A Catskill Catalog: April 11, 2012
In April 1952, Delaware County played a pivotal role in a presidential primary. April 22nd, 60 years ago, was the New York Republican primary. At stake were two delegates to the Republican National Convention in each of the state’s 43 congressional districts. Delaware County was in the 29th Congressional District.
Dr. Ogden E. Bush was the leader of the Delaware County Republican Party and, one of two party leaders chosen to represent Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, and Delaware County Republicans at the Chicago convention.
A Walton dentist, Dr. Bush had served two terms in the state assembly, and had been a delegate to every Republican National Convention since 1940.
But Dr. Bush and his running mate were being challenged by a pair led by Hamilton Fish, veteran Hudson Valley Republican who had been immortalized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as one of the three horseman of backward-looking reaction, “Martin, Barton and Fish.”
FDR’s relentless criticism of his fellow Hudson Valley aristocrat led to the defeat of Congressman Fish in the 1944 election. Many saw his 1952 campaign for delegate to the national convention as his comeback campaign. A free dinner at Kass Inn drew nearly 200 locals to hear Hamilton Fish speak of the need to nominate for president, “Mr. Conservative,” Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft.
At that, Ham Fish was swimming against the tide. Dr. Bush made it clear that, as delegate, he would be free to support “Senator Taft, General Eisenhower, MacArthur, whoever proves to be the strongest candidate.”
Many interpreted that to mean that a vote for Dr. Bush for delegate was a vote for Dwight D. Eisenhower for president.
Eisenhower clubs had sprung up around Delaware County in the preceding months. Everybody seemed to like Ike, General-of-the-Army, D-Day commander, university president, published author.
Especially women, it seems. Women’s names were prominent in newspaper listings of the leaders of the Eisenhower Clubs in the towns around the county. In Walton, five women outnumbered the three men reported to be spearheading the drive. Mrs. Robert Wyer, of Delhi, chaired the countywide Eisenhower club.
The Town of Middletown effort was led by Betty Sanford, wife of the owner and business manager of the Catskill Mountain News and, at that time, mother of three small children. The purpose of the clubs was to circulate petitions urging Eisenhower’s nomination at the GOP convention in July and his election in November.
Perhaps, women saw in Ike the father-figure commander who saw their fathers and husbands and sons through the worst combat in history with a demeanor that evidenced compassion and concern for the men. Taft represented a clear set of political values, a well-thought-out ideology of small government and individual initiative.
What did Eisenhower represent? Within a week of the founding of the Delaware County Eisenhower Club, 500 petition signatures had been collected. I have been around county election campaigns enough to know – that’s a lot of signatures!
And those signatures were for a guy who had only recently signaled that he was a Republican, having lived a strict no-politics policy during his entire professional career in the army. Civilian control of the military, to Ike, meant military personnel left the selection of civilian authority to civilians. It has been said that he never voted until he left the army.
When Ike did leave the army he was courted by both political parties.
His candidacy for the Republican nomination was fueled by the orchestrated rise of Eisenhower clubs across the country, and the firm desire of Republican leaders to win the White House after 20 years of Democratic administrations.
Senator Taft was Mr. Republican, the ideological soul of the conservative, mid-western heart of Republicanism. I am sure Delaware County leader Ogden Bush knew, liked, and admired Taft. But all those Betty Sanfords out there most likely convinced him that Ike was the guy.
(I should report my journalistic bias. My first political campaign was in 1956. I was eight. My friends and I rode our bicycles around the neighborhood singing a bit of negative campaign song: “Whistle while you work. Stevenson’s a jerk. Eisenhower’s got the power, whistle while you work.” I apologize to Adlai Stevenson and Democrats everywhere.)
Free dinners are a powerful campaign tool, and dinner at Kass Inn was particularly special. Located on Route 30, between Margaretville and Halcottsville, Kass Inn was an old-fashioned country inn, eclectically furnished in American antiques, famous for its country corn relish and welcoming atmosphere. Hamilton Fish knew what he was doing when he offered voters a free dinner there.
Eisenhower supporters claimed that many of the 200 in attendance were Democrats and independents ineligible to choose delegates to the Republican convention. They called Fish a carpetbagger, claiming his only residence in the four-county, west-of-the-Hudson, 29th Congressional District was a hotel room in Newburgh.
Dr. Ogden Bush and his running mate won the April 22nd primary, out-polling Hamilton Fish and his running mate by a couple thousand votes. Delaware County’s strong turn out for Dr. Bush provided the margin of victory.
The New York delegation was led by Governor Tom Dewey, Republican presidential candidate in the two preceding elections. Dewey was able to deliver New York and lead the Eisenhower forces to a first-ballot nomination that had been anything but settled when the convention opened.