Profile of a Presidential Candidate – 2
Humphrey’s Fight Uphill, But He’s Used to Those
May 9, 1960
Profile of a Presidential Candidate – 2
Humphrey’s Fight Uphill, But He’s Used to Those
This is the second of two articles on candidates for the Democratic nomination for President in the state primary Tuesday. A profile of Sen. John F. Kennedy was published Saturday.
Riding northward from Charleston aboard his campaign bus last Saturday afternoon Sen. Hubert Humphrey did the unexpected in embracing his youngest son, Doug, in a fatherly hug. It’s not unlikely that the irrepressible Humphrey has done it many times before. It’s just that at that moment it seemed to demonstrate something.
Humphrey was then nearing the end of an election campaign in what some political analysts believe may be the biggest test of his political life, and he seemed very much alone. Within four days he would know whether the voters of West Virginia, guinea pigs in a master game of power politics, would favor him or his opponent, Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, as Democratic presidential nominee. And at the time he clutched his son to him neither he nor anybody in his organization would make a firm prediction about the outcome.
As he held the boy, oblivious of the dozen or more staff members and newsmen riding with him, Humphrey had a faraway look in his eyes. His defenses were down. He seemed to be grasping for strength, assurance or a reaffirmation of faith from one who believes in him and his cause.
If he was as depressed as he appeared to be, it was understandable. His crowds on that last big day of his West Virginia campaign had been reduced in size by a chilling rain. He was running short on funds. His fight was all up hill the rest of the way. And he was bone tired.
There undoubtedly have been many such times in the life of Hubert Humphrey, former drug clerk, college professor and mayor of Minneapolis. The brilliant man from Minnesota, now in his second bid for the presidency on the Democratic ticket, has had the devil’s own time convincing the American electorate that he is something more than an egghead liberal in senatorial raiment.
Some people admire and respect him—others do not. On the one hand are leaders in the conservative wing of his party who look upon him as a menace to the nation, while on the other are such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt, who says he possesses the “spark of greatness”, and Reinhold Neibuhr, who says Humphrey “knows more about foreign policy than any other ‘front runner’ in the Democratic party.”
Even the man he would like to oppose in this fall’s presidential balloting, Vice President Richard Nixon, speaks with profound respect about him. Last winter he summed up Humphrey in this way: “He has a good mind, he’s fast on his feet, and fine organizer and a terrific worker . . . (he) has probably gained more in the respect of his colleagues than any senator I’ve known.”
The fact that Humphrey tried and failed four years ago to win his party’s nomination (he would have settled then for vice presidency)., is not a mark against him. He always has done well in the second running.
He got his college degree after the second try, was elected mayor of Minneapolis after one defeat, and put the Democrats into the Minnesota statehouse the second time he had a ticket of his own choosing.
The last of these return-engagement victories took place in 1954, and it was a sort of “coming of age” for a political party that Humphrey has built to his own specifications, says Charles W. Bailey in the book, “Candidates 1960.”
Before Humphrey came on the political scene Minnesota had long suffered from what some people call a “split personality,” partly Farmer-Labor and partly Republican. As Humphrey will tell you with unabashed pride, it was not until he and his group came to power that the Democratic party had a chance in Minnesota. He was the first Democrat ever elected to the U.S. Senate from his state.
Humphrey’s first taste of Minnesota life was stark. As he recalls, his first venture into that state came just before the 1929 stock market crash when his father drove him from Doland, S.D., where the family lived, to the University of Minnesota campus in the family Model T and told him as he departed: “Good-bye. Good luck. Grow up.”
This first visit lasted only a year before the depression hit his father’s drug store so hard that young Humphrey had to quit school. He finally returned to stay in 1937, by which time he was 26 years old, a licensed pharmacist and married.
The years he was out of school were hard ones for the Humphrey family. Father Hubert moved the family from Doland to Huron on the theory that “if we’re going to go broke we might as well do it in a big town,” and succeeded in Huron only by cutting prices below those of his competitor.
Little cash came in during those years, but, as the elder Humphrey told his family, the lack of business provided time for learning. The store became the local forum for political discussion, and son Hubert often was in the center of things, whetting his appetite for politics on the minds of the gentry of his adopted town.
Much of his political philosophy was shaped during those years. Those six years away from campus life particularly sharpened his concern about the place of the small business in American life.
When, by 1936 things had improved enough so Humphrey could return to school, he went back to the University of Minnesota. These, too were years of strife. Things went pretty well, with Humphrey working nights in a drug store and his wife working days as a clerk, until the time came for their first child. She, therefore, quit, and to help pay the bills they took in a boarder, Orville Freeman (the same Freeman who today is Governor of Minnesota).
Finally, in 1939 Humphrey got his bachelor of arts degree, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and the next autumn traveled south to Louisiana State University where he added his master’s degree. (His thesis subject was “The Philosophy of the New Deal”)
During the next few years Humphrey held several jobs, none of them particularly elevating. He was a teaching fellow at the University of Minnesota for a year, and after the United States went to war he became first the state director of war production training and re-employment, then state chief of the Minnesota war service program, then assistant director of the war manpower commission in Minnesota. Finally in 1943 he became a political science professor at Macalester College in St. Paul and taught members of the Air Corps training detachment.
The Air Corps teaching job is the closest Humphrey ever came to military service—a fact that has crept into the West Virginia primary campaign. He tried to enlist in the Navy’s reserve officer’s program in 1943 but was twice turned down because eye tests showed him to be color-blind.
He was not called by his draft board early in the war, apparently because of his growing family. When his number finally came up in 1944, he was shipped off to the Fort Snelling induction center, only to be sent home five days later as available for limited service alone. The doctors at the fort discovered he had a double hernia and minor lung calcification.
When he ran for mayor of Minneapolis, an outgrowth of political discussion with friends on the University campus where he was teaching, he found that the city was wide open and vice-ridden. Organized labor was a big factor in his victory.
Humphrey the office holder talked even more than Humphrey the candidate. He went all over the state talking about what a great city Minneapolis was, and he also went to city council meetings, where the mayor rarely if ever appeared, and told the alderman what they should do. At first they resented it, but in time they started going along with him, and his future course in politics was sealed.
After his election to the Senate, he started slowly to push Democrats into other branches of government. Today, due in large part to Humphrey’s energy, spirit and political acumen, the Democrats are in control of virtually everything in Minnesota.
Humphrey’s fight in West Virginia’s preferential primary was as uphill when it started as it is today nationally. Coming here after a pasting in the Wisconsin primary several weeks ago, he had to start with depleted campaign funds, his body, his voice and his mind. But he has gained so much ground, mainly because his appeal is to the working man of which there are many in this state, that most political observers say he’ll win the Tuesday primary.
But Humphrey appears worried. The organizational support in such big counties as McDowell and tightly controlled counties as Wyoming seems to favor Kennedy. In the Bible belt the religious issue gives him the edge, but when one is weighed against the other, as the Humphrey staff has been doing in recent days, no clear-cut picture comes through.
The Humphrey people aren’t particularly pleased that so many voters say they’ll go for him because he’s a Protestant. As one of them said on Saturday, “We would like to think they want Humphrey because he’s the best man.” These workers are sold on him. Like Mrs. Roosevelt, they think he has the spark of greatness.
One thing that hurts him most is that he’s a full-fledged liberal in the true sense, and there are those who draw away from such non-conformity.
But his friends and supporters have an answer for this. They say, “He’s ahead of his time.”
Maybe this was what Hubert Humphrey was thinking about Saturday when he clutched his son to him. Young Doug would understand. He’s a liberal, too, his father’s most vocal supporter among the crowds around the hustings.
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