Washington voters re-elect Senator Henry Jackson by a record margin, retain six of seven U.S. Representatives, and legalize abortion on November 3, 1970.

  • By Kit Oldham and Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 10/29/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5586
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On November 3, 1970, Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983) wins a record-setting victory, gaining 82 percent of the vote in defeating Republican state senator Charles W. Elicker. Six of Washington's seven U.S. Representatives win re-election, while Jackson's support helps Democrat Mike McCormack upset Republican incumbent Catherine May (b. 1914). Washington voters also approve Referendum 20, which legalizes a woman's right to an abortion in the early months of pregnancy.

Jackson faced more opposition from his own party in 1970 than he did from the Republicans. Anti-war Democrats, infuriated by Jackson's support for Republican President Richard M. Nixon's (1913-1994) escalation of the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War, supported a primary challenge to Jackson by Spokane attorney Carl Maxey (1924-1997). Maxey, a civil rights leader and anti-war activist, denounced Jackson for supporting the war and the draft. Although angered by the criticism from within his party, Jackson cruised to an easy victory in the September primary.

Republicans for Jackson

Meanwhile, Republican State Chairman Montgomery Johnson and Governor Dan Evans struggled to find a candidate to oppose Jackson, a struggle undermined by their own party. State Republican donors gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jackson's primary campaign, and national Republicans frustrated the local leaders by discouraging serious opposition to Jackson. With his endorsement of the administration's Vietnam policies and support for Nixon's controversial anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system, Jackson at the time was known as Nixon's favorite Democratic senator.

Indeed, following his 1968 election, Nixon offered Jackson the position of Secretary of Defense, which Jackson turned down in favor of keeping his powerful Senate seat. When state party chairman Johnson visited Washington D.C., Nixon inquired, "You're not running anybody against my buddy Scoop are you?" (Prochnau and Larsen, 319).

Ultimately Johnson and Evans prevailed upon state senator Charles Elicker to enter the race, and Elicker beat four other candidates to win the Republican nomination, although he took far fewer votes than Maxey, let alone the front-runner Jackson. The easy-going Elicker, whose biggest claim to fame was his striking physical resemblance to President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), did not take his chances of beating Jackson overly seriously, and the campaign was much more relaxed than the hard-hitting Maxey primary. On one occasion, when both candidates were at a reception in Chelan County where few attendees recognized Elicker, Jackson graciously introduced his opponent around the room.

Record-setting Victory

There was little suspense in the race. On election night, Jackson was pronounced the winner three minutes after the polls closed. He shattered the Washington record (which he had set in 1964) by winning 82 percent (879,385 votes) to Elicker's 16 percent (170,790 votes), with the remainder going to two minor party candidates. In addition to his own race, Jackson raised money and appeared in television advertisements for House challenger Mike McCormack, who succeeded in ousting Republican Representative Catherine May of Yakima in Central Washington's Fourth District by 53 percent (70,119 votes) to 47 percent (63,244 votes).

Washington's six other Representatives were re-elected by large margins. The lone remaining Republican, Thomas M. Pelly (1902-1973) in the First District, joined Democrats Lloyd Meeds (1927-2005) in Jackson's old Second District seat, Julia Butler Hansen (1907-1988) in the Third District, future House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (1929-2013) in the Fifth, Floyd V. Hicks (1915-1992) in the Sixth, and future Secretary of Transportation and Senator Brock Adams (b. 1927) in the Seventh.

Voters Legalize Abortion

Referendum 20, legalizing abortion, was approved by a margin of 56 percent (599,959 votes) to 44 percent (462,174 votes), with the strongest support coming from King County. The referendum amended a 1909 law that prohibited all abortions unless necessary to save the life of the mother. The new law legalized abortions for women who were no more than four months pregnant, had lived in Washington for at least 90 days, and had the consent of a parent or guardian (for women under 18) or husband (for married women living with their husbands).

Most of the restrictions included in the new law were set aside following the United States Supreme Court's 1972 decision Roe v. Wade, which affirmed a woman's constitutional right to abortion. Although 15 other states had liberalized their abortion laws by 1970, Washington was the first -- and remains the only -- state to do so by submitting the issue to the people.


Abstract of Votes, General Election Held on November 3, 1970 (Olympia: Secretary of State, 1970); Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 147, 221-22; William W. Prochnau and Richard W. Larsen, A Certain Democrat: Senator Henry M. Jackson (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), 321-29; The Seattle Times, July 3, 1989, p. A-5; Ibid., August 13, 1985, p. C-8; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 4, 1970, p. A.
Note: This essay was updated on August 18, 2005.

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