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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Albert Gore, October 24, 1976. Interview A-0321-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

How Gore defeated McKellar

Though Senator McKellar, the incumbent during Gore's first campaign for the Senate, was a powerful, charismatic, and much-loved politician, Gore managed to defeat him. Gore explores how he and his team accomplished that and reiterates the importance of running a clean campaign.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Albert Gore, October 24, 1976. Interview A-0321-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

You certainly were in a uniquely strong position to challenge the Crump machine and to be successful in 1952. I wonder if you could say a bit more about the campaign itself, and about the factors which, in your opinion, enabled you to be successful.
Well, the strategy was carefully determined. The late Senator McKellar was a very powerful man: he was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and as such he had led in the Senate many of the battles which I had led in the House. Indeed, he was far more powerful than I. Sometimes I would lose the battle in the House, it would be retrieved by him in the Senate, and then in conference between the House and Senate he and I would work closely together to cement the victory. This was repeated several times with respect to TVA matters. So when he decided to run again I was not in a position to criticize the manner in which he had utilized the power of the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. I had had critical views in that regard, because he had undertaken to dominate the policies of the TVA, to control appointments to the TVA. I had opposed this, and throughout my term as a congressman I had never recommended anyone for employment by the TVA. I had never recommended anyone or endorsed anyone for appointment to the TVA board. Looking back on it, maybe this was an extreme position. But I regarded the TVA as an autonomous agency, and I felt that it should operate in a businesslike way and be free of political interference in its administration and in its operation. I still feel that way, but maybe I was going too far. But at least I was so opposed to the efforts of Senator McKellar to dominate the TVA and to tell them where they should put a dam or when they should build a dam, where they should not put a dam and who they should employ, I so resisted that that I became an absolute antithesis to it. So there were issues between us which I could have utilized in the campaign, those and other things that we differed on. But he had been so helpful to me in the matter of securing appropriations for TVA's expansion, and our records were so alike in that regard (his the more successful because of the power that he wielded as chairman of the committee) that I chose (both because of those reasons and because of his advanced age and the esteem in which he was held) to make no reference to him at all. Not one time did I call his name during the campaign or criticize him on a single issue. Having made that decision, I announced it at my first state-wide organization with leaders. And it was discussed around the room. Some doubted that it was wise; most seemed to agree with it. But one young lawyer from East Tennessee, Bill Todd from Kingsport, was late arriving. He came in with some little commotion--God bless Bill, he's about six foot two and has very large feet, and he seemed to create a little commotion almost any time he entered a room [laughter] . Anyway, just as he came in I . . . [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
. . . said, "Bill, we've been discussing here the strategy and tactics of my campaign. How do you think I should deal with the problem of my adversary, the venerable Senator Kenneth McKellar?" Right off Bill said, "I think you should say he's too old to cut the mustard." [laughter] This created quite a deal of amusement, and there were some who fairly agreed with him. But I had to tell him then that we'd decided just not to do that at all. Later on in the campaign, you might be interested to know, Senator McKellar's friends began to emphasize his influence as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. This was my toughest issue. And they were saying all over the state, "Why should Tennessee turn out to pasture the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee when we need so many things: roads, TVA dams, steam plants, various projects? The chairman of the Appropriations Committee, why should we turn him out and put a young whipper snapper in his place who'd have to start at the foot of the class?" Well, it was my toughest issue. To emphasize this point, they suddenly began to tack on the trees and utility poles and vacant store windows a placard which said, "Thinking feller Vote for MaKellar." Well, I found that amusing the first day or two. But I found it was repeated every time I turned a curve, and by many other people by word of mouth. I saw we had to get an answer to that. So Mrs. Gore and I came home one Saturday night after a hard day of campaigning, and she cleaned off the kitchen table and made a pot of coffee and said, "Well Albert, sit down here. Here's the pencil, here's the paper. I'll get a pencil and paper. We've got to get an answer to this placard." So we wrote doggerels and rhymes and riddles, and finally came to one that we thought would work. So we got our country printer up early the next morning (even on Sunday), and ran a bunch of placards answering that of the opposition. And on Monday morning my friends started fanning out over the state. And wherever they found one of those "Thinking Feller Vote for McKellar" placards, they tacked one just beneath it which read "Think some more and vote for Gore." [laughter] This had its effect: it created such amusement that in some counties the supporters of Senator McKellar went around and pulled theirs down. And the people driving through the state would often stop and take down both. I was later speaking in Chicago, and the man who introduced me told the story and said he had a pair of those placards on the wall in his office. It had a little humorous twist to it. It was very effective, and later on as I would make speeches over the country I would sometimes tell that story, and say that the people did vote for me after that mark of poetic genius. Thereafter, I always voted for federal aid to education [laughter].