- 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
William Blair, who had been Stevenson’s aide and trusted friend since Springfield, invited us into the living room, indicating that Walter Reuther, head of the United Auto Workers and a Kennedy man, was talking with Stevenson in the bedroom. Blair had been dubious of the Stevenson movement, felt it would fail, and feared that it might embarrass Stevenson, impairing his future usefulness to the country.
Finney, on the contrary, believed the movement had made Stevenson’s candidacy truly possible and that Stevenson’s value to the nation would only be enhanced, win or lose, by this popular surge on his behalf. In essence Blair and Finney respectively stood for the two major points of view among Stevensonians. Stevenson, at that hour, was obviously still listening to both, sticking to his own game plan.
The convention news that morning had not been good for Stevenson. According to the papers, the Kennedy juggernaut was rolling. Governors Loveless of Iowa, Docking of Kansas, Freeman of Minnesota, Edmondson of Oklahoma, and Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington had all declared for Kennedy, had all been prominently mentioned as vice-presidential prospects, and had all “locked up” their delegations for Kennedy, the papers said. The multiple Kennedy announcements obviously were planned to dominate the Sunday-morning front pages thirty-six hours before the call to order. Kennedy’s feisty press secretary, Pierre Salinger, was doing his job. Yesterday’s airport reception for Stevenson was reported lower down among the rest of the day’s news stories.
The Kennedy surge perplexed Blair. Finney countered with research. Convention rules committed Iowa to vote for Governor Loveless himself on the first ballot. Oklahoma, under the unit rule, had to vote for Lyndon Johnson. Kansas and Washington both were demonstrably fluid. Minnesota had yet to caucus and was likely to vote first for Humphrey. Furthermore, only one of the officials mentioned as a potential Kennedy running mate could actual’y be nominated for that honor. “We’ll give Kennedy one Vice-President,” Finney said, “and we’ll take the bitter remains.” Then he went on through the fifty states with the evidence he believed showed that Kennedy would fail on the first ballot.
Blair enthused. “You’ll have to tell the governor this,” he said. “Walter Reuther is in there with him now telling him it is all over.”
Moments later, Reuther, who had once been a Stevenson man, hurried past us through the living room.
Monroney, Sharon, and Finney with his folder full of statistics went into the cottage bedroom. About twenty minutes later they came out with a thoughtful but smiling Stevenson, who shook hands all around and retreated again with Blair. Finney had argued that time was running out but that Stevenson could win if he publicly took charge of the campaign. Monroney believed Stevenson was on the verge. Stevenson had agreed to visit our headquarters later in the day, go on “Face the Nation” that night, and accompany Mrs. Roosevelt to a party luncheon at noon next day, Monday, thereby placing himself in the context of her endorsement just eight hours before the first gavel. By now Mrs. Roosevelt was honorary chairman of the Stevenson committee. Monroney and Finney, however, had not been able to persuade Stevenson to visit any delegation caucuses that Sunday night, meaning, we felt, that he was still not ready to play his end game.
This last shook my faith. It is possible, I told Finney, that there was no fight in Los Angeles left to be fought. Finney cursed me, but the next twenty-four hours seemed to confirm my pessimism.
FIRST, THAT SUNDAY afternoon, Gov. Pat Brown of California announced his support for Kennedy; there was obvious Stevenson strength among the unruly Californians, but the Sunday-night news hailed Brown’s endorsement as another sign of victory for the “roaring, crunching Kennedy bandwagon.” Tightening the screws, Richard Daley of Illinois caucused his delegation later Sunday afternoon and nailed down 59.5 votes for Kennedy to 2 for Stevenson. As a half-vote delegate from Illinois, Stevenson could have attended the caucus, but he declined; his visit to our headquarters, where he was mobbed by his volunteers, gave him the barest of excuses. And early Monday morning Gov. David Lawrence of Pennsylvania, who on Sunday had told reporters that the “best qualified man for the Presidency” was Adlai Stevenson, locked up his state as well, 64 for Kennedy to 8 for Stevenson. To make matters seem surreal, the word got around that Lawrence actually had offered Pennsylvania to Stevenson only hours before, and so he had.
“Lawrence met with Adlai and half a dozen of us late Sunday night,” recalls Russell Hemenway, who now directs the Committee for an Effective Congress. “Lawrence wanted a Stevenson-Kennedy ticket, even though his delegation belonged to Kennedy. We had a Louis Bean poll showing that Stevenson now was actually a better bet to beat Nixon than Kennedy, because of the Catholic issue. So Lawrence said he could hold Pennsylvania if Adlai would tell him then and there he was running. If not, in the morning, he was appearing on the Today Show with Dave Garroway to tell the world Pennsylvania was going for Jack Kennedy.
“And Adlai said to Lawrence, ‘Do what you have to do, Dave.’
“And Bill Wirtz [one of Stevenson’s Chicago aides], who was there, asked Adlai, ‘Governor, are you sure that’s the message you want to give Governor Lawrence?’
“And Adlai said it was.