• U.S.

TENNESSEE: 44 v. 83

4 minute read

For at least four years, Tennessee’s able Representative Albert Gore has had his eye on the seat of the oldest U.S. Senator (in years of service), doddering, dozing Kenneth D. McKellar. From 1950 on, Gore carefully laid the groundwork by commuting to Tennessee almost every week for “nonpolitical” speeches. After McKellar had announced he would seek a seventh term in the Senate (which no man has ever had), Gore made his own pointed announcement: “I raise but one principal issue: Who is best fitted to serve the state and nation in the U.S. Senate for the next six years?”

“Hoop-dee-Doo.” After his announcement last February, the black-haired young (44) seventh-term Congressman began stumping the state on an eight-speech-a-day schedule. His “principal issue” was dramatized in a song to the tune of Hoop-dee-doo, which proclaimed: “Go with Gore—Albert Gore. He’s wise and able and he’s just forty-four . . .” Tennessee politicians and pundits began to say he would beat McKellar two to one.

This was a new challenge for frock-coated Kenneth McKellar. He has had no serious opposition in his last five elections. In 1940 and 1946, he didn’t even bother to campaign. But now the source of his greatest political power—the well-oiled machine of Memphis Boss E. H. Crump—was still sputtering from the ditching Senator Estes Kefauver and Governor Gordon Browning gave it in 1948. There was nothing for McKellar to do but go back to Tennessee and show himself to the voters.

Last month he flew home, and at Cookeville attracted a crowd of more than 10,000—the biggest political gathering in Tennessee this year. For 51 minutes McKellar clung to a tall table to support himself, and spoke in a surprisingly strong voice. Once he picked up a glass of water, but his hand was shaking so violently that he had to put it down without drinking it.

“A Little Rheumatism.” McKellar picked up Gore’s issue: “I have a little rheumatism in my left leg. The truth is—and I frankly admit I’m 83 years old—the truth is that I have done more work in the last six months than in any six months of my life.” Then he boasted of his accomplishments at the pork barrel, dwelling on the federal money and projects he has obtained for Tennessee (e.g., TVA, Oak Ridge, Great Smoky Mountains Park). He promised more: “I would like to stay in the Senate long enough to have a four-lane highway from Bristol to Memphis and three four-lane highways across the middle of the state.”*

After Cookeville, McKellar settled down to a hotel-room, handshaking campaign. He tried to be pleasant to the voters, a real effort for a man as crusty as McKellar. His friends tried to give Gore’s issue a full turn. If the old man is defeated, they said, Tennessee will have two “junior” Senators and no influence in Washington. McKellar, who has ruthlessly used his power to fatten his friends and crush his enemies, talked of his appropriations committee as “the most powerful … in the world,” and pointed out that it took him 29 years to become its chairman. This week, as Tennessee Democrats went to vote for McKellar or Gore in their primary (almost tantamount to election), political observers thought rheumatic old “K.D.” had pulled up on Gore, and had made it a neck & neck race.

* One of McKellar’s first bills in the House of Representatives in 1911 was for federal expenditures on highways, then a radical idea. He had been forced to ship his new Packard to Washington by rail, because there were no passable roads out of Memphis.

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