AllPolitics - Back In TIME

A Message of Discontent from Wisconsin

[TIME Magazine Cover]

(TIME, April 17, 1972) -- Like some metaphysical lottery, with hazards of sudden political death or prizes of resurrection, the American primary system ramshackled through Wisconsin last week to the end of its first phase -- and a pause before the next series, starting April 25, in such crucial industrial states as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. The Wisconsin primary left the eventual outcome of the long spring campaign more enigmatic than ever, but some of the election results were startling:

-- George McGovern, hitherto regarded as a one-issue antiwar champion of the liberal-left, exploited his own superb organization in the state, tapped deep wells of economic discontent and, by winning a 30% plurality, transformed himself at last into a major candidate. In Wisconsin his support was astonishingly broad, bracketing liberals, conservatives, blue- collar workers, farmers, suburbanites and the young.

-- George Wallace, with the help of 35% of the G.O.P. voters who crossed over to vote Democratic, similarly appealed to a restive mood of "the little man." Although he campaigned for only eight days in Wisconsin, Wallace came in second, with 22% of the vote. Adding the Wallace and McGovern totals, 52% of the voters cast ballots for anti-Establishment candidates.

-- Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey, who had counted on his longtime popularity in neighboring Wisconsin to catapult him into the Democratic lead, came in third, with 21%. It was a serious, though by no means fatal blow for Humphrey, who has yet to win a presidential primary.

-- Edmund Muskie, limping into fourth place with only 10% of the vote, was the real loser. Once regarded as the front runner, Muskie's defeats in Florida and Wisconsin have deflated his "trust and confidence" campaign. In an almost breathtaking descent, Muskie in a matter of weeks has become merely another contender.

At least one candidate did not survive Wisconsin at all. New York Mayor John Lindsay, with a dismal 7% showing on top of his 7% in Florida, declared himself out of the race. A Muskie aide who had earlier called Lindsay "the wild card in this campaign" remarked last week: "He turned out to be a deuce." Washington Senator Henry Jackson, who won 8% in Wisconsin, remained the darkest of horses, suffering from a massive problem of nonrecognition; on primary day last week, his workers were still distributing a leaflet headlined "WHO IS SENATOR JACKSON?"

On the Republican ballot, Richard Nixon was opposed by Ohio's conservative Congressman John Ashbrook, who got 1% of the vote. California's liberal Republican Congressman Paul McCloskey, who had already withdrawn from the race, also got 1%. The President scored 97%.

The Wisconsin campaign was a furious montage of political styles. With mod glasses and carefully darkened hair, 61-year-old Humphrey bounced through 19-hour days. "We can sleep next year," he told his workers. Everywhere, except among college students, he found deep affection, but the warmth did not always convert to votes. At times, his campaign savored of last hurrah. In Milwaukee, a woman wearing a McGovern button told H.H.H.: "We love you." "But you're voting for McGovern," replied Humphrey. Said the woman: "Yes, but we love Hubert Humphrey."

George Wallace planned only a minimal campaign in Wisconsin, where busing was not an issue, and he had virtually no organization. But when he sensed the crowd's mood at his first rally in Milwaukee on March 23, Wallace abruptly changed his schedule. Suddenly all his earlier explanations about "our inability to rent halls because of basketball games" became academic. Wallace sought his "little man" with eleven rallies in eight days and a flurry of local television interviews. He repeatedly brought up busing as "a philosophical issue." He complained that the other candidates were horning in on his populist issues: "I dig the bone up and throw it out there, and the big dogs grab it. I'm just a little dog from Alabama."

McGovern's television commercials confirmed the Wallace complaint. "If you want lower property taxes, you want George McGovern," said one. "It's as simple as that." But McGovern emphasized direct campaigning. In oblique reference to Lindsay's stylish and futile TV campaigns in Florida and Wisconsin, one McGovern press release claimed: "The day of the media candidate is over. People have stopped watching television commercials and started listening to details."

Top-Heavy. Despite his efforts to sharpen his stand on issues, Muskie failed to come across clearly on any topic. His organization, top-heavy with endorsements and contributors, never took root on the local levels where primaries are won. He failed to define a constituency.

The overall message from Wisconsin is of a contrary mood, an impatience with more traditional candidates and a deep undercurrent of economic dismay. Most specifically, Wisconsin signaled a massive discontent with taxes and inflation -- the pocketbook issues that McGovern and Wallace hit the hardest. In a study of TIME, the attitude research firm of Daniel Yankelovich Inc. found that four of the five top issues that influenced Wisconsin voters were economic. The sixth was the Vietnam War, and McGovern made that into an economic issue as well, emphasizing its continuing costs. According to the survey, 82% of those interviewed said that the Administration's wage and price policies are not working. Fifty-two percent called for overall tax reform, with 41% complaining about high prices and 36% about high unemployment.

McGovern and Humphrey both hammered away on the issue of tax reform, of giving the "little taxpayer" and "the working man" a fairer break. They shared the rewards: well over half of McGovern's voters and almost two-thirds of Wallace's assailed tax loopholes. The issue cut across both party and ideological grounds, attracting liberals as well as conservatives, Republicans as well as Democrats.

The Yankelovich pollsters found a surprising degree of "second-choice support for McGovern among the Wallace voters -- support rooted in McGovern's broad anti-Establishment campaign. It was not that Wisconsin voters were running to ideological extremes at the expense of centrist candidates, but rather that both McGovern and Wallace seem to have located an authentic area of concern that the other candidates failed to articulate. Significantly, the survey found that voters still saw Centrist Humphrey as the Democrat with the best chance to be nominated and, if nominated, to beat Nixon.

According to the TIME/Yankelovich survey, McGovern trailed both Wallace and Humphrey among blue-collar workers and union members, but he still got 25% of their votes. More than any other, McGovern came through as "someone you can trust." Improbably, he won the Fourth Congressional District, on the blue-collar and ethnic south side of Milwaukee, with the largest concentration of Poles in the state. Muskie, who had emphasized his Polish ancestry, finished fourth.

Cross-Overs. Wallace and McGovern worked the same vein of economic distress, but the McGovern vote was moderate-liberal, according to the survey, while the Wallace vote was essentially moderate- conservative. McGovern fared well with young voters (47%); Wallace did poorly. The final results were complicated, of course, by the fact that 26% of the votes cast in the Democratic primary came from Republicans and Independents. The cross-overs cost Humphrey a second-place finish, since most of them went to Wallace. Yankelovich found, however, that most of the cross-overs came not as spoilers but as voters anxious to make their views known on the economy and other issues.

Wisconsin served to prolong and compound the suspense of the race. It established the major Democratic theme -- a profound economic disgruntlement -- but not a party leader. "It's kind of a scramble now," Humphrey said last week. Coming out of Wisconsin, Muskie still led in committed delegate votes, with 96 1/2. McGovern, gaining 54 in Wisconsin, had a total of 89 1/2, trailed by Wallace with 75 and Humphrey with 19. With the delegate-rich primaries in Pennsylvania (182), Massachusetts (102), New York (278) and California (271) still to come, all the candidates are still far from the 1,509 needed for nomination in Miami Beach.

For the moment, Wisconsin seemed to have reduced it to a three-man contest among Muskie, Humphrey and McGovern. Although McGovern now ranks as a heavyweight contender, he must still establish that Wisconsin was not a fluke in which the candidate was secondary to the issues. McGovern displayed surprising strength among labor's rank and file in Wisconsin, but his comparative radicalism and long anti-war record have earned him the hostility of many labor leaders as well as Democratic professionals. If McGovern begins to seem a serious threat, many of the regulars might mount a counterattack in favor of Humphrey. Some Democrats fear that a McGovern candidacy might be the equivalent of Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964 -- an ideological debacle -- and they are already poor-mouthing his victory on the grounds that his excellent Wisconsin organization and Republican cross-over votes distorted the natural outcome.

Scenarios. "These primaries," said McGovern last week, "are going to go on from state to state, from battle to battle." His most optimistic scenario now is to win Massachusetts, where his liberal following is strong, on April 25, then Nebraska on May 9, run well enough (meaning third behind Humphrey and Wallace) in Michigan on May 16 and then go on to take Oregon, California and New York.

For Humphrey and Muskie, April 25 will be critical. That is the date of both the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania primaries. Humphrey, badly needing a victory, will count on his support among organized labor for a win in Pennsylvania. Despite Wisconsin, Humphrey's camp insists that McGovern is not really a factor -- "This is a race between Humphrey and Muskie." McGovern's advisers, meantime, regard Muskie as a political corpse, seeing the race as a head-on collision between McGovern and Humphrey.

Muskie had planned to run in Pennsylvania against Humphrey and in Massachusetts against McGovern, to regain momentum. Last week, however, his advisers were discussing a stop-Humphrey ploy with McGovern's forces -- Muskie would concentrate on winning in Pennsylvania while leaving Massachusetts to McGovern.

With each future contest, the political equations will change and the pressures increase. It is now highly likely that after all the bloodshed of the primaries, no one will go to Miami Beach with a lock on the nomination. If so, it will be a fascinating week in July. A deadlock would probably eliminate McGovern as too leftward and experimental, even though that might provoke a fourth-party rebellion. Humphrey might also be unacceptable: "too much like 1968...a loser's image." That might leave Muskie as a "reconciliation" candidate. Or is it possible, as some politicians have already begun to fantasize, that stalemated delegates from all factions of the party will send up a cry from the floor: "Kennedy! Kennedy!"

Success at Last for George

I believe the people of this country are tired of the old rhetoric, the unmet promise, the image makers and the practitioners of the expedient. The people are not centrist or liberal or conservative. Rather, they seek a way out of the wilderness.

So said Senator McGovern as he officially hit the campaign trail 15 long months ago -- and all but disappeared into the political wilderness. As the earliest declared candidate for the presidential nomination in recent memory, he had a plan: challenge Edmund Muskie before he built up an insurmountable lead, go all out to make a credible showing in the New Hampshire primary, and then, gathering momentum, overtake the field in Wisconsin. Back then, his strategy seemed dreamy, if not downright doomed. Few political leaders took his candidacy seriously, dismissing him as a self-appointed "conscience of the party" or a "stalking horse" for Ted Kennedy.

The Margin. The professional polls had clearly underestimated George Stanley McGovern, 49, child of the plains, minister's son, college-debate champion, World War II bomber pilot, former history professor, father of five and, according to Robert Kennedy, the "most decent man in the Senate." Decency and doggedness -- traits that served him well when he first ran for Congress in 1956, traveling the dusty side roads for one-to-one meetings in farmhouses and general stores. Taken singly, the encounters were insignificant; taken together, they meant the margin of victory. Recalls Journalist Harl Andersen, who covered the campaign for the Associated Press: "George only builds a stone at a time. After a while, though, it begins to show up." In 1962 he moved on to the Senate, winning a seat by only 597 votes.

One of the earliest and most persistent antiwar Senators, McGovern began building a small but strong following with his co- sponsorship of the 1968 McGovern-Hatfield resolution calling for an end to the war. Though unsuccessful, the legislation occasioned a rare flash of fire from the quiet man. "Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave." McGovern fumed. "This chamber reeks of blood!" When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, McGovern sought to keep Bobby's antiwar supporters together by entering the race in his stead less than three weeks before the 1968 convention. Though he polled only 146 1/2 of the 2,622 delegate votes, the effort gave McGovern the presidential bug.

The candidate of 1972 has changed little; he is still the personable but plodding campaigner. McGovern's success is a combination of his persistence and a new, high-powered, appealingly unprofessional organization. Without the aggressiveness of Bobby Kennedy or the aloofness of Eugene McCarthy, McGovern has forged a coalition of followers from both camps. On one flank are such "Kennedy men" as Advisers John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., former Kennedy Press Secretaries Pierre Salinger and Frank Mankiewicz, Writers Richard Goodwin and Adam Walinsky. (His principal financial contributors are Max Palevsky, chairman of the Xerox Executive Committee, and Henry Kimelman, board chairman of West Indies Corp.) On the other are legions of young staffers and student volunteers bristling with go-for-George enthusiasm. The spectacle of the old Kennedy pros followed by McGovern's young crusaders, says Eugene McCarthy, "is like German officers leading Irish troops."

Index Cards. But they march well together. Typical of McGovern's young minions is Gene Pokorny, 26, a scholarly Nebraskan who, says Campaign Manager Gary Hart, has "the mind of a revolutionist in the body of Henry Aldrich." Dispatched to Wisconsin a year ago on a salary of $200 a month, he tirelessly crisscrossed the state with clipboard and index cards in hand, organizing and opening 39 McGovern headquarters. When it was discovered that voting day fell during campus spring vacations, Pokorny ran forms in students newspapers which could be exchanged for absentee ballots. By election day an estimated 70% of the students cast their votes for McGovern and the number of workers had grown from 80 to 10,000.

McGovern, say staffers, is no softie, despite his easygoing ways. "He's a classic Clark Kent," says Aide Ted Van Dyk. "All calmness on the outside -- serene -- but when crisis strikes, it's into the phone booth." He has other useful traits as well. Accused at a University of Wisconsin rally of being a warmonger for voting for passage of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, McGovern did not turn peevish as Muskie has done in the face of similar baiting. Instead, McGovern asked that those who believed the charge raise their hands; when less than six hands shot up, McGovern moved on to other matters. He has successfully overcome his image as a one-issue peace candidate by promoting his stands on income distribution, tax, reform and decreased defense spending. McGovern projects simplicity, honesty and candor. He remains confident despite the many Democratic leaders who still dismiss his candidacy. Meanwhile, stone by stone, George moves on.

What Happened to Muskie?

In just one month, Maine's Ed Muskie slipped from the position of the serene front runner to that of an embattled man on the verge of being knocked completely out of the race for his party's nomination for President. Before the plunge, much of the press (including TIME) and many politicians saw him as almost a certain first-ballot winner at the Democratic Convention in July. Now he could easily turn out to be what President Nixon derisively termed him after the 1970 Congressional elections: "the George Romney of the Democratic Party." What went wrong?

No single reason, or incident, can be cited to explain Muskie's decline. There was, in fact, a whole series of mistakes made by political pros, journalists, Muskie strategists and Muskie himself. In the first place, he probably should never have been rated so far ahead. That status was based largely on the fact that national surveys showed him to be the Democrat with the best chance to defeat Nixon -- but those polls do not translate into strength in state primaries.

Yet that impression of Muskie's popularity had never really been tested in voting booths nationwide. Muskie had looked cool and impressive as Hubert Humphrey's running mate in 1968, and he exuded much more of a presidential aura than did his G.O.P. counterpart, Spiro Agnew. Yet few voters select a President primarily by looking at the vice presidential candidates, and Muskie's appeal was not really an issue in that election. Muskie was now recognized by most Democratic voters all right, but how did they really feel about him? No one could be sure.

Euphoric. Nevertheless, Muskie and his advisers almost euphorically accepted the pleasant notion that he was far ahead of the field -- and they designed a campaign based on that assumption. He would speak cautiously, even vaguely, if need be, on most issues, so as not to antagonize any large blocs of voters. Ignoring his rivals for the nomination, he would campaign against the President. The essence of that campaign would be to portray Nixon as an excitable, expedient politician whose statements were rarely credible. By contrast, voters were urged to "trust Muskie," the man of integrity.

That strategy might have been sound if the premises had been right. Muskie at his best is far more inspiring than Nixon, who does have credibility problems and is unpredictable. Nixon had sounded shrill and unfair as he tried to link Democrats with crime, drugs and antiwar violence during the 1970 congressional campaigns, while Muskie on that election eve effectively deplored such tactics and appealed for a return to reason. Perhaps the voters did long for a calmer, loftier leader.

To further the bandwagon psychology, the Muskie strategists won endorsements from big names in the party: California Senator John Tunney, Ohio Governor John Gilligan, Illinois Senator Adlai Stevenson III, Iowa Senator Harold Hughes, Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp. Each new name made the nomination seem that much more inevitable. This was organizing the party drive from the top down, rather than from the bottom up.

Suddenly, the edifice began to crumble, and the entire strategy was shattered. Democratic voters showed that in primaries, at least, they were not all that concerned about finding a contrast with Nixon. They were not looking for a unifier and mollifier. They were in a balky, grumpy mood. They wanted specific answers to specific problems that plagued them. They were more interested in voting against the status quo, and men like George McGovern and George Wallace seemed to offer that chance to protest.

Moreover Muskie hurt his own image as the judicious, controlled candidate by sobbing in the snows of New Hampshire, ironically at the very time that Nixon in Peking was acting as the healer of international passions. This outburst was partly the result of Muskie's emotional and physical fatigue. Trying to be all things to all people, and torn by his commitments to so many primary campaigns, he lost his sense of direction, creating doubts about his ability to stand up under pressure.

Fed Up. Muskie's overconfident staff had also erred badly in ignoring grass-roots organizational work. In a primary, voters have to be coaxed to go to the polls and persuaded to select a particular name out of a crowded field. In New Hampshire, the Muskie camp had to send out-of-state organizers in at the last minute to get out a favorable vote.

Muskie now concedes that entering the Florida primary was a mistake; once Wallace had entered, he should have known it was hopeless and avoided that first big blow to his front-running status. He relied heavily for support in Florida upon its Democratic state legislators -- but they were tied down by their duties in Tallahassee and were of little help.

Muskie came out of his Florida defeat in a new fighting mood. He tackled specific issues, such as taxes and the economy, and began berating his competitors. Yet the turnabout gave Muskie the impression of a man lashing out in desperation, seeking a new image.

Muskie's dilemma is painfully difficult. He has come across as a fuzzy Establishment kind of politician in a year when voters seem in revolt, and has been unable to put his brand on any issue that can attract that fed-up, turned-off voter. If he cannot beat such lesser-known Democrats, how can he be seen as the man to beat Nixon? "He's got to find the ways to tap the anger and frustration that people have about big government and big business," says Senator Tunney, one of his now-disillusioned supporters. "I know Muskie favors reform of institutions, but he hasn't been able to convey that." There is perhaps one consolation in all of the Muskie miscalculations so far. If the voters are as unpredictable as they early primaries indicate, similar troubles could lie ahead for the other candidates. Muskie may be no more finished now than he was a shoo-in in January.



AllPolitics home page

http://Pathfinder.com
Copyright © 1996 AllPolitics
All Rights Reserved
Terms under which this information is provided to you
http://CNN.com