Politics of Personality: California

Politics of Personality: California

This essay, from the October 27, 1962, issue of The Nation, is a special selection from The Nation Digital Archive. If you want to read everything The Nation has ever published on California, click here for information on how to acquire individual access to the Archive–an electronic database of every Nation article since 1865.


This article was originally published in the October 27, 1962 issue of The Nation as part of a series on “politics and personality.”

THE MOST expensive–and the noisiest–campaign in California’s political history is drawing to a close without having aroused voters to the fever pitch. it would seem to be a rule of modern TV politics that the more expensive a campaign is, the less rank-and-file interest and participation it is likely to arouse. With three-hour (Nixon) and ninety-minute (Brown) telethons, the exhausted viewer-voter apparently feels that there is very little need for him “to talk it up” in neighborhood, shop or office. Then, too, there are really no issues in the California campaign; or, to state it another way, the only issue is Richard M. Nixon. Also big league baseball–the exciting play-off between two California teams and the protracted World Series–has diverted attention.

Essentially the campaign has been a competition in images. The Nixon-Chotiner axis has tried to make it a campaign between Mr. Bright (Nixon) and Mr. Bumble (Brown); the Govenor’s camp has tried to make it one between the Good Knight (Brown) and Mr. Dirty (Nixon). Given the nature of the one issue–Nixon–the black-and-white stereotypes reflect voter attitudes fairly well. Those who dislike Nixon cannot be moved to vote for him by any tricks, arguments or blandishments, whereas those who have always voted for him–whether even they really like him is debatable–cannot be induced to vote for Governor Brown.

On the face of things, Governor Brown must be given a slight edge. The latest polls give him a six-point margin, but Nixon has been edging forward in the last few weeks. The Democrats, of course, enjoy a comfortable margin in registrations, but many voters register as Democrats in California who seldom vote for Democratic nominees, particularly if the nominees are “liberal” or are regarded as such. Republicans, on the other hand, tend to vote a straight ticket. But between the primary on June 8 and the closing of registrations on September 13, 451,182 voters registered, of whom 283,033–approximately 37.2 per cent–registered Republican. Some of these late registrants, of course, were new residents who had just become eligible to vote; but the bulk were probably voters who had suddenly decided to vote on November 6. In a way, these new registrants represent a more significant indication of preference than any of the polls to date. Overall, Republican registration has dropped somewhat since the primary–from 40.18 per cent of the registered vote to 39.88 per cent.

BUT OTHER facts also give the Governor an edge. In this campaign, there have been virtually no defections from the Democratic ranks despite the fact that the Democratic nominees are running separate campaigns. Richard Richards, the Democratic nominee for the Senate, has been a major asset to the Brown campaign. His major contribution has been the remarkable “neutralization” of Republican Senator Kuchel, running to succeed himself. An issue-type politician coached and advised by the astute Paul Ziffren, Richards has passed Kuchel so hard that a noticeable wedge has been driven between Kuchel and Nixon. When Nixon speaks in Oakland, Kuchel makes it a point to be in El Centro; in fact, on several occasions Kuchel has even managed to suggest that he favors Governor Brown. The influential McClatchy newspapers support Kuchel and Brown.

The incumbent Attorney General, Stanley Mosk, is running a strong campaign, as he always does, and is well ahead of his Republican opponent. He, too, adds strength to the Brown candidacy. Moreover, Governor Brown enjoys the advantage of being an incumbent, the principal practical advantage being access to campaign funds. (Not that Nixon suffers from any lack of funds; his campaign expenditures will, by some estimates, well exceed a million dollars.) While “Big Daddy”–Jess Unruh, the Speaker of the House–has succeeded in annoying the liberal, idealistic rank-and-file members of the Democratic clubs, he has added organizational strength, and funds, to the Brown campaign. (But once the election is over, the feud between Unruh and the clubs will blaze.) Nixon has not made a target of Big Daddy, which is rather odd in view of the fact that Unruh is type-cast for the role of the power-drunk, behind-the-scenes manipulator. Tactically, Nixon has not been effective. He has nothing to offer in the way of a rival program (some of his suggestions have been extremely silly) and his “slashing attacks” on the Brown administration have not slashed very deeply.

The plain fact is that Brown has been a good Governor–better by most accounts than Governor Knight and with more legislative accomplishments in one term than Earl Warren managed to chalk up in three. Brown is a real expert on California issues, Nixon a novice.

In large part because he is the kind of man he is, the Governor has enjoyed a much better press than Democratic nominees usually enjoy in California. He will run very well in the northern part of the state, while Nixon will have a slight edge in Southern California, particularly in San Diego County. But even in Southern California, the big blocs are pro-Brown: labor, the minorities (Negroes, Mexican-Americans, Jews) and the Senior Citizens. Factors which might elect Nixon are: the volatile new voters, some last-minute “emotionalism” tagged to headlines (a blow-up in Cuba or something of the sort) and possible apathy–for, as noted, there is less interest in the campaign than the noise heard at a distance would indicate.

The biggest “sleeper” factor is the well-timed, last-minute visit of President Kennedy which could add enough momentum to the campaign to elect the entire slate of Democratic nominees for state officers and Richards as well. The “Red scare,” which Nixon has used with considerable caution, does not seem to have hurt Brown, Richards or Mosk. But, oddly enough, the so-called Francis amendments (a vicious “anti-Communist” initiative) opposed by Nixon (on technical grounds), by the Los Angeles Times and by Brown, are favored by a 4-to-1 margin in the polls.

Predictably, a last-minute Red-baiting gimmick has been injected into the campaign. One cannot prove that the Chotiner-Nixon team authored it, but it is certainly out of their familiar bag of tricks. The first manifestation was the appearance, in suspiciously large numbers, of a booklet entitled, “California: Dynasty of Communism,” by Karl Prussion, who has appeared at some of the “anti-Communist” schools. More recently, a rather mysterious organization calling itself the “Committee for the Preservation of the Democratic Party in California” has been raising funds to send out mailings to registered Democrats. The propaganda is all geared to the suggestion that the California Democratic Clubs, with a membership of 60,000, are about to take over the Democratic Party in the state. The smear is aimed at the C.D.C. on the ostensible ground that the organization has refused to erect a specific bar against “Reds”–meaning those accused of being Reds. Reports indicate that as many as a million copies of this poisoned dart will be aimed at registered Democrats between now and November 6.

In the Congressional races, the Democrats have experienced two bad breaks: the tragic and untimely death of Representative Clem Miller of the First Congressional District and the prolonged illness of Representative D.S. Saund in what is now the Thirty-eighth District. But Democratic incumbents should fare well in other races and the Democrats should win a majority of the new seats.

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