Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Precursor of the South Bay 100: Nixon v. Voorhis

While reading up on California, particularly South Bay Congressional politics, I stumbled upon the 1946 Congressional race for the 12th District, which pitted Republican Richard Nixon against Democratic incumbent Jerry Voorhis.

Nixon while in US Congress.jpg
Richard Nixon v. Jerry Voorhis

What does this Congressional contest have to do with the South Bay, since the district covered huge sections of Eastern Los Angeles County, along with sections of San Bernardino and Orange Counties?

The process they engaged in then helped Republicans to elect a challenger to an incumbent Democrat in a swing district, and a similar process ensued from 2013-2014 to help elect a non-politician to elected office, throwing out a well-funded and well-known Democratic incumbent in the moderate South Bay.

I take key portions from the article in Wikipedia, and then comment at length:

First elected to Congress in 1936, Voorhis had defeated lackluster Republican opposition four times in the then-rural Los Angeles County district to win re-election. For the 1946 election, Republicans sought a candidate who could unite the party and run a strong race against Voorhis in the Republican-leaning district. After failing to secure the candidacy of General George Patton, in November 1945 they settled on Lieutenant Commander Richard Nixon, who had lived in the district prior to his World War II service.

Republicans have a tendency to advance lackluster candidates, either because as individuals they do not connect well with others or because they do not understand the necessary dimensions of retail politics. It is not enough to be the smartest kid in the room in order to get elected to city council. You have to be the most popular kid, too. Popularity (or relatablility) and principle do not necessarily conflict.

Nixon spent most of 1946 campaigning in the district, while Voorhis did not return from Washington D.C. until the end of August. Nixon's campaign worked hard to generate publicity in the district, while Voorhis, dealing with congressional business in the capital, received little newspaper coverage. Voorhis received the most votes in the June primary elections, but his percentage of the vote decreased from his share in the 1944 primaries. At five debates held across the district in September and October, Nixon was able to paint the incumbent as ineffectual and to suggest that Voorhis was connected to communist-linked organizations. Voorhis and his campaign were constantly on the defensive and were ineffective in rebutting Nixon's contentions. The challenger defeated Voorhis in the November general election.

Nixon went on the offense, not trying to defend his positions only, but defining his enemy and the issues before the incumbent could. This lack of offense-as-best-defense hurts Republicans, as some of them insist on running as policy wonks. Working from the outset to win over voters and make his case, Nixon had a head start on the incumbent Voorhis.

A little background about the district also explains why Republicans moved against Voorhis:

The 12th district leaned Republican, the more so after 1941 when the Republican-dominated California State Legislature attempted to gerrymander Congressman Voorhis out of office by removing strong Democratic precincts in East Los Angeles from the district during the decennial redistricting.[5] The revamped 12th district had little industry and almost no union influence.[6] Voorhis was left with such Republican strongholds as San Marino, where he did not campaign, concluding that he would receive the same number of votes whether he visited there or not.[6] Despite the maneuvers of the Republicans in the legislature, Voorhis was re-elected in 1942, receiving 57% of the vote, and won with a similar percentage two years later.[5] Voorhis had not faced strong opposition prior to 1946. In his initial election, Voorhis benefited from the Roosevelt landslide of 1936. His 1938 opponent was so shy that Voorhis had to introduce him to the crowd at a joint appearance.[7] In 1940, he faced Captain Irwin Minger, a little-known commandant of a military school,[8] and his 1942 opponent, radio preacher and former Prohibition Party gubernatorial candidate Robert P. Shuler, "embarrassed GOP regulars".[7] In 1944, the 12th district Republicans were bitterly divided, and Voorhis easily triumphed.[7]

A bitterly divided GOP, and bad candidates, trying to win in a GOP-leaning district against a savvy incumbent who knew where best to spend time and resources for the win? All of this sounds too familiar not to learn from. But more on that later. Democrats take advantage of these divisions all too well in California. When will Golden State Republicans stop having to relearn this lesson?

As Voorhis served his fifth term in the House, Republicans searched for a candidate capable of defeating him.[9] Local Republicans formed what became known as the "Committee of One Hundred" (officially, the "Candidate and Fact-Finding Committee") to select a candidate with broad support in advance of the June 1946 primary election.[10] This move caused some editorial concern in the district: The Alhambra Tribune and News, fearing the choice of a candidate was being taken away from voters in favor of a small group, editorialized that the committee formation was "a step in the wrong direction" and an attempt to "shove Tammany Hall tactics down our throats".[11]

Comparing a voluntary committee to Tammany Hall is unfair. The New York City Democratic Machine, headed by William "Boss" Tweed was corrupt to the core, relying on taxpayer dollars to bribe people with votes. The theft and rugged immorality of the NYC "association" would lead to the imprisonment then death off "Boss" Tweed.

The Committee of One Hundred was a focused group of focused individuals looking for the best candidate to carry the Republican banner in a Congressional district which leaned Republican in the first place. There was no legal thievery or plundering of public funds in the process, either.

Now, the "Committee of One Hundred" would reappear as "The South Bay One Hundred", coupled with the local 66th Central Committee, in order to find the best candidate to defeat the incumbent Democrat in the Palos Verdes to  Manhattan Beach district. In 2013, Assemblyman David Hadley assembled a group of local Republican leaders, elected officials, and activists into a countervailing force called the "South Bay One Hundred". For decades, the public sector unions have relied on their intertwined connections and forced donations to fund Democratic political candidates and causes. Republicans and conservatives have failed to unite their ideas, influence, and funding to take on Democratic challengers or remove incumbents.

The committee got so frustrated with trying to find a candidate, they conducted interviews with prospective politicians. The most notable was a race-baiter who still campaigned on reintroducing prohibition. Then well connected friends reached out to a Duke University Law School graduate, who was born in Yorba Linda and still connected to Whittier, California:

Richard Milhous Nixon.

Taking off from the Committee of One Hundred, we find the perfect political format and machine which became the South Bay One Hundred in the 2014 assembly race.

By coalescing these otherwise disparate interests into one body, Hadley and his associates were able to remove Republican primary challenges, and channel much-needed funding, outreach, and endorsements into one candidate.

Before offering to run for the 66th state assembly seat in 2014, Hadley interviewed with other potential candidates, and working through the Assembly District's local central committee, he strengthened connections and harnessed individual support and funding prospects into a corporate body. This strong unity removed costly primary challenges through voluntary pressure and focused all otherwise divided partisans to work together.

I found it fascinating that this idea worked so well in the 1940s and helped propel a relative unknown along a political career which would culminate in the White House. Who knows what faces David Hadley or any other California Republican if he or she chooses to follow the "Council of One Hundred" approach to build farm teams, finding the right candidate, presenting and promoting the accurate message, and thus bringing in adequate funding to win swing districts and knock out Democratic incumbents.

No comments:

Post a Comment