Poor Alan Schlesinger. The unanimous nominee of the Connecticut Republican convention for the U.S. Senate is stuck in single digits in the nationally-watched race between Democrat Ned Lamont and newly-minted independent, Sen. Joe Lieberman. The National Republican Senatorial Committee “won’t take Alan’s calls,” according to Schlesinger campaign manager Dick Foley, and State GOP Chairman George Gallo named as his top priorities in ’06 the re-election of Gov. Jodi Rell and the three GOP House Members from Connecticut, and retention of the Republican majority in the state senate.
Not a peep about Schlesinger, a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance and successful attorney, former six-term state legislator and mayor of Derby.
And possibly most devastating is the word from the White House that President Bush will stay neutral in the race. The President himself said this at a news conference and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow later explained to me that Bush was taking this position on the advice of state party leaders. He also said that there are cases of Presidents of both parties over the past three decades not supporting their party’s nominees for the Senate and promised the White House press corps he would compile a list of those cases.
It took a little time and some further pushing on my part, but Snow’s assistant Ed Buckley finally got me the list in question. It mentioned cases of Presidents not campaigning for Members of the House who supported key policies (Ronald Reagan promised in 1981 he would not campaign in the home districts against Democrats who voted for his tax cuts) and that of the elder George Bush not supporting Republican and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in the 1991 run-off for governor of Louisiana against Democrat Edwin Edwards.
But a Senate race? The last time cited by Buckley when a President gave the cold shoulder to his party’s nominee for the Senate anywhere was in 1970, when Richard Nixon blatantly stayed away from liberal Republican Sen. Charles Goodell of New York and all but endorsed Conservative Party candidate James L. Buckley (no relation to Ed). Actually, Nixon had a lot of company in that one: several Republican elected officials throughout the Empire State could not stomach Goodell, a vitriolic anti-Vietnam War liberal, and broke party lines for Buckley; my friend Gary Lee, later state legislator and U.S. Representative, was Tompkins County Republican chairman at the time and became the first GOP county leader in the state to bolt for Buckley. As Lee later recalled, “My family and I were having dinner at home that evening and [then-Gov.] Nelson Rockefeller, who had appointed Goodell [after the death of Robert Kennedy two years before] and, boy, did he chew me out!”
On October 21st, White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler announced that President Nixon would “refrain” from supporting fellow Republican Goodell and noted positively that Conservative Buckley was supportive of the Administration’s policies. A few weeks before, Vice President Spiro Agnew had announced “I will not support a radical liberal no matter what party he belongs to” and later denounced Goodell for seeking “flamboyantly and ceaselessly to openly divorce himself from our President and from the Nixon Administration.” On October 10th, Agnew again slammed Goodell as “the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party,” a reference to the first known American to get a sex change in Scandanavia.
On election day morning that year, President Nixon telephoned Buckley’s brother, columnist William F. Buckley, Jr. “I don’t know how you mackerel snappers [Roman Catholics] look at others,” Nixon told him, “But if a quiet Quaker’s prayer will help, you’ve got it.”
It worked. Buckley won with 40.2% of the vote, followed by Democratic Rep. Dick Ottinger with 36%, and Goodell third at 23.7%. For the last time in history, a third-party candidate was elected to the Senate.
As much as Buckley was more in tune with the Repubican mainstream than Goodell, some Republicans were a bit uneasy about a President abandoning his own party’s nominee and said so. Asked at a post-election press conference whether he would not support a Republican Senate nominee again, Nixon replied without hesitation: “Absolutely not.”
Ah, but he already did that year — and would again. Tony Snow and Ed Buckley missed this: Alan Schlesinger had two other lineal ancestors — both “pushed off the sled” by the President of their own party in Senate races.
Giving Garland the Byrd
In 1970, Nixon and the Republicans had high hopes for Virginia. The year before, Linwood Holton, a lawyer who had been a top Nixon-for-President campaign operative, had been elected the first Republican governor of the Old Dominion since Reconstruction. A moderate Republican who wanted to reach out to black voters, Holton had high hopes of building a muscular GOP in his state and running a heavyweight candidate for the Senate in ’70 against Democratic Sen. Harry Byrd, Jr., heir to the machine built by his legendary senator-father of the same name.
On March 17, 1970, Byrd stunned the state with the announcement he was leaving the party of his father and seek re-election as an Independent. Ostensibly, Byrd was bolting because of the new Democratic loyalty oath, which would require him to pledge support to the Democratic slate of electors and its presidential nominee in 1972.
But in his outstanding history of the Republican Party in Virginia, The Dynamic Dominion, author Frank Atkinson cites another reason: “It was clear that many conservative and middle-of-the-road voters no longer were inclined to participate in Democratic Party balloting and the resultant moderate-liberal domination of the party process placed Byrd’s renomination in doubt. . By running as an Independent, Senator Byrd could avoid those perils and seek the support of conservative Virginians of all political persuasions.”
Both President Nixon and Gov. Holton made invitations to Byrd to join the Republican Party, but he refused and would not pledge to vote for Republican control of the Senate. He would only say he would “welcome a Republican endorsement.”
“I like Harry Byrd personally but his thinking and my thinking are different — particularly on this race issue,” Holton recalled to author Atkinson years later, “but if he had come over and agreed to run as a Republican, the party clearly would’ve nominated him and I would’ve supported him. But the third party idea simply breaks up the two-party system and I would not support him [as an Independent]. And I insisted that the party not fall for that. . . “
As the convention approached, numerous young Republicans — including future State Party Chairman Dick Obsenshain and Gov.-to-be John Dalton began to question the wisdom of fielding a candidate against Byrd and Democratic nominee George Rawlings. But Holton electrified the convention with a speech, declaring: “I can’t believe we’ll do nothing. Doing nothing would be like having the biggest, shiniest, newest fire engine and not taking it to the fire.”
Holton’s “fire engine” speech worked. When Rep. Joel Broyhill (R.-Va.) took to the convention podium to appeal for a vote of no nomination, he was hooted and booed by delegates. President Nixon, who had met privately with Byrd to discuss his possible change of parties, had sent White House political operative Harry Dent to the GOP conclave in Richmond. “Shocked and amazed” was the way Dent later described the reaction he witnessed to the Holton speech: delegates rejected the no-nomination measure by a vote of 634.8 to 419.2 and then proceeded to nominate State Sen. Ray Garland, a 36-year-old college professor and Holton-style moderate, as their candidate for the Senate.
“I was far too young and inexperienced to run” Garland recently recalled to me, “I had no one to help me raise money and raise, oh, $25-30,000. Did the President and the national party support me? Absolutely not, although I have to say they did nothing hostile to us.”
Syndicated columnist Bob Novak was less gentle in his reminiscences. In his book Nixon in the White House, Novak recalled “Nixon did everything he could to help Byrd and hurt Garland, without actually endorsing Byrd. Garland was denied funds from Senate Republican Campaign Committee and Byrd was invited to San Clemente in the early summer of 1970, ostensibly to be consulted on Senate legislation but actually to have his picture taken with the President and published on the front pages the next day all over Virginia.
“If any doubt remained, this ensured Byrd’s victory, to the chagrin and detriment of Governor Holton’s budding Republican Party. Holton had been snubbed by the high command of his party despite his record; his progressive Senate candidate had been deliberately passed over for an arch-conservative Democrat-turned-Independent.”
Byrd won with 54% of the vote to 31% for Democrat Rawlings and 15% for Republican Garland. Byrd never voted for Republican control of the Senate, was again re-elected as an Independent in 1976, and retired in 1982. At 92, he is still going strong.
Holton would see his dream of a Republican Virginia come true — although its majority status was finally achieved through alliances with Byrd-like conservative Democrats that Holton was so wary of. Both U.S. Senators, two of the three statewide officials, a majority of its U.S. House Members and both Houses of the state legislature are Republican. The lone exception is the governor, liberal Democrat Tim Kaine, who is Holton’s son-in-law.
And Garland? He would serve many years in the state senate and make two unsuccessful races for Congress. Looking back to his ’70 race, Garland told me: “I should not have made the race. I had had a meteoric rise but was trying to go to fast. I had only myself to blame. Had I dropped out of the race, I would have saved a lot of wear and tear on my automobile.”
Asked about Schlesinger of Connecticut today, Garland swiftly acknowledged the similarities between himself and the candidate now abandoned by his president and party. But he also noted that the Democratic Party nationally is moving to the left and driving out more moderate party leaders, as it did in Virginia. “The shades of gray, they’re washed away,” he told me, “as Joe Lieberman found out.”
After several years of living outside his native Mississippi working for the Wall Street Journal, Gil Carmichael came home in the 1960s to launch a Volkswagen dealership in Meridian and to begin building a two-party system. At a time when the Republican Party in the Magnolia State was in the proverbial telephone booth, Carmichael made two losing races for the state legislature. He started to run for lieutenant governor in 1971 but withdrew from the race “because the support just wasn’t there for a Republican.”
But things were beginning to change in Mississippi. Young conservative business leaders — insurance man Wirt Yerger of Jackson, planter Clarke Reed of Greenville, and oilman-banker Billy Mounger of Jackson — were bringing money and volunteers into that Republican “phone booth.” As state party chairman in 1960, Yerger had articulated differences between the major parties — leading Democratic Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to single out “Mr. Yerger” in an address to state Democrats. In 1964, all three GOP leaders worked hard for Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid and that year, Goldwater swept Mississippi’s electoral votes by a margin of more than 7-to-1; the state’s 4th District was the only one in which Republicans fielded a candidate and chicken farmer Prentiss Walker rode Goldwater’s coattails to unseat a veteran Democratic incumbent and thus become the state’s first GOP Member of Congress since Reconstruction. Yerger recalled how people had talked to him about running against Democratic Sen. John Stennis that year “but I was too busy with my business and the state party. Had I run, I probably would have won.”
Those developments and his desire to build a two-party system were on Gil Carmichael’s mind in 1972, as he pondered a race against Sen. James Eastland, who had been in office since 1942 and was now the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But he had another motivation for running. As he recalled to me, “I was a moderate Republican — in other words, I wanted to win but do so with the support of blacks, who were beginning to vote. Democrats like Eastland had been the biggest champions of segregation. Eastland was just like [the late arch-segregationist Sen. Theodore]
Bilbo — fought every piece of civil rights legislation there was and freely said N-you-know-what. You know how we were always at the bottom of the lists for anything — job creation, education? Well, that’s just what Jim Eastland’s clout in Washington got us — being last all the time. We were like the butts of his cigars that he would ground out!”
But it was quite another personality that finally convinced Carmichael to run for the U.S. Senate — James Meredith, famed worldwide as the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi when the Kennedy Administration’s Justice Department stood forcefully behind him in 1962. Meredith had since lived in New York, earned a law degree from Columbia University, and briefly pondered a run for the Harlem congressional district of Democratic Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. Now he was coming home to Mississippi to oppose Eastland as a Republican.
“We in the GOP hierarchy considered Meredith’s move and said, ‘If we sit back, then James Meredith is automatically our nominee, therefore he will be our party’s candidate to run against Eastland,’” wrote Mounger in his memoirs Amidst the Fray, “We decided to oppose him, not because he was black, but just because he was simply a sensation seeker. The things he had done evidenced as much; he had filed for almost every office and advocated almost every kind of ridiculous proposition imaginable. Democrat or Republican, black or white, Meredith was not the person that either party wanted as their nominee.”
A group of party sachems gathered at Jackson’s Thompson Field behind closed doors, considered several candidates, and settled on Carmichael after he said “I’ll run.” He did and, in the first-ever statewide primary for Mississippi Republicans, the Meridian car dealer defeated Meredith with 80% of the vote.
Campaigning against Eastland, the GOP hopeful quickly found his party’s national leadership did not want him. When he went to the White House to have his picture taken with the President, fellow Mississippian and Nixon fund-raiser Fred LaRue escorted him into the Oval Office, the picture was snapped but, as Carmichael recalled, “We could never get it.” U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst came to Mississippi, had his picture taken with Eastland, and warmly praised the Democratic senator. Keeping a promise to friend Clarke Reed, Vice President Spiro Agnew came to Mississippi to campaign for Republican U.S. House candidates Thad Cochran and Trent Lott. Agnew wanted to support Carmichael as well but was ordered by the Committee to Re-elect the President: “All right, you can go to Mississippi. But you cannot have Gil Carmichael at any place where the public would know anything about it.” Carmichael accepted this and when Agnew held up the hands of Cochran and Lott at a rally in front of the Old State Capitol in Jackson, the GOP nominee for the Senate was looking down from the fifth story office of the state party.
“Agnew later sought me out and apologized for this,” said Carmichael, “He was a gentleman and said the people with CREEP were ‘bastards.’”
Eastland spent about $750,000 to Carmichael’s $150,000 — 25% of which was raised by conservative Mounger, who bristled at the nominee’s self-characterization as “moderate.” In the end, Carmichael got about 38% of the vote.
This was Eastland’s last race. When he retired in 1978, he was succeeded by Republican Cochran, who, along with Lott, won his House race in ’72. In 1988, Lott himself went to the Senate. Mississippi would elect two Republican governors, including the current governor, Haley Barbour (“A real Boy Scout,” said Carmichael of Barbour, “If Nixon had been like him, there would have never been a Watergate!”). Mississippi is now a solidly “red” state and has only gone for a Democratic presidential nominee once in the last 46 years.
Carmichael would maintain his niche as a moderate Republican and clash repeatedly with conservatives Yerger and Mounger over the years. In 1975, he became the Republican gubernatorial nominee and lost the closest general election race up to that point. A year later, the clashes between Carmichael and the more conservative element reached a crescendo when he supported Gerald Ford for president over Ronald Reagan; at the tumultuous Kansas City GOP convention, it was Mississippi’s unit-rule (the whole delegation voting as one) vote against Rule 16-C (the measure favored by Reagan requiring presidential candidates to name their running mates before the role call for president) that sunk the proposal and ended any suspense Ford would be the nominee.
A year later, conservatives fought Carmichael tooth-and-nail in the primary for governor with Leon Bramlett, a former Democratic state chairman and Reagan backer. Carmichael narrowly won the primary but lost the fall race to Democrat William Winter.
Although Carmichael would never hold elective office, he did serve as head of the Federal Railroad Administration under old friend George H.W. Bush, who had encouraged and mentored him when he ran for the Senate. He remains a Bush family friend and was with the former president at the funeral of former Rep. Sonny Montgomery (D.-Miss.) last year.
But this does not keep Carmichael from expressing disappointment over the younger Bush’s apparent disowning of Republican Schlesinger in Connecticut. “I didn’t get any help in my race and I feel sorry for Schlesinger,” he told me, “When the White House doesn’t want you, it’s pretty hard to win.”