Evening the score

By David Trumbull

November 2001

It is rare that any single election shapes the American political landscape. Kennedy versus Lodge the 1952 Massachusetts Senate Race (Thomas J. Whalen, Northeastern University Press, 2000) singles out one such election. "Had Kennedy lost in 1952," Whalen muses, "it is likely that his political career would have ended right there, and the so-called Kennedy political dynasty would have been over before it had actually begun." We can never know of course. In any event, the multigenerational Kennedy versus Lodge political rivalry makes for an interesting human story and affords many object lessons in campaigning.

Can't tell the players without a program.

Henry Cabot Lodge was a four-term incumbent Republican Senator when he defeated Democrat challenger John Fitzgerald in 1916 in the first direct election of U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. His grandson, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., was elected to the seat in 1936 and was defeated in 1952 by John Fitzgerald's grandson John F. Kennedy. Kennedy's defeat of Lodge, in the words of Rose Kennedy--JFK's mother; John Fitzgerald's daughter--"evened the score" for the Lodge defeat of Fitzgerald 36 years earlier.

During those intervening years, Joseph Kennedy became one of the richest men in America, got himself named Ambassador to Great Britain, and produced a new generation of Ivy League educated Kennedys who could rival the Brahmin Lodges in patrician status. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., after losing the 1952 Senate election, went on to lose again in 1960, as Richard Nixon's running mate in the Nixon/Kennedy race. His brother, George Cabot Lodge, ran, unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1962. He lost to Edward M. Kennedy.

Money, hard work, demographics

While Whalen seems to credit smart and vigorous campaigning on Kennedy's part and failure to consolidate the Republican base for the Lodge defeat in 1952, there were other, powerful forces. Simply put, there was the Kennedy money. In 1946 Joseph Kennedy spent--at the time a staggering amount--$300,000 to secure a House seat for John F. Kennedy. With Kennedy money things happen. Such as the influential Boston Post, which was set to endorse Lodge, switching and pushing for Kennedy in 1952. The financial strapped publisher denied that a half million dollar loan from Joseph Kennedy influenced the endorsement.

Still, no amount of advertising money can get voters to go for a politician they don't want. In 1952 Massachusetts voters were ready for Kennedy. Massachusetts before World War II had been one of the most Republican of states, but demographics were changing rapidly. As Whalen points out, "The state went from being predominately Republican to predominately Democrat in the span of half a decade." In has never gone back. Demographics, in particular immigration, was working against the Republicans. The Democrats also benefited from an aggressive campaign style that had never before been seen in the Bay State. One Kennedy campaign staffer is quoted saying, "we went into towns where Democrat was a dirty word and nobody had tried to start an organization of any kind."

Lodge saw his vote totals eroded in traditionally Republican areas. At the same time Kennedy support in traditionally Democrat Boston went up. Lodge had actually carried Boston in some earlier elections--an astounding feat for a Protestant Yankee Republican. But faced with a new type of Irish Catholic Democrat--Harvard educated, smooth talking, and not a crook--Lodge got steamrollered.

Don't forget who brought you to the dance

Kennedy money and charm among an electorate that was tending Democrat was a tough match for Lodge. But they perhaps needn't have been his undoing. Lodge lost to Kennedy by only 70,000 votes (51.5% to 48.5%). Republican presidential candidate Eisenhower carried Massachusetts. Lodge must have taken some solace in Eisenhower's victory. Lodge had, through the spring and summer of 1952 quite neglected his own campaign while working to engineer Eisenhower's convention victory over the choice of the party faithful--Senator Robert A. Taft.

Lodge's anti-Taft sentiment was the product of his stern, even sanctimonious, liberalism. He was convinced that Taft as Republican nominee, would not only lose in November, but in losing would, "destroy the two-party system and thus our ability to bring about orderly change in America, shaking the very foundations of our government." Asked at the 1952 Republican national Convention to delay a vote that would be embarrassing to Senator Taft, Lodge responded, "I will not consort with evil."

Needless to say, his extremism came back to hurt him when those Taft Republicans deserted Lodge in November. Moreover, conservatives didn't find the prospect of a Kennedy win all that unsettling. In fact, on one of the biggest issues of the time--how to respond to the communist threat--many were saying that Kennedy was the more conservative of the two.

Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), who was very popular among Bay State Irish Catholics because of his anti-communist positions, was a friend of the Kennedys and had received Kennedy family campaign contributions. Lodge, on the other hand, had not gotten on well with McCarthy in the Senate, and was loath to have the fellow Republican campaign for him in Massachusetts for fear of offending his liberal Republican supporters who were so much a fixture in the party establishment then, as now.

Kennedy versus Lodge serves as an excellent text for what a campaigner should do--start early, work hard, grow your base. The book is flawed by a higher than usual number of typographical errors--including the consistent misspelling of the name of Kennedy's important Cambridge adviser--and father of the current mayor of Cambridge--Anthony Galluccio. Such small errors always raise the specter of general sloppiness. But in this case, the proofreader's inadequacies are his own; the author seems to have mastered the materials and told the story in a masterful way.

[David Trumbull is Chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee.]CambGOP@aol.com.]