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1964: Lodge's write-in victory

May 03. 2011 12:22PM

By 1964, New Hampshire was not quite so rural, Yankee and insular as popular myth held it. Yet the 1964 primary provided a result so startling that the belief in the Yankee traits of independence and inscrutability would find new life.

By the time 96,994 Republicans worked their way through a poster-sized ballot on March 10 with five names in the presidential preference poll and two serious write-in campaigns to consider, the history of the primary had a colorful new chapter.

The assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963 left few with a zest for presidential politics that winter, but after a 30-day moratorium on campaigning, it was time for another primary season.

There was no desire or need for the new President, Lyndon Johnson, to hit the hustings. Since he faced no opposition, he did not have to bother placing his name on the ballot. Nor did he draw up a delegate slate, authorize a get-out-the-vote drive or even visit the state.

The new President was preoccupied with placing his own brand on the federal government. New Hampshire would not draw his attention that winter.

President Johnson did face an indirect and potentially humiliating problem as a write-in for Attorney General Robert Kennedy to be Johnson's running mate swept through the Democratic Party. If party leaders, fearing the consequences of what a large vote for Kennedy would mean, had not spent the final week of the primary attempting to put a damper on the effort for RFK, the Kennedy total might have surpassed that of the President. Johnson tallied 29,317 write-in votes for the top spot; Kennedy received 25,094 write-ins for the second spot. President Johnson, unlike President Eisenhower in 1956, would not allow his choice of a running mate to be dictated even in part by the returns from the first primary. The effort for Robert Kennedy accomplished the opposite of what was intended. It pulled the nation's two most powerful Democrats further apart. By July 29, Johnson invited the attorney general into the Oval Office and informed him that he would not be his running mate. The honor went to Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey.

The GOP fight featured two men who had been gearing up for a run for the race soon after Richard Nixon's defeat in 1960: Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

Both men would invest considerable time and money in trying to woo support - at least $250,000 and 28 days of stumping for the governor and at least $150,000 and 21 days of campaigning for the senator.

By the election's end the result would prove to be a bitter, exhaustive and expensive endeavor for nothing, for Goldwater and Rockefeller reaped no delegates, no public relations bonanza for the winner of the preference poll and no "moral" victories of any sort. Neither man had any real appeal to a broad enough cross-section of the GOP.

As in 1952, the victory was awarded to someone serving the nation far from its shores, who would never lift a finger on his own behalf or speak a word on a campaign matter. What succeeded was a write-in for a man who had not won an election since 1946 and who had turned off party professionals in droves with an alleged lackadaisical effort as Nixon's running mate in 1960. The surprising write-in victory for Henry Cabot Lodge, serving as the ambassador to war-torn South Vietnam, would shake the Republican Party to its core.

At the outset Goldwater had a sizable lead in the New Hampshire polls and the support of much of the GOP leadership, including that of the state's senior senator, Norris Cotton, who served as his state chairman. He also received the vigorous editorial support of the Manchester Union Leader, yet his candidacy would suffer through many a discouraging day.

Little planning had been done, and it showed. The most grievous mistake may have been the lengthy schedules laid out, a regimen even Estes Kefauver might have found challenging. For the aloof and reserved Goldwater, it was an aspect of seeking the presidency he never enjoyed. He belittled Rockefeller's stumping abilities with this comment: "I'm not one of those baby-kissing, handshaking, blintz-eating candidates...thinking that a whack on the back can get you a vote."

Senator Cotton later said of Goldwater's abilities - or lack thereof - on the hustings: "We brought him up here too much. Goldwater really isn't the type of politician that enjoys mingling with people too much — he gets tired. The antithesis would be Styles Bridges, for instance, who just loved people."

Goldwater's controversial statements on Social Security, Cuba, military preparedness, civil rights and the role of the federal government soon convinced many New Hampshire voters that this decade's "Mr. Conservative" was conservative all right, but he was of the unfamiliar Western variety, not the mature, sagacious and cautious Eastern species.

Governor Rockefeller seemed as tailor-made for the format of the first test as his main opponent was ill-suited. With his "Hi, how are ya, fella" and grabbing, clasping and winking style, he was the most effective Republican of that era at campaigning at close range.

The state's small size and population seemed ideal for his ebullient manner, all triggered with his famous grin.

Rockefeller made steady progress in cutting Goldwater's lead in the polls, yet he could never achieve the necessary breakthrough.

The controversy surrounding his divorce and succeeding marriage to Margaretta Fitler "Happy" Murphy, who had given up legal custody of her four children to her husband in order to secure her divorce, damaged the New Yorker. As she toured the state with her husband, the new Mrs. Rockefeller was the target of some verbal abuse.

As the election neared, the undecided column grew, not the normal course in most elections. This was a clear indication that GOP voters were finding repugnant the thought of casting their lot with either Goldwater or Rockefeller. They were searching for an alternative - and they would find it.

With a famous New England name, a long record of public service and prolonged media exposure as America's Ambassador to the United Nations during the Eisenhower administration, Henry Cabot Lodge, although half a world away in Saigon, was a known and trusted leader.

What was not known was whether or not he would stamp out a growing draft movement on his behalf back in the States, and whether he would chose after the nomination if sufficient support were forthcoming in early primaries.

Four young men and women from the Bay State, who had first worked together in the unsuccessful 1962 Senate campaign of Lodge's son George against Edward Kennedy, provided the core of the organized effort here. Using lists from the Senate race, enough funds were raised for a limited number of projects, such as a mass mailer to Republicans throughout the State. With no candidate present, the Lodge organizers were free to concentrate on media and organizing and were not distracted by scheduling visits.

The first indication Lodge's potential appeal was the mailing to the Concord state headquarters of thousands of pledge cards from people vowing their support. This response provided the press with ample evidence that the draft might not prove to be a lark.

On the Saturday night prior to the Tuesday vote 3,000 people paid $2 apiece for a New England baked bean supper at Manchester's National Guard Armory to hear Governor Rockefeller and watch some entertainment. (The Rockefeller national staff wanted to import the Rockettes for the event, but his New Hampshire managers vetoed the idea.) On election eve Rockefeller capped his 4,000-mile Granite State campaign with an hour-long television program from Manchester.

The possibility of a Lodge entry received a last-minute boost on the night before the New Hampshire balloting when the ambassador did not act to remove his name from the Oregon primary ballot. The illusion of his candidacy seemed much stronger as the voters ventured out on primary day into snow from 10 to 14 inches deep across the state.

One week before the election, Goldwater had predicted he would receive 35 percent of the vote. Buoyed by sizable and worm crowds in the final week, he upped his prediction to 40 percent just before the polls opened. Yet within 18 minutes of the closing of the polls, the CBS computer predicted a landslide in the making for the Ambassador to South Vietnam. And it was - Lodge received 33,007 to Goldwater's 20,692 and Rockefeller's 19,504. A write-in for Richard Nixon tallied 15,587.

The Lodge vote achieved a plurality in every county. His strongest support was in the southern part of the state — particularly in areas near the Boston media market. Lodge tallied more than 40 percent of the vote in Cheshire, Merrimack, Rockingham and Strafford counties, while Goldwater was able to reap as much as 30 percent in only one Hillsborough.

Lodge, to the embarrassment of many a prominent politician, swept the entire slate of 14 delegates. His band of unknowns were sent off to the Son Francisco convention in July.

Ambassador Lodge first heard reports of the upset while flying from Hue to Saigon. He had gone to the former imperial capital in northern South Vietnam with another Republican, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Maxwell Taylor. The purpose of the journey was to try to shore up support for the government of Major General Nguyen Khanh, who had seized power in January.

Upon his return to the Saigon airport, Lodge was very much the center of attention. When asked to comment on his upset victory, he said, "There will be a statement in New England about that. I am precluded by Foreign Service regulations from talking politics." He did concede he had been accorded "a great honor and a great compliment."

But unlike General Eisenhower, Lodge never became a candidate. Still, his showing triggered one of the most astonishing increases in the history of American public opinion polls. The first national sample of Republicans by the Louis Harris poll after the primary indicated that Lodge, who had stood at 14 percent in February, had leaped to 41 percent. This was a lead of 13 percent over Richard Nixon, who had led the previous survey by 27 points.

The surprising win by Lodge was a clear indication that Goldwater, the eventual nominee, lacked sufficient support within his own party, a circumstance that became rather obvious with President Lyndon Johnson's massive victory by almost 16 million votes on November 3.

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