The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington
on the World Today
THE campaign of 1960 has begun earlier than any other campaign of modern times, and the Wisconsin primary on April 5 will offer a clue to the voters’ choices. Wisconsin, unfortunately, allows something no other state permits: crossover voting. Party affiliation does not have to be established by the voter, who is free to cast his ballot in the primary of either party. Although this is destructive of even a semblance of party responsibility, Wisconsin will have some effect on the choice of the Democratic Convention at Los Angeles in July.
Once Nelson Rockefeller bowed out and the GOP was left to Richard Nixon, the Vice President’s problem became clear: to defend the Eisenhower Administration’s record in terms of the peace and prosperity of its era, but to create a new image of a Nixon Administration which would not merely stand pat on the record but which would move forward to meet the problems ahead, both foreign and domestic. Nixon already is well embarked on this task.
The Democrats have been talking a lot about how hard it will be to defeat Nixon, since polls generally show Nixon running ahead of any Democratic candidate. But the nature of the Democratic attack on Nixon is not yet established and cannot be until the party’s nominee is known. Among themselves, the Democrats are not at all unhappy at being classed as the underdog at this stage of the campaign. Most of the party politicians are convinced that once the choice is clearcut between Nixon and a specific Democrat, the polls will begin to register the change. Nixon himself is aware of the danger of looking too good too early.
How does each of the Democratic hopefuls figure he might get the nomination? Here is a rundown of the current strategy in each candidate’s camp on the eve of the first meaningful primary. The order of listing is not significant.
Senator Kennedy, the front-runner
Senator John F. Kennedy is the front-runner so far in the polls. He must stay ahead, and therefore is in a go-for-broke mood. He has entered practically all the primaries which have any real effect on delegates to Los Angeles. He is campaigning back and forth, up and down, all over the nation, knowing that he must have the nomination all but cinched before the gavel calls the convention to order. Even if he should sweep the primaries, he would not have the 761 votes necessary to be nominated. Consequently, he must reinforce his primary wins with political power plays, and at this second problem he and his agents have been working unceasingly.
They succeeded spectacularly in Ohio by letting Governor Michael DiSalle know that if he did not run as a Kennedy-pledged head of the state delegation, the senator would enter the Ohio primary to challenge him with a slate of his own. DiSalle tested the state’s political temperature and concluded that he must either bow to Kennedy or run the risk of losing not only a primary contest but control of the state party machinery. He tried to argue Kennedy out of the primary, but the senator was adamant. So DiSalle capitulated and Ohio’s 64 votes were delivered to Kennedy.
Kennedy then proceeded to pull a similar power play in Maryland to capture its 24 votes. Conservative Governor Millard Tawes wanted to keep the state delegation free of commitments and tried to convince Kennedy to stay out of the primary. But in the end he, too, gave in. Kennedy’s tactics were somewhat different in Maryland, but just as effective as in Ohio.
The senator’s biggest problem is in four states with massive blocks of convention votes — New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois. New York Democrats have been so busy fighting each other that they have not had time to settle on a candidate. All the potential presidential candidates have gone to New York to show themselves off, and each of them has left feeling good about his chances. Somebody certainly is kidding himself, but it is probably not Kennedy. Even some of the party leaders who do not favor him concede privately that a sizable chunk of the 114 New York votes probably will go to Kennedy early in the convention balloting.
Pennsylvania Governor David Lawrence, one of the senior politicians in the party, continues to oppose the nomination of his fellow Catholic, Kennedy. One reason is his conviction that, when he was elected governor two years ago, he himself failed to get about 100,000 votes in areas of the state the politicians call “wasp” for short. This is a term for “white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant,” and it applies to half a dozen state-senate constituencies about which Lawrence is very much concerned this fall.
The lower house of the state legislature is Democratic-controlled, but, to put through his program, Lawrence must capture those statesenate seats this November in order to control the upper house as well. This may not be a reasonable basis on which to choose a presidential candidate, but the real question in terms of politics is whether Lawrence can hold his delegation for someone other than Kennedy.
Michigan will begin by voting for favorite son Governor Mennen Williams. But after that who will get Michigan’s votes? Williams was pleased at the way the senator handled himself when the two met at Kennedy’s home in Washington for breakfast during the January party get-together. The senator did not put the heat on Williams, as the governor had anticipated after the Ohio affair. Instead, Kennedy tried to show Williams that they agree on many issues.
The Illinois problem has been somewhat simplified for Kennedy by the decision of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley not to run for governor this year. Daley is a Catholic, and that would have made state leaders leery of overloading the ticket. But the nomination of a Protestant for governor does not automatically mean that the Illinois vote will go to Kennedy. The downstate minority is expected to go to Symington, who lives across the river in neighboring Missouri, and Daley is expected to start off by backing Stevenson.
Kennedy is trying to create internal pressures for second and third ballot votes for himself. At Los Angeles, his problem will be to break loose on each succeeding ballot a new batch of these second-choice votes, so that his total will keep edging up toward the majority figure. To be in a position to play this power game, he must do well in the primaries, proving that his religion, his youth, and any other controversial characteristics are not impediments to public approval.
Senator Humphrey’s chances
Kennedy’s only strong challenger in the primaries is Senator Hubert H. Humphrey. From the beginning, Humphrey has been looked upon as a very long shot. To have any chance at all, he must top Kennedy in a number of primaries, beginning in Wisconsin. But even a sweep would not guarantee the nomination, because many of the party leaders think that Humphrey is too liberal for 1960. Some observers think that Humphrey’s chief role is to knock out Kennedy, or at least to injure him enough in the primary voting that someone else could capture the prize. Humphrey is the party’s best orator and an indefatigable campaigner.
Much of Humphrey’s support comes from former backers of Stevenson. These party leaders, fearful of Johnson or Symington as too conservative or as inadequate for the presidency and worried that Kennedy would be defeated by bigotry, have gathered around Humphrey for the present. At Los Angeles they are likely to push for Stevenson as a compromise, though they do not disagree with Kennedy on issues.
Johnson, the compromiser
A year and a half ago, Lyndon B. Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader, commented, “I don’t think anybody from the South will be nominated in my lifetime. If so, I don’t think he will be elected.” Since then, however, he has been doing his best to be considered a Westerner as well as a Southerner, and he began in February to talk about “my candidacy,” though he avoided entering any primaries.
Johnson’s chances will depend largely on the record he creates — or is credited with or blamed for — in this session of Congress. He was much criticized for his attitude of compromise with the Eisenhower Administration in last year’s session. This year his tactics have been changing, though he still believes the nation’s mood is no more than slightly left of center, which he considers his own position. To judge from his start in the Senate this year, Johnson intends to support many more liberal measures than he has before. More important. he now is willing to toss at the President a number of key bills which he is sure that Eisenhower will veto. This strategy was urged by the liberal wing of the party last year, as a way of demonstrating party differences. The Democrats could attack Nixon by associating him with the Eisenhower vetoes.
Johnson by nature is a compromiser. and it is too early to be certain how far these tactics will go. Also, he has the problem of trying to get Speaker Sam Rayburn to jimmy Senate-passed bills through or around the conservative coalition which controls the Rules Committee of the House. There are signs that Rayburn will go further than ever before, in order to help Johnson.
The fate of a number of important measures — civil rights, aid to education, minimum wage and social security raises — will have a lot to do with Johnson’s chances at Los Angeles. The Southerners may rant and rail as Johnson votes on the same side with Kennedy, Humphrey, and Symington in the Senate, but at the convention they would be bound to support Johnson in preference to a Northern liberal.
Symington and defense
Whereas Johnson will have a big block of votes on the first ballot — Southern, Western, and a few from the North — Senator Stuart Symington’s opening tally will not be impressive. Nonetheless, many of the party professionals conclude that, after the smog clears in Los Angeles, the nominee will be Symington.
At the Democratic dinner in Washington in January, Symington was a hit, not for what he said but because he said it better than anyone expected. Symington has been working very hard to improve his speaking ability, but it will take more than this to overcome the doubts of those who do not consider him first-rate talent for the presidency.
Symington is an acknowledged defense authority, and defense will surely be an issue this year. But time after time, in public congressional hearings, the senator just never seems to sparkle with the sharp follow-through question. How much this lack is sensed around the nation is something else again, and it may be less of a bar than many in Washington conceive it to be.
Whether Truman will support Symington in the end is not yet clear, but it will be difficult for the former President to bypass the man from his own state. However, Truman’s support is often grossly overrated. He proved powerless to help Averell Harriman four years ago, and the younger men in the party are more determined than ever to wrest control from the old-timers.
What about Stevenson?
The latest political fashion is to say that Adlai Stevenson is one of those hard-luck candidates, like Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, and Thomas E. Dewey, who just cannot reach the White House. Figures are cited too: like Bryan’s and Dewey’s, Stevenson’s total vote on his second try was less than that on his first.
But Stevenson is executing the only possible strategy which might get the nomination for him this time. He is working mightily to discourage any primary support, any delegate pledges, any draft movement before Los Angeles, and to do so in a way that will permit and encourage a genuine draft if the convention finds itself deadlocked.
Stevenson has refused an offer to be one of the Illinois delegates. Despite denials to the contrary, he will have early ballot support from the bulk of the Illinois delegation, which is under control of Chicago Mayor Daley. These votes will give him a base on which to build. Stevenson may seem a long shot now, but his chances are far from impossible in July.