• U.S.

NEW JERSEY: A Political Microcosm

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In mid-October 1954, the U.S. political scene is a multicolored landscape of issues and personalities, with the commanding figure of Dwight D. Eisenhower giving a national shading to the whole picture. The color and design of the campaign vary from state to state, but within the narrow borders of New Jersey there is a striking miniature of the national scene. At work there are nearly all the factors that bear on the elections of 1954, highlighted by Jersey’s own style of politics.

In a sense, New Jersey is a Democratic state: it is heavily industrialized, has a substantial organized labor vote. In another sense, it is an Eisenhower Republican state: its suburban areas lying outside New York City and Philadelphia are populated largely by commuters—business and professional men. It has its McCarthy element, centered squarely in Democratic Hudson County (Jersey City), where Frank (“I Am the Law”) Hague (now retired) built his machine. In recent years New Jersey has developed an aura of political corruption, although it is well-supplied with reformers.

While this complex set of circumstances is affecting the whole campaign in New Jersey, it is wound tightest around Clifford Case Jr., a gaunt (6 ft, 158 Ibs.), intense, intelligent lawyer from Rahway (pop. 21,000), who is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senator.

Noisy Backfire. Carefully hand-picked as the candidate by G.O.P. leaders, Clifford Case, an Eisenhower Republican, nevertheless ran into trouble not long after the campaign began. A small, reactionary G.O.P. faction began trying to force Case off the ballot on the grounds that he was 1) a weak candidate, and 2) not a Republican. Led by James P. Selvage, a onetime (1933-38) pressagent for the National Association of Manufacturers, the anti-Case faction contended that the nominee was a dangerous left-winger, the darling of the C.I.O. and of the Americans for Democratic Action.

The movement reached its peak in a jingle attacking both Case and Democratic Senatorial Candidate Charles Howell. Sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice (and with particular relish by the fiery-eyed, thin-lipped women who belong to an organization called Pro-America), the ditty went:

A, D, A; A, D, A.

They made them run. They made them run.

First they nominate Clifford Case, Then they throw Howell in the race. A, D, A; A, D, A . . .

Have you ever seen such a race as this? You can only vote for two socialists . . . A,D,A …

In writing their lyrics, the anti-Case faction ignored the fact that the New Jersey A.D.A. (which has found both Case and Howell “endorsable”), is a minuscule organization with no real political strength. But to the ultraconservative element of New Jersey, it was a handy bad word to tie to Cliff Case. From the start, the movement had no chance of getting Case off the ballot. No important leader of New Jersey Republicanism ever joined it. There was talk about a write-in campaign for former U.S. Representative Fred Hartley (Taft-Hartley), but no one thought has-been Hartley would get many votes.

As a result of the move, however, many Case supporters were stirred to action. Dwight Eisenhower invited him to the White House and endorsed Case as exactly the kind of candidate the Republicans should have. Then the Republican National Committee sent National Chairman Leonard Hall, Vice President Richard Nixon, House Speaker Joseph Martin, Pennsylvania’s Senator Ed Martin and Foreign Operations Administrator Harold Stassen to New Jersey to speak up for Case. Indignantly, old (80) former Governor Walter Edge came charging out of retirement to defend Case against the “party wreckers.” Probable net result of the whole Republican anti-Case movement: a noisy backfire, a net gain for Case.

Innocence by Disassociation. But Candidate Case has had trouble with another issue that turns one way in the nation, another in New Jersey: corruption. Nationally, the most important corruption issue at the height of the campaign is the Federal Housing Administration scandal, a hangover from a Democratic Administration. In New Jersey the old mess in Trenton overshadows the old mess in Washington. Democrats are constantly and joyfully reminding the Republicans and the voters that one recent Republican governor (Harold G. Hoffman, who served in 1935-38) embezzled $300,000 from the state, another G.O.P. governor’s executive clerk has been indicted for taking protection money from gangsters, and the last Republican candidate for governor tried to get a labor racketeer out of prison.

This aura of corruption is a heavy burden for Case to bear. In addition, it has removed from the working-campaign organization many old G.O.P. professionals whose skill would be helpful, but whose reputations might be fatal. Case truthfully tells the voters that he had no part in making this splattered record, but the Democrats, using the guilt-by-association argument so familiar to U.S. politics, are making some headway with the Republican record of corruption.

Rabbit & Hounds. The question of organized-party effort, important everywhere, has taken on a special significance this year in New Jersey. A spectacularly revived Democratic organization is moving full force behind Senatorial Candidate Howell, a gangling (6 ft. 2 in., 200 Ibs.) three-term Congressman from Trenton. The key man in the organization is not Howell (whose pet project on Capitol Hill has been the establishment of a Federal Fine Arts Commission), but New Jersey Governor Robert Meyner.

Ever since he swept in as governor in 1953, Meyner has been skillfully rebuilding the Democratic state organization. Unlike Democrat Boss Hague, who ran his machine as a one-city, one-county operation, Meyner is building a statewide coalition of county leaders. Although he has more patronage at his disposal than most other governors in the U.S., Meyner has doled it out sparingly. This year he has let local leaders know that the way to get more is to work hard for Charlie Howell. Following that skillfully operated political rabbit, the county men are working and running like hungry hounds.

As the campaign moves on, Meyner’s “investigators” are ladling out aromatic tidbits of past Republican scandals. Meyner has scheduled more than 40 campaign speeches. It is obvious that he considers this an important election for himself. He wants his own Democratic Senator in Washington, and he wants a powerful state organization. An ambitious man, he has his long-range telescope carefully trained on the Democratic National Convention of 1956, where he believes there will be a demand for a powerful and successful governor for either one place or the other on the national ticket.

Sailboat on Wheels. As Clifford Case faces this sharply barbed array of political circumstances, he has little reason for shock. He is deeply rooted in New Jersey history, political and nonpolitical. At least six generations of Cases have lived in New Jersey. Clifford’s great-grandfather, Peter Case, was a court crier in Somerset County a century ago. His uncle, Clarence E. Case, now living in retirement in Somerville, was a state senator and for 23 years a State Supreme Court Justice.

From his lawyer-politician uncle, Case acquired at least part of his bent for the law and for politics; from his father, the Rev. Clifford Case Sr., a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, he acquired a deep interest in public affairs and a solid set of Christian principles.

Clifford Case Sr. was pastor of the Six Mile Run* Dutch Reformed Church at Franklin Park, N.J. when his first son was born on April 16, 1904. Clifford Jr., his brother and four sisters grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. in a home that was not prosperous but was pleasant. The Rev. Case was not a formal man. When Clifford Jr. found a diagram for a sailboat on wheels, his father helped him build one in the attic. The sight of Pastor Case riding down the street with two or three of his children in the hybrid vehicle was, for a time, the talk of Poughkeepsie.

There was much conversation about current events, including politics, in the Case household. The Rev. Case was a staunch Republican—so staunch that he canceled his subscription to the New York Times when it endorsed Woodrow Wilson for President.

Grandfather “Buddy.” Young Clifford turned to books and music, and at an early age acquired a reputation for independent thinking. The class prophecy of the Poughkeepsie High School class of 1921 said: “On March 4, 1941, the people of the United States will have at their head a most efficient executive department consisting of the following members . . . Vice President Clifford Case, with his negative view of facts, will serve as a check on the President. His good nature, however, and his stubborn hair will keep the Cabinet happy and harmonious.”

Never a star athlete, Case showed his prowess in offbeat competitions. He won a prune-eating contest at a Y.M.C.A. summer camp. And on his library mantel is a cup given him for winning a heel-and-toe walking race at a fair near Poughkeepsie in 1921. He had entered the contest because he considered it a “real challenge”: the only other man in the race was a postman. At Rutgers (where he was Phi Beta Kappa), he was an attack man on the varsity lacrosse team, and he has a broken nose to show for it.

The elder Case died when Clifford was only 16, leaving the family with limited financial resources. But it was unthinkable that Clifford would not go to Rutgers, the alma mater of his father and uncle Clarence. His mother (now a spry 75, still lives in Poughkeepsie) could muster part of the money, and Clifford made the rest by working at odd jobs, which included playing the pipe organ at churches on Sunday. In his junior year, Clifford met Ruth Miriam Smith, a freshman at the New Jersey College for Women. They were married four years later, now have two daughters, a son and one granddaughter, who calls her grandfather by a nickname that has clung to him since his childhood: “Buddy.”

By the time Case finished law school in 1928, three New York firms were interested in him; he chose Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, respected experts in corporate law. He settled down to the life of a commuting Manhattan lawyer, but, says Mrs. Case: “When he’s paying all of his attention to earning money, he gets itchy to help others.”

The Case Party Line. Itching, he ran for the Rahway Common Council, was elected in 1937. After five years on the council, he moved up to the state assembly for two years, then in 1944 was elected U.S. Representative from New Jersey’s Sixth District (Union County; Elizabeth). He was re-elected four times by wide margins, and in 1952 polled a record-breaking majority of 55,000 votes, 20,000 more than any other candidate ever received in that district, and 10,000 more than Dwight Eisenhower’s majority.

His record as a Congressman (plus his open opposition to Wisconsin’s Senator Joe McCarthy) is what set off the opposition of the G.O.P. splinter group in New Jersey. It is a record that prompted C.I.O and A.F.L. leaders to endorse him for re-election to Congress in the past, although they favor his opponent this year. It is a liberal record, particularly on issues of foreign policy, welfare and civil rights. But it is far from “left-wing,” as his votes on two key issues indicate: he voted for the Taft-Hartley law; he voted against the Brannan Plan. In 1948 he helped Richard Nixon draft the Mundt-Nixon subversives-control bill. The Case record does not follow any party line; it follows the conscience of thinking, independent, careful Clifford Case.

The Selvage movement in 1954 is not Case’s first brush with the ultraconservative element of New Jersey Republicanism. In 1952, after he supported Dwight Eisenhower for the G.O.P. nomination, he made a speech warning the party against its “irreconcilable elements.” One news paper story interpreted this as a Case effort to read Ohio’s Robert A. Taft and his followers out of the party. Case denied any such intent, and Taft came into New Jersey and endorsed Case. Nevertheless, some Taft followers sought to defeat him.

This same opposition carried over into 1953, when Case entered the race for the governorship, and party leaders finally froze him out of the primary. They received a jolt, however, after Case resigned from Congress to become president of the Ford Foundation’s Fund for the Republic (an organization to further the cause of civil liberties in the U.S.). In the special election to fill Case’s seat, the Sixth Congressional District—which Case had carried by a record margin—went Democratic for the first time since it was remapped in 1932. Before long, G.O.P. state leaders, who had decided that U.S. Senator Robert Hendrickson could not be reelected, were urging Vote-Getter Case to move back into politics. At their urging, Case resigned the $40,000-a-year Ford job last March to make the race.

The Middle Way. From the Hudson to the Delaware, Case has been pitching his campaign on support for Dwight Eisenhower. His main theme: the President needs a Republican Congress to carry on his program; a Democratic Congress would produce a stalemate. Says he: “When the Democrats are in control, the dominant wing of the party is always actually a minority in Congress and in the country. [This minority] presses so hard for extremes that it arouses an understandable and proper reaction.”

Case, who considers himself a conservative, is wholly committed to the belief that the U.S. should travel the “middle way” in solving its domestic and international problems. He holds that the Republican Party is the instrument to find and follow that way, “not appealing to the radicals of the left or the right.” His warning: “If the needs of this country are not met by middle-of-the-road progressivism, the problems won’t be met, and the time will come when only extremist solutions are possible.”

In the first weeks of his campaign, Case, a far better campaigner than Democrat Howell, did most of his talking to small groups all over the state. His campaign almost ended as it was beginning: one day his car was sideswiped near Vineland and he was knocked unconscious. More recently, he has turned to television. Until six weeks ago, there was no television set in the Case home. Then Mrs. Case decided she could hardly bother her neighbors every time she wanted to watch her husband make a campaign speech.

Bergen v. Hudson. While the statewide campaign is important, most New Jersey elections turn on what happens in just two counties: Democratic Hudson (Jersey City) and Republican Bergen (Hackensack). If the Republican candidate can build up a good lead in Bergen and cut into the Democratic margin in Hudson, he is in. In 1949, when Republican Alfred Driscoll was elected governor, he carried Bergen by 48,000 votes, lost Hudson by only 3,400. Four years later, when Republican Paul Troast was defeated, he carried Bergen by only 5,000, lost Hudson by 71,000. Political observers believe that Case will have to carry Bergen by at least 35,000 to win.

Although many political factors in New Jersey are running against Case, some weigh for him. One of these is New Jersey’s established tendency to elect Republican Senators. In 16 elections since the state’s voters began choosing their Senators in 1916, only three Democrats have been elected to full terms. It is clear that, in 1953, the Jersey revolt was more against Candidate Troast than it was against his party. While Troast lost the state by 150,000 votes, the aggregate of the votes for local offices gave the G.O.P. a state margin of more than 50,000.

Recent polls have shown that a high percentage of the voters in New Jersey are still undecided about the Senate race. This may well be an advantage for Case, because he has a far wider appeal to the uncommitted voter than does Party-Line Democrat Howell.

“The Greatest Opportunity.” Despite his political appeal, Clifford Case is not the kind of man who particularly enjoys the kind of political fight that now surrounds him. He is an intellectual, a precisionist (to keep meticulous account of the family’s budget, he uses seven checkbooks for one joint bank account) who likes to live a well-ordered life. He and Mrs. Case are essentially homebodies. Their interests tend to books and classical records, to quiet dinners in front of the fireplace.

In the evening Case likes to go home to his restored Victorian house in Rahway, put on an old pair of tennis shorts, have a cocktail (dry Martini, lemon peel), and perhaps pick out a few chords on the piano. At times he enjoys taking the basketball out into the backyard and shooting baskets with his ten-year-old son, or splitting some wood for the fireplace. On a Sunday morning, he likes to make waffles for breakfast from his own recipe, and then take his family to Rahway’s Second Presbyterian Church; on a Sunday afternoon, he likes to wash and polish his 1948 Cadillac.

Now that he is in the midst of the nation’s most complicated campaign for the U.S. Senate, Case has had to give up such pleasant moments. Why does a man of limited means give up a comfortable, $40,000-a-year job and many of his favorite ways of life to make an uncertain race for political office, to become a target for political volleys from left and right? When that question is put to Clifford Case, he seems surprised that anyone should ask it. Says he: “A chance to serve in the United States Senate is the greatest opportunity a man could ever have.”

This week, with election day three weeks away, Clifford Case’s chances of winning that opportunity are a shade better than 50-50.

*So named because it was on a brook, or run, six miles from New Brunswick.

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