Watergate Catastrophic For House Rs In ’74
Historic Tidbit: One of the many freshman swept into Congress in 1974 was a New Yorker named Edward Pattison, who beat a 70 year old seven-term Republican named Carleton King. Pattison would narrowly survive 1976 due to a Republican/Conservative Party split, but by ’78, would be hurt when he admitted he had smoked marijuana, which prompted Republicans to begin referring to him as “Pottison.” He lost that fall to Gerald Solomon 54-46%.
By Scott Crass
1974 was a bloodbath for House Republicans. The Watergate scandal, coupled with Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon, cost Republicans dearly. And the new President, who had proclaimed “our long national nightmare over” would suffer mightily. He may have best captured the impending doom just after signing the pardon, when he prepared to play around of golf. “Today,” Ford said, “I will try to get into a hole in one. Tomorrow, I’ll need to get out of one.” Indeed, Election Night was heinous. As one of his aides said, “many of his close friends lost.” But beyond that, many of the losers were people he had led as Minority Leader, and in some cases, had mentored.
No region of the country was spared the Watergate wrath. Five of seven members Republican from Indiana alone were shown the door, including a twelve-term Congressman who was the senior member of the Armed Services Committee. New Jersey Republicans lost four seats, including one of Ford’s 1948 classmates. The New York GOP was relegated to it’s fewest number of representatives since 1912. Iowa’s Congressional Republicans went from three to one. A former Governor of Wisconsin who had been ensconced in the House for 13 years went down. And several members thought to be safe in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia saw their careers end as well.
Many of the casualties were the President’s staunchest defenders, from on the Judiciary Committee or off. Committee Republicans who opposed impeachment until literally the 11th hour (or in the case of many, 72 hours), were crucified.
Four Judiciary Republicans fell into this category. Charles Sandman of New Jersey, Joe Maraziti of New Jersey, David Dennis of Indiana, and Wiley Mayne of Iowa voted against the articles of impeachment in committee and were prepared to do so on the floor, until August 5, 1974, when the evidence pointing to Nixon’s role in the cover-up would be irrefutable. That day, all four, along with their remaining seven Judiciary colleagues who had opposed impeachment, said they were now prepared to do so. And all faced rematches with foes they had faced in a recent election.
Among the foursome, Sandman, 53, fell the hardest. In the span of just one year, Sandman would lose it all. He had taken 66% of the vote in his re-election bid in 1972 and had wrested the GOP Gubernatorial nomination from incumbent William Cahill a year earlier, who was in trouble with his own party for raising taxes. But the political detriment of Watergate really encapsulated between the primary and the November general election and Sandman lost to Brendan Byrne by over 700,000 votes. He lost 20 of the state’s 21 counties, only managing to win his home, Cape May, in the southern tip.
That alone should have signified the perilousness of his electoral position in ’74. Indeed, Sandman did get the jolt the rest of the party faced. He would write to George H.W. Bush, then serving as RNC Chair that, Every Republican in NJ was severely punished. We lost 13 incumbent State Senators…15 Assemblymen. Not one of these was due to any state or local issue. To the contrary. Our candidates were far better than their conquerors.”
But the four termer kept defending Nixon. Referring to inconsistencies, he’d say, “Isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it surprising? Isn’t it astonishing.” At another point, he insisted “my role is not one of defending the President – that’s for sure.” He said his philosophy was “a strict construction of the Constitution. If somebody, for the first time in seven months, gives me something that is direct, I will vote to impeach.” And just before the July impeachment vote, Sandman angrily addressed his fellow New Jerseyan, Judiciary Chair Peter Rodino. “Please, he said,” let us not bore the American public with a rehashing of what we have heard. You’ve got 27 votes. Let’s go on with our business.”
But by August 5, he could defend Nixon no longer (“these conversations contain specific, clear and convincing evidence…obstruction of justice”).
Sandman after upsetting incumbent Bill Cahill in the 1973 Gubernatorial primary (AP Wire Photo)
With his re-election approaching, Sandman faced one of the best campaigners in the entire country. Bill Hughes had come within 5,000 votes of denying Hughes re-election in 1970 and now was running again. And this time, the result would be unambiguous. Hughes would take 59% and this time, Cape May would not support Sandman, who returned to New Jersey and would eventually be appointed a Superior Court Judge by Tom Kean. He died in 1983.
Maraziti, 62, was a freshman who had been so instrumental in the drawing of his district that it was called the “Maraziti district.” But his performance on the committee was considered a spectacle. He would hunt down reporters and mounted defenses that even his supporters would call ridiculous. After the impeachment vote, he had said, “we have weakened the hand of the President and the 220 million people he represents,” But it wasn’t just Watergate that tied him down. He was already under scrutiny for office irregularities. Helen Meyner, the wife of the former Governor that he had walloped in 1972, returned the favor 57-43%
Mayne, 57, in his fourth term, not only refused to distance himself from Nixon, but Ford as well. He had appeared with the President at a September fundraiser in Iowa. Actually, Mayne’s troubles had begun well before Watergate. In a district that had given Nixon 62% in ’72, Mayne had almost been dragged under by Berkley Bedell, a millionaire. Now, Bedell was back for a rematch, and he was labeling Mayne, Nixon’s “yes man.” He said Mayne opposing impeachment “was a vote to cover-up by killing the matter in committee. Our Congressman has acted more like a defense lawyer for Nixon than like a representative of the people.” At a forum years later, Mayne himself was mythodical.
Wiley Mayne (R-Iowa)
At a 2003 forum, he said he “felt it took a very, very strong body of evidence to justify the drastic remedy to impeach him.But at the time our committee voted, I did not think that it was there. Of course, just a few days later on August 5, the President released those transcripts…in which it was clear that he was instructing the FBI to discontinue it’s investigation…” Asked if he felt betrayed by Nixon, Mayne would say, “no,” adding that he “accomplished a lot of great things for the country. And i stood with him because I did because I did not think…there was sufficient evidence to justify this very, very extreme remedy, which had been attempted only once.” However altruistic, the voters did not stand with Mayne. Bedell ousted him 55-45%. He died at 90 in 2007.
Dennis, 62, in his third term, had lacked a secure hold on his seat even before Watergate, though evidence suggests that he was slowly building strength. Nixon had won an astounding 69% in 1972, yet Dennis was only able to hold off he held off a 28 year old named Phil Sharp by just 2,500 votes in 1970, 51-49%. He beat Sharp more decisively (57-43%) in ’72. But he raised a lot of technical objections during the proceedings and, when he cast a vote against Nixon’s impeachment, that was enough for his voters. Still, Dennis prepared to dig in for the long haul. “It’s only Round One,” he said. “There’ll be a good scramble in the House.” And as it turned out, for his House seat, as well. Sharp had said “he talked for a while about open-mindedness, but on all the procedural votes, he took the Nixon line.” But when Dennis came out for impeachment, hard-line conservatives were enraged as well. The third time would prove the charm for Sharp, who this time beat Dennis 54-46%.
On the cover-up, he said, “I’ve never understood why it was done. That’s still a great puzzle.”
The other Judiciary Committee Republican who lost was a Wisconsin freshman named Harold Froehlich, a freshman Republican from Wisconsin. He came around very late, but backed two articles, which angered Republicans. His slogan was “Putting It together for people.”
Beyond the Judiciary Committee, there were other characters who fell, and some were people who would exceed eccentricity.
Indiana’s Earl Landgrebe, 58, sat in a district where Nixon had taken 74%. Byt Landgrebe almost lost in 1970 and took an unimpressive 55% in ’72. He held off his ’74 primary with under 60%, without the support of many Republicans who feared he wouldn’t be able to hold the seat in November. It’s easy to see why. Even a district this Republican likes some deviations, and Landgrebe didn’t give it to them.
Landegrebe was the only member to oppose the District of Columbia’s request for home rule. He considered certain public education curriculum as “akin to witchcraft.” And he called for his senor Senator, Vance Hartke, to be shot for questioning the American economy, though he later would relax that. But the day before Nixon resigned, Landgrebe, made his views known, issuing his “don’t confuse me with the facts,’” line. “I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my President even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.” Voters respectfully passed on the firing squad but did opt for death by the ballot. Landgrebe lost his 1974 re-election bid to Democrat Floyd Fithian by 22%, 61-39%.
Landgrebe would continue his rants out of office. As the operator of a furniture business, he literally confronted picketers twice with a tractor trailer. Legal struggles with the unions ensued and Landgrebe was prohibited by the court from entering the building. He died at 70.
Landgrebe’s fellow Hoosier, Roger Zion, 53, had also made some tempestuous remarks, but was not nearly as flaky.been known for assiduous constituent service. He called Vietnam era protesters “traitors” and said”any of them involved in illegal acts be treated comparably with Frenchmen whose heads were shaved if they were caught collaborating with the Germans in World War II.” And he defended Nixon until fairly late in the game as well. Nixon won 65%, but Zion had struggled, winning just 53% in 1970. And this year, he had another problem. He was named one of the environmental groups “dirty dozen.” Congressional Quarterly described his opponent, State senator Phillip Hayes as “an urbane lawyer…and a glib and effective campaigner.”
But Zion had become known for assiduous constituent service and in early October, his race was still considered a tossup. That was downgraded to “Democrat Favored” the first week in November, and Zion fell to Hayes, whom he had outspent, 53-47%. At 92, he lives in Washington and remains active.
Wisconsin’s Vernon Thompson was a former Governor of his state. That was a single two year stint but his House tenure had spanned 13 years. Furthermore, Democrat Alvin Baldus was not the favored democrat to emerge from the primary. But Thompson not only had backed Nixon, but also the pardon, and labor came in big for Baldus. it paid off.
Iowa’s Bill Scherle, 51, had thought to have weathered his toughest race in 1972. He had been held to just 55% by a little-known lawyer named Tom Harkin, as Nixon was grabbing 63%. Harkin was running again but Scherle was thought to have received a wake-up call. He traversed the district like never before and began criticizing the Nixon administration on a number of stances that were detrimental to his farm-based constituency. Many Democrats even were predicting Harkin would fall short. But But Scherle proved to be a canary in the coal mine, denting Scherle a fifth term 51-49%. It would begin a 40 year career that is set to culminate when Harkin retires next year.
Many other, less high profile members were also shown the door.
John Hunt was Sandman’s southern New Jersey neighbor. But he was junior and, having taken just 53% two years before, was naturally endangered. He may also have had a misfortune in his name, as Hunt was of course the last name of a major Watergate conspirator. He was demolished by Jim Florio, who would later become Governor.
The bloodbath was so widespread that it swept away even the most senior, and seemingly secure incumbents. William Bray of Indiana, 71, was first been elected in 1950 and had won his ’72 re-election with 65%, as Nixon had taken 74%. He had backed Civil Rights legislation. Appropriately, his race was rated as safe Republican by Congressional Quarterly as recently as mid-October. He lost 52-48% to a 28 year old assistant principal named David Evans. Ford made his friend Commissioner to the American Battle Commissions the following year.
Virginia’s Joel Broyhill had served 11 terms. He was another member who had excelled at constituent service But he opposed home-rule for the District of Columbia and his area was changing. He seemed to recognize that and was prepared to retire, only to be talked into running again by Ford, then vice-president. He was stunned by Herb Harris.
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And New Jersey’s William Widnall, elected to the House alongside Gerald Ford in 1948, would have been the most senior Republican had he returned (Leslie Arends was retiring, and his seat would also fall to the Democrats). Windall was not all that conservative, but at 68, he had become relaxed in his campaign techniques, while Andy McGuire, 35, was doing everything to match it. McGuire won 53-47%.
Indiana also turned out William Hudnut, a fairly respected moderate who, by holding off colleague Andy Jacobs in a redistricting matchup, appeared to have cleared his toughest hurdle. But Indianapolis, though relatively conservative for a large city (Nixon got 66% districtwide), had turned sour and Jacobs regained his seat. But his city would later assure Hudnut that it wasn’t personal. They’d reward him with the Mayoralty. And Sam Young found his fortune reversed from a rematch win over Abner Mikva two years earlier.
Others remarkable upsets. Seven-term New Yorker Jim Grover, sitting in a district that had given Nixon 72%, was beaten by a 25 year old New Yorker named Tom Downey. Grover was well respected and Downey’s initial decision to enter the race had come a year earlier, before he had reached the Constitutionally required age of 25, over frustration with gas prices. But Downey saw the tide turning when a liquor store owner told him “there was more champagne sold that August than New Year’s Eve.” The pardon reopened the wounds. But Downey wasn’t naive enough to know the Republicans “did not vote for me. They just didn’t vote.”
Robert Hanrahan, of Illinois, was nipped by Marty Russo after being labeled “Safe R” and Colorado’s Donald Brotzman lost to Tim Wirth, in a race which Watergate in America: How We Remember, Forget, and Reconstruct the Past by Michael Schudson says Brotzman had led by 30 points in late summer. With said “Brotz never heard the footsteps, never heard a sound, didn’t know what had happened, stayed in Washington.” He never debated With, who won 52-48%.
Downey, Russo, and Wirth would come to epitomize the youth and reform-mindedness of the “Watergate Babies.”
Nor were southerners where Nixon was backed immune. Oklahoma’s John Happy Camp had taken 73% in his last election as Nixon had won 79%. But he lost to Glenn English. Georgia’s Ben Blackburn faced similar circumstances.
In short, issues — particularly inflation, played a role in many of these GOP losses.
Another genuinely surprising second fiddle was Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, a North Carolinian and former Met, Cardinal, and Pirate who lost to Stephen Neal 52-48% in a race that Congressional Quarterly had rated “safe Republican” a week before the vote. Oklahoma’s John Happy Camp had taken 73% in his last election as Nixon had won 79%. But he lost to Glenn English. Georgia’s Ben Blackburn faced similar circumstances. And in Tennessee, Lamar Baker, whose smooth ride to re-election appeared to get smoother when his challenger, Mort Lloyd, was killed in aplane crash on primary night, was upset by his widow Marilyn, whom Democrats had selected in his place. His western Tennessee colleague, Dan Kuykendall lost to Harold Ford Sr by a mere 744 votes, but enough to give Tennessee it’s first African-American Congressman.
Ford suffered a setback by failing to rescue four-termer Bob Mathis in California, for whom he had campaigned. He would lose 52-48% to John Krebs. Freshman Replican Victor Veysey in southern California suffered the same fate.His conqueror, Jim lloyd. did not campaign on Watergate but, as Veysey would recall later, “he did not need to do so. Our analysis revealed that over ten thousand registered Republicans in the area declined to vote, which was a devastating margin. We could bot get them to the polls.” Veysey lost by fewer than 800 votes.
When the dust settled, Republicans had lost 43 House seats, enough to, by the numbers at least, give the Democrats two a veto-proof majority of 292 (two more than necessary). Republicans would pick off four Democratic incumbents and two open Democratic seats. But the Democrats unseated 36 Republican incumbents and grabbed 13 open GOP seats.
Ford’s home state would prove rare comfort. Three Republican Congressman, Marvin Esch, Phil Ruppe, and Garry Brown would struggle, but win new terms (only Bob Huber was unseated). Against the odds, Ron Sarasin of Connecticut and Burt Talcott of California also held on. Iowa elected a State Senator named Charles Grassley, in a race that was expected to go to his Democratic rival. But that was small comfort for so many colleagues lost.
One North Carolina lady summed up the soon-to-be carnage by saying, “if we vote Republican in November we’ll be eating rabbit by August.” And few did.