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"I never though I'd live to see the day when Hubert H. Humphrey was the most conservative candidate to seek the nomination of the Democratic party," a Texas congressman said last week. "But he sure is."
Old Triple-H fondly tells college students that he has always been "a rebel without a cause," but they only remember that four years ago he joined the party establishment: (the civil rights crusader who fought the Dixiecrats at the 1948 convention and who managed the 1964 Civil Rights Bill past a Southern filibuster has become the vice-president who said the Riot Commission's conclusion "is open to some challenge." And the visionary statesman who first proposed the Peace Corps and who pushed the test-ban treaty has been the Vice-president who was a leading spokesman for his Administration's war.
In 1960 presidential contender Humphrey spent his grocery money to appeal for popular support in two rugged primaries. This year Humphrey's candidacy will be bolstered by wealthy Democrats who fear Bobby Kennedy--but now his strength lies with the power brokers in non-primary states.
Humphrey's largest power base is the South, which has been quick to recognize the surest way to stop Kennedy, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee all plan to line up behind favorite sons to hold their delegations for the Vice-President.
Beyond being a potential Kennedy-stopper, Humphrey has won Southern support with his firm stand on the war and with his frequent trips to Southern capitals in the last year. Last May, when Southern anger over the school desegregation guidelines was at its height. Humphrey visited the Southern governors to soothe their feelings. The highlight of this effort came in Georgia, where he put his arm around Lester Maddox and called him "a good Democrat."
Democratic governors will meet this afternoon in St. Louis, and the Southerners will present their strategy for supporting Humphrey. Their biggest problem will be to fashion a civil rights stand which they can support but which their candidate will accept. The conference might show that the South is not solidly behind Humphrey. If the governors feel that Kennedy is too far ahead, they might decide to forget HHH and push Texas Governor John Connally for Vice-President.
ORGANIZED labor, which dislikes Kennedy almost as much as the South does, has provided Humphrey's most enthusiastic backing in the last two weeks. Labor support will be most significant in Pennsylvania, where it controls most of the party organization. Philadelphia has an independent party, but Mayor James Tate remembers Humphrey's crucial assistance in his re-election campaign last fall. The city chairman, 29-year-old Rep. William J. Green, will be able to gather only a few Pennsylvania delegates for Kennedy. In Michigan, UAW President Walter Reuther also has close ties to Humphrey, but most of Michigan's liberals are privately for Kennedy, and the New York Senator is expected to win at least half of the delegation.
Mayors of large cities are generally for Humphrey, but most of them will have little voice in their delegations. The mayor of St. Louis has strongly endorsed HHH, but the undecided Missouri state committee has officially asked Gov. Warren E. Hearnes to tell its delegation what to do in Chicago. A party official in Ohio says that Humphrey's mayors will have "a negative influence in the caucuses" at the convention. Another top Democrat predicted that 90 per cent of Ohio's votes would go to Kennedy if he pledged to "cooperate" with party leaders on federal patronage.
Humphrey's most important aid could come from his "constituency of one," Lyondon B. Johnson. But the President has told Democratic leaders that he will not try to influence their choice--a large-scale effort by the White House to secure Humphrey's nomination could destroy Johnson's statesmanlike pose, and it would humiliate the President if it failed. Some of LBJ's closest friends have predicted that he might not even endorse his Vice-President.
Even if he tried, there would be no way for Johnson to transfer his solid support from black voters to Humphrey. Humphrey has an imposing civil rights record, but Kennedy's emotional appeal to blacks appears too much for anyone to overcome.
The major result of the President's aloofness will be to free the party leaders in major states who had been holding their delegations for Johnson. Gov. Richard J. Hughes, formerly a staunch LBJ man, has decided to hold his delegation uncommitted as a favorite son. But the state's top leaders--John V. Kenny, leader of the Hudson County stronghold, Rep. Frank Thompson, and state chairman Robert J. Burkhardt--haev announced for Kennedy, and privately Hughes concedes that RFK will win the nomination.
In Connecticut, Mayor Richard Lee of New Haven and Sen. Abraham Ribicoff have close relations with the Kennedys. So does John Bailey, state and national party chairman, who had been holding his state for the President. While Bailey might be forced to include a few McCarthy supporters in his delegation, most of the state's votes will probably go to Kennedy.
GOVERNOR Robert Docking of Kansas, who had supported Johnson, has declared his neutrality, but most observers give his delegation to Kennedy. Iowa which had been solid for the President under Gov. Harold Hughes, is rated an even split among Kennedy, McCarthy, and Humphrey.
Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago and boss of the Illinois party, had pledged his 118 votes to the President. After Johnson withdrew, the two men talked about the race, and Daley reported that neither of them even mentioned Humphrey. The mayor has been extremely close to the Kennedys, and he is expected to throw his support to RFK just before the convention.
Only a major slip by Kennedy would convince the leaders who control these states to switch to Humphrey. But even RFK admits that he might stumble badly.
His first primary is May 7, in Indiana, a conservative state whose rural lower half is as southern as Mississippi. Roger D. Branigin, the most popular governor in the state's history, controls the amazingly powerful party organization. The leading paper in the state, the Indianapolis Star, buries news of Kennedy and McCarthy deep in stories headlining Branigin's latest support from county leaders. Branigin entered the primary as a stand-in for Johnson, and polls showed him leading Kennedy and McCarthy. After Johnson's withdrawal, he decided to stay in the contest, probably to hold his state for Humphrey, and his strength increased. But with Larry O'Brien directing Kennedy's campaign, and with a $600,000 budget, RFK has been given a new chance by political analysts in Indiana.
McCARTHY has been concentrating on the primary in Nebraska, a cautions farm state which could be expected to reject an eastern millionaire. McCarthy seems to be trailing however. Most of the state's 120,000 Democrats live in Omaha and Lincoln, and 15,000 of them turned out to greet Kennedy in Lincoln last week.
If Kennedy sweeps the primaries, Humphrey will have to form a coalition with McCarthy, his long-time junior ally from Minnesota. But that might come too late to stop Kennedy, and McCarthy might not be able to control his delegates.
James H. Rowe Jr., a Washington attorney who planned Humphrey's primary campaigns in 1960 and who has been organizing his effort in the last two weeks, admits that his candidate is "starting pretty far behind." Other Humphrey supporters glumly recall that the Vice-President doesn't have a winning record. In 1952 he helped Stevenson win the nomination but then watched the Vice-presidential nod turn away from him. In 1956 his open candidacy for the second spot was smothered by Kennedy and Kefauver. Four years later, he lost miserably in West Virginia. The next year he was by-passed for the Senate majority leadership. In 1964 he agonized while Lyndon B. Johnson dangled the Vice-Presidency before McCarthy and Thomas Dodd. In the new administration he hoped for the poverty program but was assigned the war effort.
"If anyone deserves a break," Robert Kennedy said last week, "Hubert does." But Humphrey needs a lot of breaks to be lucky this time.
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