An excerpt of chapter 4 from the book Richard Nixon by Earl Mazo

Harper & Brothers, 1959 - hardcover

From pages 41 - 45


    Before the war, when the state assemblyman from his district was appointed a judge, Nixon considered running for the vacancy. Someone else was endorsed by the Republican party leaders, however, and his only campaign venture was in the 1940 presidential election when he made some speeches locally for Wendell Willkie. Nixon recalls harboring "no grandoise ambitions" in the political field. "I wanted to enter the law, but I wasn't a youngster who wanted to be President of the United States," he says. "Even in college political battles as such never appealed to me, but I always seemed to get dragged into them to run for some office or another."
    Mrs. Nixon remembers distinctly that "there was no talk of political life at all in the beginning" either before or after their marriage. When opportunity was offered Nixon to run for Congress, she adds, "I didn't feel strongly about it either way. . . . I felt that a man had to make up his mind what he wants to do, then after he made it up, the only thing that I could do was to help him. But it would not have been a life that I would have chosen."
    Nixon registered as a voter in 1938. He was twenty-five, and had missed four voting years. But his job as assistant city attorney of Whittier was a political plum, so to speak, and therefore he had become, in effect, a politician. But it was the late fall of 1945 before he went into politics in earnest.
    Whittier and its environs, then the 12th Congressional District of California, was stanch Republican territory. Yet in 1936 it elected a Democrat for Congress, and kept re-electing him. Jerry Voorhis, the Congressman, was mild mannered, conscientious, likable and extremely popular. He was respected by fellow Congressmen and the press corps in Washington. He worked hard at his job, answered his mail promptly, dealt with personal problems of his constituents on an eagerly nonpartisan basis, and when Congress was not in session he seldom passed by opportunities to be guest teacher of Sunday-school classes or to address church and civic groups. Furthermore, the Congressman faithfully remembered births, anniversaries, and other happy occasions in his district. And, of course, that kept his name in the minds of many voters. In short, Jerry Voorhis was a smart politician.
    As was customary for candidates in the crazy quilt of California politics, Voorhis always sought both the Democrat and the Republican nomination. He never ran as an out-and-out, partisan Democrat. In fact, the word "Democrat" rarely appeared in his advertisements and other paraphernalia (just as the word "Republican" almost never showed up on the material of his opponents). Several Republican organization leaders were among Congressman Voorhis' loyal supporters. This galled other rock-ribbed Republicans because, well known to the party faithful, Voorhis was no ordinary Democrat. He was raised in well-to-do circumstances, and that made him all the more sensitive to the woes of the poor. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, he took a factory job at 39 cents an hour, worked as a freight handler in a railroad yard, where he saw two fellow workers killed for lack of adequate safety equipment, toured Europe, where he witnessed hunger everywhere, and then, after failing to get a job in a southern textile mill, and working awhile on a Ford assembly line, he married and with financial help from his father, opened a school and home for orphaned boys. In the mid-twenties Voorhis was a LaFollete Progressive. Then he became an active Socialist. And in the early depression years he embraced the "End Poverty in California" program of Upton Sinclair and ran for assemblyman on the ticket which Sinclair headed for governor. By 1936 Voorhis had become a bona fide Democrat and ran for Congress as a follower of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although he grew increasingly conservative in Congress and became an energetic foe of Communism, his record as a whole was bitter medicine for most stalwart Republicans. Worst of all to them was his espousal of co-operatives and a Voorhis plan for altering the monetary system. They called the latter a "funny-money scheme."
    When all else failed, the Republican hierarchy in California turned to the 1940 census for salvation. Since the legislature was Republican, the plan was to gerrymander Voorhis and several other Democratic congressmen out of office simply by redefining their districts. Two communities which Voorhis normally carried by a ratio of 5-1 were sliced from his district. Even so, Voorhis was re-elected in 1942 by a 13,000 vote majority and again in 1944, for a fifth term, by the same impressive margin. Other Democrats also survived the gerrymander. Therefore, in 1945, Republican professionals agreed to let complaining amateurs try their hand. These, most of them successful business, industrial and professional figures, traced the trouble to low-grade candidates, known in the trade as "turkeys." It was decided to form a Fact-Finding Committee of leading citizens in each troublesome district. This committee would interview potential candidates, weed out the perennials and the misfits, and support with all available resources "sound-thinking, articulate, and respected" individuals, preferably newcomers. Murray M. Chotiner, a resourceful Beverly Hills lawyer-politician whose enterprise included a public relations firm, was designated by a party organization to help the amateurs. Chotiner had masterminded several exceptionally successful campaigns for Republicans, including Governor Earl Warren, and later was to become Richard Nixon's political manager.
    Meanwhile the citizen fact-finders in the 12 District bestirred themselves well ahead of schedule. In the late spring of 1945—a full year and a half before the target election—a group met in Arcadia. Stanley Barnes, an attorney who has since been appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, as chairman and Frank E. Jorgensen, a vice-president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, were the spark plugs. Later, to assure unity, leaders of various regular Republican party organizations were added to the committee in time to hear the first aspirants for nomination. As might be expected, none of the eight applicants were satisfactory. In fact, Jorgensen and his group already knew the man they wanted. He was Walter Dexter, a former president of Whittier College who had become California's superintendent of education. To run for Congress Dexter would have had to resign his state position and, as Jorgensen recalls, "he couldn't afford to risk the financial loss that would result if he was not elected." Dexter therefore suggested one of his former students, Richard M. Nixon, whom he described as one of the most promising young men he had ever known. Jorgensen and two associates, Boyd Gibbons and Rockwood Nelson, drove over to the Nixon grocery store to make inquiries. Frank and Hannah Nixon were more than willing to talk about their oldest living son. They noted that a good friend in town, Herman L. Perry, manager of the local Bank of America branch, also had mentioned that their son would be an ideal candidate.
    Perry telephoned Nixon in Baltimore, where he was renegotiating Navy contracts while awaiting release from the service. Nixon flew to California, and on December 4, 1945, he formally accepted the fact-finding committee's endorsement in a letter to Roy O. Day, district Republican chairman. It was evident from his letter that the 32-year-old Nixon was eager to be out of uniform and running for office. "I am going to see Joe Martin and John Phillips and try to get what dope I can on Mr. Voorhis' record," he wrote, in part. "His 'conservative' reputation must be blasted. But my main efforts are being directed toward building up a positive, progressive group of speeches which tell what we want to do, not what the Democrats have failed to do." The neophyte politician advised Day to "bring in the liberal fringe Republicans. We need every Republican and a few Democrats to win. I'm really hopped up over this deal, and I believe we can win."
    In January Nixon was released from active duty, and he came west with a satchelful of ideas and a set of electioneering pictures from which he learned a fundamental political truth. It was that the great majority of veterans had been enlisted men for whom a politician campaigning in the uniform of an officer held little traction. The photographs were thrown out, and the simple words "Dick Nixon" on proposed literature. Nixon began his active campaign immediately. Shortly thereafter the Nixons' first daughter, Patricia, was born, and within three weeks Mrs. Nixon left the child with her mother-in-law and joined her husband.
    Murray Chotiner was the principal professional member of Nixon's campaign organization. Chotiner was Senator Knowland's southern California campaign manager, in itself a full-time job. Roy Day retained him as publicity director for Nixon, on the side, at a fee of $500.
    Voorhis and Nixon took advantage of California's peculiar cross-filing system to become candidates for the nominations of both parties. But, while Nixon worked at it energetically, Voorhis sent word that he was very busy looking after the people's welfare in Washington and therefore could not spare the time to campaign in the spring primaries. As usual, that was fine strategy. Voorhis won the Democratic nomination, got a substantial vote in the Republican primary, and gained the psychological advantage of beating Nixon by 7,000 votes in the over-all count. Normally this would have meant sure victory in the November general election. But Nixon's morale went up when a Los Angeles political reporter pointed out that Voorhis' vote, 53.5 per cent of the total, was quite a drop from 1944, when he polled 60 per cent.
    "Keen political observers . . . thought we ran a darn fine race, and this was the best Republican primary showing in years," Nixon wrote Chairman Day. "Frankly, Roy, I really believe that's true, and it is time some of the rest of the people began to realize it. All we need is a win complex and we'll take him in November."