--Phil Ochs, "Draft Dodger Rag"
The 1970 election was a major turning point in Connecticut's political history: not only because of the candidates who were elected that year, but also because it marked the decline of the power of the nominating convention, and the rise of the statewide primary. I will focus on the U.S. Senate race of that year, which contains some parallels to the Senate race of 2006, but at some future point the governor's race, which produced a most unexpected result, will also be examined.
A Bitter Primary
Senator Thomas J. Dodd was a controversial figure in 1970, that much was certain. Dodd, a conservative Democrat who was best known for his high-profile role in the Nuremburg trials and his staunch opposition to communism, was first elected to the Senate in 1958 after having lost the 1956 race to Prescott Bush. He was easily re-elected in 1964, but faced charges in 1967 that he had used campaign funds raised at political testmionals for his own personal expenses. Although the Attorney General of the United States later declined to press charges against Dodd, the Senate censured him in April of 1967. This black mark on his record, coupled with his support for an increasingly unpopular war and fading health, made him an uncertain prospect at best for 1970.
Liberal Democrats began rallying around the Rev. Joe Duffey, a supporter of Eugene McCarthy's failed presidential bid and head of the antiwar group Americans for Democratic Action. Duffey also led the progressive, antiwar Caucus of Connecticut Democrats, of which a young attorney named Joe Lieberman was a founding member (Lieberman, 167). Senate Majority Leader Ed Marcus and the more conservative Stamford lawyer Al Donahue, who was backed by the state Democratic machine (Lieberman, 169), were the other Democrats in the race. Secretary of the State Ella Grasso and Mayor Richard Lee of New Haven were also mentioned as possible candidates, but Grasso decided to seek the 6th District Congressional seat and Lee retired from public life ("Dodd").
On the Republican side, attention was focused on U.S. Rep. Thomas Meskill of New Britain. However, the announcement by popular Gov. John Dempsey that he wouldn't be seeking another term prompted Meskill to seek the governor's chair instead. In early 1970, Meskill met with another U.S. Representative, Lowell Weicker of Greenwich to inform him that he was running for governor, and to encourage Weicker to run for Senate instead. According to Weicker, Meskill wanted the Greenwich Republican on the ticket because "'...We have to have a balanced ticket, in terms of philosophy and geography,'" (Weicker, 34). Weicker was a moderate-to-liberal Republican from Fairfield County, while Meskill was a conservative from New Britain. Weicker thought it over for a week, and then decided to run.
Dodd did his best to highlight the fact that he had not been prosecuted, but found little support among Connecticut Democrats. Neither Democratic Party chair John Bailey nor Gov. Dempsey publicly supported any of the candidates, but just before the convention Sen. Abe Ribicoff endorsed Duffey.
Worse, Dodd suffered a heart attack and was unable to campaign. He saw the writing on the wall and withdrew his name from contention for the Democratic nomination, although he left open the possibility of an independent run.
Donahue won the convention, but Duffey had enough delegates to force a primary in August. In late July, Dodd re-entered the campaign as an independent, causing John Bailey to remark that "...any action like this can't help but hurt the party," (Treaster, "Dodd"). Many assumed Dodd would play the role of the spoiler, and that he had little chance of victory. An interesting twist was that, according to Weicker, Nixon hatchet man Murray Chotiner offered to encourage Dodd to enter the race to improve Weicker's chances. Weicker declined, but Dodd entered the race anyway (Weicker, 36).
In August, Duffey won the Democratic primary by a wide margin over Donahue and Marcus, and the stage was set for a three-way race. In an interesting sidenote, Joe Lieberman was nominated for Ed Marcus's state senate seat.
Left, Right, Center
The campaign was really a race between Weicker and Duffey, with Dodd the variable. Two factors helped to swing the election in Weicker's direction. The first was a visit by President Nixon to Hartford and Stamford on October 12th. Nixon was well-received and helped to boost the chances of both Meskill and Weicker. There's a photo of Nixon in Hartford, in which he actually climbed out of his car and climbed up to greet construction men. It's obvious that they were thrilled to get a chance to meet the president, and they're hanging all over him in a happy mob. Nixon looks uncomfortable, as usual. If I can find that photo online, I'll post a link to it.
The second event was the debate between Weicker, Duffey and Dodd which took place on October 26th in New Haven. Duffey attacked Dodd for his conservative voting record, saying that Dodd had voted with Republicans 60% of the time. Dodd defended his record, although he evaded answering some questions directly (Treaster, "Weicker"). Weicker scored the most points, though, by attacking Dodd as too conservative and Duffey as too liberal. Weicker later recalled the moment he thinks swung the election for him:
Looking at Dodd, I said, "It's the Tom Dodds of this world that create the Joseph Duffeys." I was trying to establish myself as the only middle-ground candidate; portraying Dodd as out of touch and suggesting that the result of his inattention might be to put a radical in office.Weicker would remain in the lead. On Election Day of 1970, he defeated Duffey by a little under 90,000 votes. Dodd, clearly the spoiler in the race, received more than 266,000 votes.
Within forty-eight hours of the debate, polls showed that I had jumped out ahead (Weicker, 37).
Weicker had deftly threaded the needle between left and right, and come out ahead. He would come to national attention during Watergate as one of the few Republicans to condemn Nixon, and would earn the ire of his fellow Republicans for it. Ironically, he would lose to a conservative Democrat, Joe Lieberman, in 1988.
Duffey faded back into quiet obscurity, although his group lingered on for a little while longer. His loss was a blow to the peace movement.
As for Dodd, he died of a heart attack in May of 1971. Nine years later, in 1980, his son Chris would run for the Senate and win. He is still there today.
Implications for 2006
There are a few parallels between 1970 and 2006. A more liberal, antiwar candidate is once again challenging a conservative hawk for the Democratic nomination. The possibility that Lieberman would run as an independent should he lose the nomination also exists.
However, Joe Lieberman is not nearly in so precarious a position as Tom Dodd was, and Ned Lamont doesn't have the years of exposure and the national organization that Joe Duffey had. On the Republican side, there is no one with the popularity, name recognition and moderation of Lowell Weicker except Gov. Jodi Rell, who is definitely not running, and possibly Rep. Chris Shays. Alan Schlesinger, should he run, will almost certainly try to thread the same needle Weicker did, but he will start from a much more difficult position.
This doesn't mean that Lamont and Schlesinger don't have a chance. They do. Times are different, and new variables such as the internet will come into play this season. But it's clear that Lieberman is not Tom Dodd, and that this race will be, in the end, a very different one from the 1970 campaign.
"Dodd Will Seek 3rd Senate Term." New York Times 7 Januray, 1970.
Lieberman, Joseph I. The Legacy: Connecticut Politics 1930-1980. Spoonwood Press: Hartford, 1981.
Treaster, Joseph. "Dodd To Campaign as Independent." New York Times 24 July, 1970, p. 38.
Treaster, Joseph. "Weicker Assails Two Rivals in Connecticut Senate-Race Debate." New York Times 28 October, 1970, p. 34.
Weicker, Lowell. Maverick: A Life in Politics. Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1995.