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Cover Story: Races to Watch

17 minute read

Despite disturbing signs of voter apathy, the 1974 elections could bring significant changes in the U.S. political landscape. Republicans cannot seem to escape the obloquy of Watergate and a mismanaged economy. In governorships, the Democrats now hold a 32-to-18 edge, hope to increase it to 38-to-12. In the Senate, the Democrats hope to improve their current majority of 58-to-42 by three or four seats. In the House, with all 435 seats at issue, the Democrats look to improve their present 248-to-187 standing by anywhere from 30 to 50 seats. With the balloting barely three weeks off, herewith a sampling of races for the statehouses, the Senate and the House:


No matter who the Democrats put up against Nelson Rockefeller—local hero, national figure—he inevitably went down to defeat. But now the invincible Rocky has gone to his reward in Washington, and his No. 2 man for 15 years, Malcolm Wilson, 60, is trying to keep the governorship for the Republicans. But if Wilson is a capable administrator, he lacks political punch with the electorate.

The Democrats think they are finally in a position to recapture statehouse and the polls bear them out, showing Brooklyn Congressman Hugh Carey, 55, with an almost 2-to-1 lead.

No high-powered thinker or speaker, Carey talks the language of New York City in a genial, gravelly voice. A traditional bread-and-butter liberal, he is taking cautious stands against taxes and busing and a moderate environmentalist position. He promises to block President Ford’s surtax proposal from his post on the House Ways and Means Committee. An Irish Catholic widower with twelve children and no trace of limousine liberal snobbery, he is likely to win back much of the ethnic vote that has been deserting to the Republicans. He is aided in this effort by the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Mary Anne Krupsak, 42, who should pick up a sizable share of the Polish and woman’s vote.

As the underdog, Wilson has begun to show some uncharacteristically sharp teeth. Making crime his top issue, he comes on like Wyatt Earp, promising to clear the streets and subways of muggers and calling Krupsak “soft on crime.” He has one clear advantage over Carey. He is much more amply financed than his opponent, who spent most of his funds for television time in the primary. But unless Wilson changes voters’ minds with a last-minute TV drive, he is destined to be outgunned by Carey.


Ohio voters could not have been presented with two more starkly contrasting candidates. Incumbent John Gilligan, 53, is a former college instructor who pushed through the state’s first income tax and upgraded public services, especially the underfinanced school system. James Rhodes, 65, who spent eight years in the statehouse at Columbus before Gilligan succeeded him, kept taxes at the lowest level, in comparison to income, of any state in the nation and maintained social services at approximately the same level.

While Gilligan is a mite arrogant and precious, Rhodes is boisterous and backslapping on the stump. But if he puts voters at ease, he avoids the press like a rare disease, convinced that reporters are out to get him. The liberal Gilligan has been opulently financed by organized labor, the conservative Rhodes has had to make do with small contributions. It may be close, but Gilligan is ahead by 10 points or more.

DUKAKIS V. SARGENT There is little to choose between the two candidates in Massachusetts except that Francis Sargent, 59, is both an incumbant and a Republican in a year when neither is very popular. Democrat Michael Dukakis, 40, who served in the state house of representatives for eight years, can scarcely present himself a newcomer (“Mr. Dukakis has been running for state office long as I have,” says Sargent, “but he’s been lucky enough to lose and keep himself out of trouble”).

Nor can he attack Sargent on the issues, since he supported many of the liberal governor’s environmental and social welfare programs. Where he differs, he says, is that he would have administered the programs much more efficiently. Promising the most open campaign in Massachusetts history, Dukakis went so far as to disclose that he buys his socks at Filene’s basement for 89 cents a pair. Both candidates are aided by well-known names, Dukakis’ running mate is Thomas P. ONeill, III, 30, son of the House Majority leader and the patrician Sargent is being supported by his cousin, Elliot Richardson. Sargent’s pervasive TV personality may turn the tide, but Dukakis leads.

GRASSO V. STEELE Ella Grasso, 55, is the woman to beat in Connecticut, but not because she is a woman. She makes an effort , in fact, to play down the woman issue. “The phenonemon seems to be discussed more in the national press than in Connecticut,” she says “Here I’m a people’s candidate.” In a state with a 44% Catholic population, she makes known her personal opposition to abortions though she has no intention of defying the U.S. Supreme court. She also plays up her 22 years of experience in state government and Congress. Casually attired in pantsuit and walking shoes, glasses perched precariously on top of her tossled bob, she identifies with the man—or woman—on the street who worries about where the money is going.

She has promised so many programs without raising taxes that she has been dubbed, “spenderella” by aides of her Re-publical oopponant, Congressman Robert Steele, 35. He has picked up some antifeminist support from people who aver that “being Governer is a man’s job” but the state of the economy keeps him on the defensive. Ella ahead.

LAMM V. VANDERHOOF The environment is the main issue in Colorado, and it would be hard to find a more ardent environmentalist that Democrat Richard Lamm, 39. Minority whip in the state house of representatives, Lamm led the successful fight to keep the 1976 Winter Olympics out of Colorado, on the ground that they would affect thoustands of visitors who would threaten the environment. He sponsored a land-use bilt that lost by a single vote.

Republican Incumbent John Vanderhoof, 52, who supported the Winter Olympics, is doing his best to recoup. He recently asked the forest service to delay a permit for a new ski area in the state, and he joined Lamm in supporting a ballot initiative against further nuclear tests in gas pockets under the westernslopes of the rockies. But Vanderhoof confronts an increasing Democratic registration, largly from among new arrivals in the fast-growing state. Lamm favored.

ALEXANDER V. BLANTON The Tennessee race is a test of whether the G.O.P. can maintain its momentum in the South despite Watergate and the economy. In succession, voters elected William E. Brock and Howard H. Baker Jr. to the Senate and Winfield Dunn to the statehouse. Now Lamar Alexander, 34, who managed both the Baker and Dunn campaigns, is seeking to replace Dunn, whose term is up. His Democratic opponent, Leonard Ray Blanton, 44, is using Alexander’s youth against him. The governorship, he scoffs, is no post for a “choirboy.”

That description could certainly not be applied to Blanton, a wily politician who has served three terms in Congress and is trying to put back together the old black-labor coalition in Tennessee. Blanton leads, though Alexander is gaining.

The Senate


The G.O.P. could not have picked a stronger candidate than Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar, 42, to try to unseat Birch Bayh, 46. But even the best does not seem to be good enough. Articulate but a trifle stiff, Lugar, a Rhodes scholar, fails to warm up audiences or attract big ones. His cool style may hurt him more than the pardon and the economy—and the fact that he was long known as “President Nixon’s favorite mayor.”

The handsome Bayh, on the other hand, has no equal in Indiana for exuding charm everywhere from plant gates to campuses. Though Lugar has tried to make an issue of all the big spending bills that Bayh has championed in the Senate, Bayh blithely claims that he was actually a budget cutter—an exaggeration, but the voters take him at his word. Bayh out front.

CLARK v. JAVITS Few politicians in the U.S. seemed more durable than Jacob Javits, 70. During his 18 years in the Senate, his base appeared to be impregnable. He had the best of two worlds. As a Republican, he drew conservative votes in upstate New York. As a relatively liberal Jewish New Yorker, he won most of the votes of the city’s Jewish population. But cracks have begun to appear in his base. Always worried about the threat from the right, he tended to take his left for granted. Thus he dismayed liberals by his tardy opposition to the Viet Nam War and his failure to speak out on the Watergate scandal.

Now that he is vulnerable on the left, he is faced with a determined attack from that direction. Ramsey Clark, 46, is a transplanted Texan with no New York political experience.

But over the past few years he has shrewdly and forthrightly taken stands guaranteed to appeal to the very people who are defecting from Javits. After serving as a rather mild U.S. Attorney General under President Johnson, he made a celebrated wartime trip to Hanoi, where he audaciously attacked U.S. policies in the capital of the enemy. Before Watergate erupted, he lashed out at the Nixon Administration’s anticrime and wiretapping policies. He defended the Rev. Philip Berrigan in his conspiracy trial. He allowed Herbert Blyden, a leader in the Attica rebellion, to second his nomination for the Senate at the state Democratic convention. By recently flying to Cuba to chat with Fidel Castro, Javits may have won back some of the deserting liberals. But to maintain his narrowing lead, he must hope that moderates and conservatives in both parties distrust Clark enough to vote for the incumbent.


As far as the issues are concerned, party labels mean next to nothing in Pennsylvania. Republican Incumbent Richard Schweiker, 48, who is one of few Republican Senators given a perfect voting record by the AFL-CIO, has the support of organized labor and the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, the state’s anti-gun-control lobby. Democrat Pete Flaherty, 49,mayor of Pittsburgh is a trustbusting populist who opposes busing, abortion and amnesty. While schweiker appeals to many urban Demacrats.Flaherty has a following among suburban Republicans.With issues in such confusion , Flaherty has tried to tar Swhweiker with Watergateeven though Nixon and demanded the president’s Resignation last May.Schweiker Leads.

HART v. DOMINICK Politically, the Gary Hart who is running for the Senate in Colorado bears little resemblance to the Gary Hart who managed George McGovern’s presidential campaign. Now that he is campaigning for office on his own, Hart, 36, has cautiously muted some of the more far-out positions that lost the election for Mc-Govern. “He’s trying to be right of Attila the Hun,” says the outraged, outmaneuvered conservative incumbent. Peter Dominick, 59, has tried to make an issue of the fact that Hart has only lived in Colorado for a short time. Dominick has made some costly gaffes A few days after Nixon resigned, he dismissed Watergate as “insignificant.” In a jaundiced discussion of the United Nations, he remarked that Ugandans would “rather eat their own people than they would food.” Better financed than Hart, Dominick is planning a last-minute TV blitz, it will have to be explosive to save his seat.


One of the wittiest men in public life, Kansas Senator Robert Dole, 51, has found nothing very humorous in his race against Democratic Congressman William Roy, 48. In one of the most expensive campaigns in Kansas history, Dole has been continually linked to Watergate, though indeed he was one of its early victims: as national chairman of the G.O.P., he was relieved of all significant duties during the 1972 campaign because he would not play “hard ball.” After the election, he was brusquely fired by Nixon.

Dole’s supporters have tried to pin the abortionist label on Dr. Roy, an obstetrician who delivered no fewer than 5,000 babies and performed several legal abortions. Roy, who has been active in politics all his career, campaigns largely on his support of public health and environmental issues. Dole has his hands full just trying to wrench himself clear of his party. After President Ford pardoned Nixon and announced his amnesty program, Dole quipped that he had received “about all the help from President Ford that I can stand.” Neck and neck.


Age is clearly the issue in North Dakota. Democratic Challenger William Guy, 55, a popular former Governor, does not say in so many words that Incumbent Milton Young is 76. But his campaign keeps emphasizing a need for a “future” leader. The ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Young prefers to talk about his past services to North Dakotans in his nearly 30 years on Capitol Hill. His supporters argue that young people are moving out of the state and the older voters who remain appreciate the incumbent’s “maturity.”

Nevertheless, he is campaigning hard for the first time in his career. Just in case voters should think he is over the hill, a campaign film shows him spliting a 1-in. block of wood with a single karate chop. He has yet to deliver a similar blow to his opponent. Young lagging.

EDMONDSON v. BELLMON One of the best-financed candidates in the nation, Republican Henry Bellmon, 53, would have had little trouble winning re-election had he not voted against a constitutional amendment to ban busing. That hurt him in Oklahoma City, where schools are under court order to integrate. Democratic Challenger Ed Edmondson, 55, a former Congressman, tools round the state in his own car preaching a vaguely populist gospel in contrast to Bellmon’s support for big business and big oil.

While Edmondson is a deft public speaker, Bellmon, who looks more like a Green Bay Packer than a Senator, never knows what to do with his hands and stumbles over every speech. But that wins him sympathy. “Pore Henry,” Oklahomans say somewhat admiringly, “cain’t speak worth a damn.” Bellmon by a hair.


The only real issue between the two Florida candidates is which one has the most energy. Democrat Richard Stone, 46, gathered no moss when he rolled through the state’s 67 counties in a breathtaking 15 days. Republican Jack Eckerd, 61, is almost as fast. In the contest to replace G.O.P. Senator Edward Gurney, the member of the Senate Watergate Committee who is now under indictment for conspiracy, bribery and lying to a grand jury, Eckerd has a huge recognition edge. His is a familiar household name, since one of his 422 drugstores can be found in almost every town throughout the state.

Stone speaks Spanish in Miami’s Cuban community, plays the harmonica for the country boys, and even broke an arm leaping over a tennis net for a photographer. Both candidates are conservative. Eckerd wants to cut spending; Stone wants “Uncle Sucker” to stop the foreign aid giveaways. A tossup.

The House


The youngest Republican in the House of Representatives after the 1972 election, Texas Congressman Alan Steelman, 32, is one of a new breed of progressive Southern Republicans. But his political future is already in doubt. Hardly had he been elect ed in 1972 when his Fifth District was reapportipned, leaving him with a voting population that is 60% Democratic.

His challenger is Mike McKool, 55, a Democratic work horse who has run for about every available office with only one success in 25 years. Even though he is a liberal with labor support, McKool is more acceptable to local business interests be cause he favored the controversial, $1.6 billion Trinity River Canal that was to have linked Dallas and Fort Worth with the Gulf of Mexico. Steelman led the fight to stop it because it would have endangered the ecology of the area. So far, Steel man has been too busy in Washington to return home to save his G.O.P. outpost.

A standoff.

MEYNER v. MARAZITI When Robert Meyner was Governor of New Jersey, Helen Meyner recalls, the inevitable introduction was: “This is Governor Meyner and his lovely wife Helen.” Now Helen, 45, is looking forward to a different sort of introduction:

“Here is Congresswoman Meyner and her lovely husband Bob.” To accomplish this switch, she must defeat G.O.P. Incumbent Joseph Maraziti, 62, in the heavily Republican 13th District. She tried in 1972 and lost, though she gained a respectable 43% of the vote in a Republican year.

“My people are conservative, I’m conservative,” says Maraziti. As a defender of Nixon on the House Judiciary Committee, he voted against every article of impeachment. But Meyner is not making an issue of Watergate (“It is pouring salt into the wounds”). Instead, she concentrates on the economy—what she calls “supermarket tragedies.” Not keen on running again, she was talked into it by New Jersey Democrats who thought they saw a chance to take a safe G.O.P. seat. That’s about what she has—a chance.

FORD v. KUYKENDALL Memphis remains one of the more segregated cities in the South. Whites vote almost solidly for white candidates, blacks for black. Harold Ford’s task is somehow to bridge the two worlds in his attempt to capture the Eighth District seat, which includes most of Memphis. The 29-year-old son of a local undertaker, Ford piled up a large black vote in the Democratic primary, but he must win anywhere from 10% to 20% of the white vote to unseat G.O.P. Incumbent Dan Kuykendall, 50.

A former insurance salesman as well as a skilled wood craftsman, Kuykendall was one of Nixon’s staunchest supporters in the House. In 1973 he voted in support of the President 70% of the time. Ford hopes to win by harping on this close association.

“We’re just taking his record,” he says, “and beating him with it.” Kuykendall, on the other hand, has much more money than Ford, who has raised only $15,000. Too close to call.

O’CONNOR v. WILSON For most of his eleven terms in Congress, Bob Wilson’s 41st District in California was considered his own swimming pool. No serious competition was ever found paddling there. But now he is in danger of taking a dunking from a petite, persistent water sprite, Colleen O’Connor, 28. Once part of a water-ballet act appearing with her six sisters (she also has five brothers), Colleen now demonstrates her opposition to offshore oil rigs by swimming two miles along the beach.

Her whole family, whose views range, says one of her brothers, from “Archie Bunker to Angela Davis,” help out in the campaign, which is being financed on a shoestring. Republican Wilson, 58, has tried to meet the threat of his Democratic challenger by hiring a 26-year-old woman lawyer as his campaign manager. Colleen is closing the gap.

HENSLEY v. YOUNG After winning Alaska’s only congressional seat in a special election last year, Republican Don Young, 41, played a part in gaining congressional approval of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

With that triumph behind him, he thought he could coast to victory this November, particularly after receiving more votes in the primary than the two Democrats combined.

But while Young was some 3,000 miles away in Washington, Democrat Willie Hensley, 33, an Eskimo, started to catch up. After graduating from George Washington University, Hensley concentrated on lobbying for federal aid for Alaska, helped win restoration of some 40 million acres to the state’s natives, was elected a state senator in 1970. Hensley, who attacks the Republican Administration in Washington for not paying proper attention to Alaska, has a better than even chance of becoming the first Eskimo in Congress.

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