• U.S.

Nation: Plenty Ready

4 minute read

From the moment he announced his candidacy for Ohio’s at-large congressional seat, Republican Robert Taft Jr., 45, let everyone know that he was anti-Kennedy. Displaying an inherited disdain for expensive, expansive government, he attacked President Kennedy for fiscal irresponsibility, “strongarm methods” and trying to tack “Government controls onto all his programs.” Last week, after easily winning his party’s nomination. Taft discovered that he would have to keep right on being anti-Kennedy. For Ohio Democrats, to everyone’s surprise, nominated an obscure Cleveland real estate dealer whose main political asset is his name: Richard D. Kennedy.

Taft is the only one of four brothers to enter politics,* and his performance in his first statewide campaign was impressive. He drew 507,635 votes, more than ten times those of his only G.O.P. opponent, State Senator Thomas Lowell Fess, who is also the son of a onetime U.S. Senator. Taft will be a heavy favorite in November to defeat Kennedy, whose 113,478 votes barely topped a field of eleven Democrats. While some of the Democrats were respectable candidates who campaigned hard, Kennedy, 38, spent only $300, rarely made a speech, even used leaflets sparingly. “The few mailings I sent out didn’t go to just anybody,” he explains. “I sent them to barbershops, real estate offices, saloons and such—to people who gossip.”

Taking His Time. Taft’s emergence into national politics at this time was carefully considered. Ohio Republicans had urged him to seek his father’s Senate seat ever since the elder Taft died in 1953. Young Bob insisted he was not yet ready. He had a famous name, all right, and a solid background: a bachelor of arts degree from Yale (’39), a law degree from Harvard (’42), four years of naval service in which he was a junior officer at invasions in the Pacific, Mediterranean and Normandy, a successful Cincinnati law practice. His family (Wife Blanca, Sons Robert A. Taft II, now 20, Jonathan, 7, and Daughters Sarah, 18, Deborah, 15) was a political asset too. But he felt he needed grass-roots political experience.

He acquired this by using his name, his robust good looks (6 ft. 1 in.. 200 lbs.) and pleasant, though somewhat plodding, platform style to win election to the Ohio legislature in 1954. There his interests were broad (he served on the finance, industry, labor, judiciary, welfare and insurance committees), and he sponsored nearly 40 successful bills. They ranged from securing higher interest on public funds deposited in banks to giving epileptics the right to get drivers’ licenses. He was re-elected three times and became majority leader of the house. Says he of himself and his father: “I do not think there are any major areas where our views would differ. On the other hand, changing times also give different aspects to different problems.”

Like Landing. In the legislature Taft was noted for his caustic criticism of Democratic Governor Michael Di Salle’s big budgets and big taxes. Last week’s primary showed that Ohio voters are critical too. Di Salle won the party’s nomination for reelection, but Attorney General Mark McElroy came ominously close (331,702 to 298,812), and popular Republican State Auditor James A. Rhodes won the G.O.P. nomination with a whopping 521,302 votes. Happy-go-lucky Mike managed a postelection quip: “It’s just like plane landings—they’re all good as long as you can walk away from them.” But he was clearly more pained than he professed, may be grounded for keeps by Rhodes in November. Taft, who is plenty ready now, expects finally to take off for Washington.

* Brother William H. Taft III, 46, is consul general in Mozambique; Lloyd, 39, is a New York investment banker; Horace, 37, is an assistant physics professor at Yale. Young Bob has no middle name, adopted the Jr. to avoid confusion with his father, whose middle name was Alphonso.

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