- Historic Sites
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
Finney explained later that the final ruling by the chair that gave Iowa’s vote to Kennedy—uncontested by Johnson’s representative, Sam Rayburn—had finally moved Doyle to unleash Garth and Meyers. The ruling had made it Kennedy-Johnson against Stevenson. Doyle had passed the word about 6:00 P.M. Garth handed out the tickets. Volunteers filled the half-empty gallery. And Meyers lined up the outside marchers for the floor demonstration. Here was the 1960 Stevenson campaign’s last hope: that a titanic demonstration could shake loose enough votes in one or more delegations to offset the Iowa shock and prevent Kennedy from going over the top on the first ballot.
BUT NOW AS THE roll call resumed, the view from my television set did not look favorable. The anchorman was saying what I was thinking; there were still no surprises. A couple of votes had shifted in California, giving Kennedy a majority over Stevenson. (Nixon would carry California in the fall.) Minnesota stayed with Humphrey. And Meyner of New Jersey bravely hung on. He had promised not to throw in the towel unless Kennedy was within 10 votes of victory. Wisconsin raised Kennedy’s total to 748 votes, 13 away from victory. The television showed a hurried conference in the Wyoming delegation, which had two more votes than Kennedy needed. Then an excited man with a twanging voice ended the Stevenson campaign once and for all: “Wyoming casts all fifteen votes for the next President of the United States…”
I felt bitter and depressed, so I had a drink in the next trailer with DeGrazia and Green. Their predictions had been right: Johnson’s vote was 409, Symington’s 86, Stevenson’s 79.5. The usual switches gave Kennedy a final count of 806 votes. Barnett of Mississippi, Humphrey, Meyner, and Smathers of Florida together received 140.5.
We locked up and went to the Stevenson party in “Butler’s pantry” on the mezzanine at the Biltmore. More than a hundred of us crowded into the two little rooms and around the makeshift bar in the hallway. Jim Doyle made a brief, chins-up speech, telling us to “thank one another” for the work we had done. A Kennedy supporter had slipped in, made a wisecrack, and found himself on the losing end of a quick, sharp fight with a frazzled volunteer. Later that night, David Zingg, a writer from New York who had been my assistant press secretary, issued the Stevenson campaign’s last press release. It was one sentence long: “A funny thing happened to us on the way to the nomination.”
THERE WAS THURSDAY to get through. The task of dismantling the headquarters distracted us. Once, while cleaning up odds and ends, we paused at the television to take in the nomination of Lyndon Johnson for Vice-President. Those of us who had joked about it watched the Kennedy liberals’ helpless furor on the convention floor with unashamed glee.
AND THEN there was Friday. At sundown I went to the Los Angeles Coliseum where eighty thousand people were gathered for a monster Democratic party rally. It was the convention’s last act. And as one of the party’s loyal players, Stevenson had agreed to introduce the new star, John F. Kennedy. In a way, the need for Stevenson was only incidental. He was just passing the colors. His words that lovely evening would be little noted nor long remembered. Kennedy was to deliver his own formal presidential nomination acceptance speech and intended to introduce the New Frontier theme of his campaign against Nixon.
Floyd May, an artist and scion of the department-store family, was there too. Perhaps the most dedicated Stevenson volunteer of us all, both a campaign worker and Sports Arena demonstrator, May had hired a high school marching band and a dozen drum majorettes, transported them to the Coliseum in a bus, and held them in readiness under the stadium until Chairman Collins introduced his Adlai. As Stevenson stepped to the microphone, the twelve drum majorettes pranced out of the shadows. They carried a big American flag supplied by Floyd May; it was stretched out flat among them. Behind them came Floyd himself and, behind him, the marching band. Their goal was the speaker’s rostrum, where Floyd wanted to present the flag to Stevenson. Since Floyd had told no one of his plan, there was confusion everywhere. Stevenson supporters in the Coliseum seemed to think the flag-carrying girls were a clever diversion planned by those keen Kennedy people to forestall a final demonstration on behalf of Stevenson. Kennedy supporters seemed to think the Stevenson people were trying to embarrass their hero one more time.
Over the loudspeaker you could hear either Stevenson or Collins whispering, “What’s going on out there?”
If it was Stevenson, it was especially poignant. Through the long campaign he never quite seemed to know what was going on “out there.” Once, years later in New York, he told Garth he felt he had made a mistake and should have listened to Monroney and Finney at the convention. If he had, what might have happened? “I think of him all the time,” says Marietta Tree. “How differently he would have handled our affairs.”
If you had known Floyd May, however, you would have known what was going on just then at the Coliseum. Floyd was madly trying to say good-bye to Adlai. And like the Stevenson campaign of 1960 that he unconsciously symbolized, he was failing to get his message to the man.