1964 was an interesting year in United States Presidential elections, Richard Nixon declined to seek the Republican nomination against the anticipated candidate for the Democratic party, Lyndon Johnson, so the Republican party nomination was considered fairly open. Many individuals tossed in their hats to run but one candidate in particular was unique, Margaret Chase Smith, who decided in January 1964 to make an attempt at the Republican nomination. Senator Smith came from an established political career, she had begun serving in the House of Representatives in 1940 and served until 1948, when she successfully won a seat in the United States Senate. Senator Smith remained in the Senate, as a Republican, from 1948 until 1972. She represented the state of Maine and is particularly remembered as one of the few Senators who stood against Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s – she gave a famous speech on the Senate floor denouncing McCarthyism and the Communist witch hunts of the ’50s.
Senator Smith was particularly critical in 1964 because she represented not only the first woman making a serious attempt at the nomination from a major political party but she also represented the moderate wing of the Republican party. In 1964 that wing of the Republican party openly battled with the more conservative faction supporting Senator Goldwater from Arizona. The actual nomination convention was highly contentious, with both sides resorting to screaming at each other as they battled for control of the Republican party. Senator Smith had campaigned in only two states, Maine and Illinois, and in her campaign she had worked hard to avoid normal political activities. She undertook no major political rallies, conducted no fundraising, and paid her expenses out of pocket. Her goal was to meet with individuals and rely on direct personal connections.
Senator Smith came in fifth in the Maine primary but came in second in Illinois, which provided her with a total of sixteen delegates for the nomination. Although her being selected for the candidacy against the Senator Goldwater juggernaut was considered impossible at the Republican convention, Senator Smith attended and stood in the running until Senator Goldwater was nominated successfully. Senator Smith did break with tradition and refused to release her delegates to vote for Senator Goldwater in the final ballot, so that he would not receive a unanimous nomination from the Republican party.
Despite this she did campaign for him actively during his 1964 run for the Presidency, this period ad has her explaining the Goldwater is not going to chop up Social Security despite rumors to the contrary spreading during the election.
Had she done the incredible and carried the Republican nomination in 1964, I cannot help but wonder if she might have been able to give Johnson more of a run than Goldwater did. Goldwater was prone to making off-the-cuff remarks and was overly blunt when dealing with the press, this partially helped to equate Goldwater with extreme (and dangerous) views about United States foreign policy. Could Smith have overcome popular perceptions of a “woman’s place” in society? I think she might have been able to do so, when asked in 1948 if it was proper for a woman to run for the Senate, this was her response:
“Women administer the home. They set the rules, enforce them, mete out justice for violations. Thus, like Congress, they legislate; like the Executive, they administer; like the courts, they interpret the rules. It is an ideal experience for politics.”
It may be framed in the words of the period but I like to think Smith might have had a chance in 1964.