changed it to: “Don’t reject this man.”

Of all the speeches McCarthy gave it was most radically different and unlike anything else he ever gave because it wasn’t scholarly but emotional. He asked delegates to nominate no one on the first ballot. He told them Stevenson did not claim greatness nor seek power for himself—a thrust at Kennedy. The windup, entirely ad lib was: “And so I say to you Democrats here assembled: Do not turn away from this man…Do not reject this man who has made all of us proud to be Democrats. Do not reject this man who, his enemies said, spoke over the heads of the people but they said it because they didn’t want the people to listen. He spoke to the people. He moved their minds and stirred their hearts and this was what was objected to. Do not leave this prophet without honor in his own party. Do not reject this man.”

The speech was the highpoint of the convention but a few hours later Kennedy received the nomination on the first ballot over his nearest challenger Lyndon Johnson with 806 votes, Johnson’s 409 and Stevenson’s 79-1/2. But Mississippi’s John Stennis, in his cups, chorted: “You gotta give old Hubert credit! One of his boys nominates Kennedy, one of his boys nominates Stevenson and the state delegation sticks with him to the end!”

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