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.