Monday, June 6, 2016

California, Primarily

California Counts, 2015 
Courtesy KPBS
“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
― Theodore Roosevelt, 1913
Teddy Roosevelt made this analogy in his 1913 autobiography while expressing support for women’s suffrage. “I believe for women, as for men, more in the duty of fitting one’s self to do well and wisely with the ballot than in the naked right to cast the ballot,” he explained.

In today’s political climate, with emotions running high, voters appear to be using their votes as rifles. Once Californians have cast their votes, will they have voted “well and wisely”?

As California prepares for its primary election on June 7, we look at some reminders of past primaries, some groundbreaking, some surprising, some tragic—and some very recognizable.


Theodore Roosevelt and Hiram Johnson, 1912
California Historical Society
In the 1912 election, Progressive (Bull Moose) Party nominee Theodore Roosevelt teamed up with California Governor Hiram Johnson. It was the beginning of both the Progressive Party and the primary process in California. Prior to the primary, presidential candidates were selected by their fellow politicians.

(Left) John Nance Garner California Button Ribbon, 1932 
(Right) John (“Cactus Jack”) Nance Garner, c. 1905
California Democrats originally from the South won the day in the 1932 primary as House Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas beat New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. When it became clear that Roosevelt was considered the stronger candidate in the general election—despite being short of the two-thirds votes required for nomination—Garner cut a deal and joined Roosevelt’s ticket as vice president.

(Left) Upton Sinclair, c. 1920–39
Courtesy Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library
(Right) Governor Earl Warren, 1946 
California Historical Society
Running as a Democrat, Socialist Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, campaigned against poverty in California’s 1934 gubernatorial race, receiving almost 900,000 votes. Two years later, he ran in the 1936 presidential primary against Franklin D. Roosevelt, winning 11 percent of the Democratic vote. Republican Earl Warren was favorite son in the 1936, 1948, and 1952 primaries. He never won the Republican nomination but obtained judicial influence as the fourteenth Chief Justice of the United States.

"It’s Nixon in ’60!” Bumper Sticker, 1960
California Historical Society
A 1960 California Republican Party pamphlet touted Nixon as “the most able and electable presidential prospect, of either party, in the Nation. Republicans, leading Independents and thoughtful Democrats throughout the State are swelling the ranks of one of the greatest citizens’ movements in California history.” In his closely contested race against John F. Kennedy—undermined by a poor showing during the presidential debates—Nixon lost the popular vote by .2 percent and the electoral vote by a 302–219 margin.

Victory Celebration, 1968 
Courtesy Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Democrat Robert Kennedy addressed enthusiastic supporters in the ballroom of Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, after winning the 1968 California presidential primary the previous day. Shortly after delivering his victory speech, Kennedy was critically shot in a hotel kitchen corridor. He died the next day. Kennedy’s assassination, which closely followed Martin Luther King’s (April 4, 1968), “shattered the nation,” the U.S. News & World Report observed.

George McGovern, Dennis Weaver, and Tom Bradley, date unknown 
Courtesy Gary Leonard Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Despite a “Stop McGovern” campaign led by Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, Senator George McGovern’s anti-Vietnam War platform helped him win California’s winner-take-all delegates in the 1972 California Democratic primary against Hubert Humphrey. Factors such as his  outsider status, perception by others as a left-wing extremist, and lack of party support, however, cost McGovern’s the election against incumbent President Richard Nixon by a wide margin.
Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


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