Governor Cecil Underwood at the Republican National Convention

Charleston Daily Mail
July 26, 1960

Nixon Ruffles Gov. Underwood; Forces Punch Line Out of Speech

By Bob Mellace
Daily Mail Political Editor

CHICAGO - Vice President Richard M. Nixon last night made a last-minute appeal to Gov. Underwood to cut out of his speech a reference to Sen. John F. Kennedy which Nixon thought was a personal attack on Kennedy.

Underwood did it, but obviously was displeased, and he said he agreed only after receiving permission to tell why he did it.

"It was the best line of the speech," Underwood said of the last sentence which was never heard and never will be heard by the nationwide television audience that watched him

Trying to harpoon Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, Underwood concluded his 20-minute address as temporary chairman this way:

"In the most vicious speech of his career, that rich young man, nominated by our opposition, said that the cards needed to be cut. I say that we Republicans here in Chicago will cut our own cards."

Underwood stopped there. But the prepared text had this punch line, to which Nixon objected:

"We would be foolish not to when we are playing with a gambler who can hide a Texan up his sleeve."

This was a reference to Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy's running mate who insisted up to the last that he would no run for vice president, but did.

Underwood left the West Virginia delegation at approximately 8:45 p. m. and went on the air 15 minutes later. In the interval there was, according to his description, some high level scrambling behind the speaker's platform.

Nixon, according to Underwood, "sent three emissaries, but I did not yield." He did, finally, when Nixon called him personally by telephone, but he told the Daily Mail:

"I finally agreed with the understanding I could give out the reason for leaving the line out."

He continued:

"I did it at the personal request of Mr. Nixon. I worked a long time on that speech and nobody ever suggested to me what was to go into it until tonight after it had been released for hours, and minutes before I was to give it. He said he thought it was too much of a personal attack on Kennedy and he didn't want a campaign pitched on that level.

"I thought it was no worse than some of the statements Kennedy has been putting out, and I still say it was the best line of the speech."

Underwood was very much miffed by the vice president's insistence. He had written and rewritten the speech many times, and it was accepted shortly before noon yesterday by the Republican publicity organization, for mimeographing and general distribution, and timing.

There is no doubt it was the backbone of the keynote speech he would have given, had he been selected keynoter instead of temporary chairman. And it was easily one of the best efforts of his career.

He charged the Democrats, headed by Kennedy and Johnson, have placed their own country in a position second to Soviet Russia, in an effort to downgrade the Eisenhower administration and win votes in November.

When Underwood concluded, there was much speculation as to why he left out the punch line - the last line and usually the high point, in the speaker's view, of any speech.

The governor left the convention hall with Mrs. Underwood for a late and private supper to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary and could not be reached until several hours later.

Contacted by the Daily Mail, he told of Nixon's efforts to stop him.

In the meantime, the West Virginia press corps, here to cover the convention, was speculating why he had eliminated the line. One theory was that Nixon did not want Underwood to blame Kennedy for picking his chief opponent - Johnson - for vice president, when Nixon himself may team up with Gov. Rockefeller before this convention ends Thursday night.

Another was that Nixon did not want to have the GOP temporary chairman make any remarks that could be construed as a slur against Texas.

With or without the line, it was a good, partisan Republican speech, and the convention - gallery and delegates - gave their approval repeatedly. More than 20 times they applauded, and most vigorously when he referred to the Kennedy-Humphrey primary contest in West Virginia. Underwood said:

"You undoubtedly heard much about West Virginia in the Spring primary, while the Kennedys were there. There have been rumors their bankers were there, too. Humphrey was there - with more solutions than we had problems.

"When these senators came to West Virginia, I warned our people that we would have the same problems when they left as when they came. They wouldn't solve ours, and I didn't think we would solve theirs. After the primary I had to revise my statement, we did solve Humphrey's problems.

"I might add here that we will help to solve Kennedy's problem in November."

Under a Democratic congress, West Virginia has lost $48 million in highway aid, the governor said, and it has thousands of acres of undeveloped national forest lands that could give employment to thousands. Also, he added, the Democrats refused to appropriate more money for coal research in existing agencies but preferred, instead, to create new agencies.

"Let Kennedy and Johnson answer the deficiencies of their own record before they spread their tears over our land," Underwood declared.

He accused Kennedy and other Democratic leaders of underselling their own country and running before the bluffs of Soviet Russia.

"In Los Angeles, America was called second-rate. We were shown a new frontier, to which the Democratic leaders were going, not because of the challenge of new worlds, but because of fear of the old world," Underwood added.

The American people "do not want a Kennedy to rig the American economy," Underwood said, and he accused Kennedy of converting Winston Churchill's "blood, sweat and tears" to "mud, threats and smears." He continued:

"To perpetuate their insidious fear, the Democratic leadership tries to deny the solid record of Republican achievement and prosperity . . . Our opponents consider only problem areas of our country. They search for them; they create them; they wail when they can't find enough of them. They walk, not as proud, confident men, into the future, but with their heads down and backwards. They talk irresponsibly of economic growth. Here again, they tremble with fear and try to fix upon us a position second to Russia. These would be serious allegations if they were true. But they are not true."

Underwood was introduced by Jaren L. Jones, national committeeman from Utah, vice chairman of the convention arrangements committee.

Jones called him "an old time youngster in politics . . . one of five children of a dirt farmer who, like Lincoln, had to struggle."

"If his dad had 480 million dollars," Jones said, "and if he was a Democrat, they might have nominated him at Los Angeles."

The West Virginia delegation, delegates and alternates, staged a brief demonstration for the governor after his speech, carrying signs with his picture and the slogan "forward West Virginia." One carried a home-made sign, saying "Kennedy thought he bought West Virginia but he just rented it for a day."

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