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Madly For Adlai
The masses and the media made waves for the Stevenson campaign of 1960 and almost upset John F. Kennedy’s bid for the Democratic nomination. The waves have been felt ever since.
August/september 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 5
The closest delegations discovered him almost at once and broke into a cannon roar of delight. Then the delegations across the entire convention floor seemed to rise as one to begin a splendid, spontaneous, spectacular adoration. They filled the aisles, laughing, yelling, crying, crazily counterpointed by the orchestra playing an Illinois fight song. They stopped Stevenson dead in his tracks far from his seat. The galleries exploded in the next instant, exaltation following astonishment following recognition of what was going on down below.
Surrounded by swirling marchers, Stevenson seized Garth’s arm and turned to him in disbelief.
“What’s happening, Dave?” he asked. “What’s happening!”
“It’s the people, Governor,” Garth said. “They love you! They want you!”
The demonstration consumed the floor and the galleries for seventeen minutes. It subsided only after Garth and Sharon managed to guide Stevenson through the melee to the rostrum where Collins awaited him. With twenty or so volunteers, I had been watching on television from the press office at Stevenson headquarters downtown. My eyes were filled with tears, and many of the volunteers were weeping and cheering at the same time. Now, we knew, Stevenson had only to speak out! The prize was within his grasp. His strategy had been perfect. Just say you want it, I was thinking. We saw Stevenson pause, taking another blast of resounding affection.
Then, after a few shaky words of greeting, he said: “I am grateful for this tumultuous and moving welcome. After going back and forth through the Biltrnore today, I know who’s going to be the nominee of this convention —the last man to survive.”
Stevenson added a bit more, but nothing could recapture that crowd after such a lame joke. Stevenson’s greatest of opportunities, the hope of our campaign, seemed all but wasted. He had missed it. Who can say why?
YET, THERE WAS still time, and, by itself, the delegates’ unexpected ovation moved the campaign forward. Over the next twenty-four hours it would affect the perception of the convention in all the opposing camps, among the press, and among the public watching on television.
Later that night it provoked an angry comment from Robert Kennedy that Wednesday’s demonstration for his brother’s nomination would make the Stevenson welcome “look like a flurry of feathers.” California caucused and went for Stevenson by one vote, 31.5 to 30.5 for Kennedy. A New York rump meeting talked about trying again for Stevenson. A strategist from the Johnson camp called an aide to Finney to discuss the feasibility of a Stevenson-Johnson ticket. With an oath, Finney told the aide to hang up. Western Union reported itself swamped; it received more than twenty-five thousand wires for Stevenson in the next twenty-four hours. Long-distance calls jammed the switchboard at Stevenson headquarters. Callers wanted to know how to get messages to their state’s delegations. Volunteers carried the phone messages to delegates’ hotels all over Los Angeles County.
Stevenson himself seemed to experience an aftereffect of the great Tuesday-night ovation. He responded warmly to a fired-up midnight crowd of delegates and backers who had asked to meet with him at the Statler West. They left believing Stevenson was going to campaign all night after he had ended his remarks with Robert Frost’s lines: ”… I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. …” William Attwood has recalled that he went up to Stevenson’s suite a few minutes later and “found him already in his pajamas.”
Nevertheless, Wednesday morning, on the day of decision, Stevenson made two key phone calls. He called Richard Daley to ask outright for help from the Illinois delegation. And he called Senator McCarthy to request that he place his name in nomination at the convention that night. Daley ignored Stevenson’s call until late Wednesday afternoon, then refused to help, thereby denying the former Illinois governor support from his own home base. With hindsight, some have said Daley ended the 1960 Stevenson campaign then and there. Rut he didn’t, not quite, because McCarthy had accepted Stevenson’s request.
And meanwhile, at last, many reporters were writing what the campaign press office had been saying all along: Most of the delegates wanted Stevenson; they just could not give him their vote on the first ballot.
By Wednesday noon the press knew that Robert Kennedy had told his workers there could be no second ballot this night, or else. The reason was Stevenson. At our Hill Street headquarters we held in our hands hot copies of two major local evening papers bearing the front-page banner headlines we had been praying for: KENNEDY TIDE EBBS and KENNEDY BANDWAGON FALTERS .
Within hours of that first ballot, the campaign for Stevenson finally had broken through.
Talking to Finney, I joked that, to win, our terrific campaign now only needed the ultimate anti-Kennedy rumor; for example, we could leak that a deal has been made for Lyndon Johnson, the nemesis of Northern liberals supporting Jack Kennedy, to stop Stevenson in exchange for becoming Kennedy’s vice-presidential running mate. Finney laughed. To be effective, he said, a rumor cannot be so outrageous as to be unbelievable.