Chapman Revercomb

Charleston Daily Mail
October 10, 1979

Revercomb Was True People's Choice

By Bob Mellace
Daily Mail Associate Editor

Chapman Revercomb's greatest successes in a long political career were scored against controversial Democratic governors. He beat one both times he was elected to the United States Senate. And for 25 years he was the only Republican in West Virginia to enjoy any statewide success during the long Roosevelt-Truman era.

The late senator, a man of truly patrician mien and the manner of the Virginia gentleman, which he was, died last Saturday at age 84.

In 1942, Sen. Revercomb felt it was time to do the un-doable and take on Matthew Mansfield Neely, the sitting governor, ex-congressman, ex-senator, and undefeated in 25 years. Gov. Neely, grandfather of State Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely, had divided the Democratic party to its core in the bitter gubernatorial primary of 1940.

Matt Neely could have stayed in his Senate seat in Washington, but he came home to oust what he labelled the statehouse machine of former Democratic Gov. Guy Kump and the incumbent Gov. Homer Holt. The senator did that, quite handily, but the primary fight didn't end with Neely's nomination and election.

It continued through his first two years in office, and the deep division amoung [sic] Democrats affected nearly every facet of state government, particularly the Legislature.

When Neely decided in 1942 that he would rather return to Washington than stay in the governor's chair in Charleston, he made more that enough Democratic enemies to thwart him in his wishes.

The vehicle they used to run over him was Chapman Revercomb, who fought a bruising Rupublican primary for what looked like the dubious honor of challenging unbeatable Neely. The vote was Revercomb 256,818, Neely 207,045. Gov. Neely had to finish out his term. Revercomb went to Washington.

At the end of the six-year term, however, Neely was waiting for him and this time, in 1948, he defeated Revercomb easily. It was a presidential year and Revercomb went down with Tom Dewey.

He tried a comeback in 1952, this time against Sen. Harley Kilgore, the other incumbent senator from West Virignia [sic], and made a very strong race of it, losing 406,554 to 470,019.

In 1956 another controversial Democrat was in the governor's office in the person of William Casey Marland when Sen. Kilgore died. Gov. Marland installed his friend and tax commissioner, the late William R. Laird III of Fayette County, to bold down the seat until the general election, when Gov. Marland planned to take it for his own.

He didn't count on Chapman Revercomb who, just as he had against Neely, appealed to the Democrats who did not care for the controversial governor of their own party, and were willing to switch tickets to displace him from public office. Gov. Marland was defeated 432,123 to 373,051 and retired to private life.

But the ex-senator was to be heard from again opposing a governor, this time a Republican, Cecil H. Underwood. The governor wanted his friend and member of his administration, the late Harold Neely, to succeed him, and Neely ran with Underwood's support in the primary of 1960.

Again Sen. Revercomb intervened and ran with considerable Republican backing, including that of Underwood's own road commissioner, the late Patrick C. Graney. He could not overcome the Neely-Underwood forces, however, and it was Neely the Republicans sent out to lose against Gov. William Wallace Barron.

Revercomb lost as he had won: bucking the odds, taking on the "organization," and giving the people a choice.

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