Robert A. Taft isn't running for anything in Ohio this year, but his influence is the key to the state's Senatorial election. Twelve years of frenzied but fruitless support of Taft as its favorite-son candidate for President has made the Senator a martyred hero in the state. Although Ohio's economic and racial complexion would normally veer the state toward liberalism, this Taft fixation has given Ohio's politics a strangely conservative tinge. Senator John Bricher's chances for reelection depend to a great extent on his ability to take advantage of the senior Senator's popularity.
Distinguished-looking John Bricker, however, is popular in his own right. Governor of Ohio for six years and Senator for six, he was also the Republican nominee for Vice President in 1944. An impressive orator of the old school, he nominated Taft for the Presidency in three straight Republican conventions. But while his hero took first place in Washington newsmen's ratings of Senatorial ability, Bricker won the booby prize.
By actual count, Bricker has voted "no" more times than any other member of the last three Senates. Following the straight isolationist line, he has opposed Marshall Plan aid and branded Truman's decision to send troops to Korea "unconstitutional." His original contribution to isolationism has been a proposed amendment to the Constitution negating the enforcement provisions of the UN Covenant on Human Rights. Also a stand-patter domestically, Bricker was one of the few Senators to vote against 14 of the 16 provisions of the Hoover Commission.
Bricker's opponent is ex-Price Stabilization chief Michael V. DiSalle. One of the most colorful political figures in the country, the five-foot-five, 215 lb. Toledo butterball is noted for his shrewd political sense and good humor. A son of an Italian immigrant, DiSalle makes no bones about his ancestry. He is introduced as "Toledo's best amateur spaghetti cook." When a heckler asked him if he were a member of the Mafia, he replied no, but he was an Elk.
As mayor of highly industrial Toledo, DiSalle was unusually successful in reconciling labor-management disputes. Summoned to Washington last year for the thankless job of administering price controls, DiSalle amazed pressure groups with his independence. He talked wage controls to the CIO convention. In front of Southern Congressmen, he complained that cotton was not a commodity, but a theology." Dubbed "the fat man in the hot seat," DiSalle failed to freeze prices, but won the nation's sympathy and chuckles.
Building on his solid base of labor and Italian support, DiSalle is aiming his campaign at independents and liberal Republicans. Through the medium of 17-hour television "talkathons," he points out he is nearer to both Eisenhower and Stevenson's foreign policy views than his opponent, and asks for "Ike and Mike" ballot splitting. Domestically, DiSalle drums on Bricker's voting record against rent control, which recent rent hikes in the state have made a sensitive issue.
DiSalle is giving Bricker his first real fight in years. Bricker's popularity has waned since his vice-presidential bid. In the past, the Senator has won easily with old fashioned speeches on the virtues of Mother, Home and Ohio State University. This time, he is campaigning furiously, concentrating his considerable oratorical powers on the "disintegration and dry rot" of the Truman administration. Bricker has powerful organizational backing, especially from the Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) machine led by Taft's Convention cheerleader, Rep. George Bender. The Cuyahoga boys delivered 150,000 volunteer workers to the Taft Senatorial campaign two years ago.
One scandal has spiced the campaign. For the last six years, Bricker has turned over his $15,000 Senate salary to his law firm and drawn in return a $24,000 annual retainer. A few weeks ago, somebody discovered the firm had received $184,000 in fees from the Pennsylvania Railroad. The deal has an odor because Bricker has voted for the railroad in all matters affecting it, including a vote against the St. Lawrence Seaway, which would make Cleveland a profitable deep-water port. The revelation has allowed Democrats to charge that Bricker votes for his client's interest over his constituents'. It will hurt him in the cities.
To defeat Bricker, DiSalle must lure Ohio's large floating vote back into the Democratic fold. The vote floats fast--Truman carried the state by a whisker in 1948, and two years later Taft rolled up a 431,000 majority over Joe Ferguson to win his Senate seat. If Taft's margin reflected more his opponent's mediocrity than his own popularity, DiSalle has a chance. But if anything, Taft seems to be idolized in Ohio even more now than two years ago. Cloaked in Taft's prestige, Bricker has a better than even chance of victory.