Henry Jackson bucks Republican trend to oust incumbent Senator Harry Cain on November 4, 1952.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 6/03/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7791
On November 4, 1952, Democratic Representative Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983) of Everett defeats incumbent Republican Senator Harry P. Cain (1906-1979) to win a U.S. Senate seat that he will hold until his death in 1983. Jackson joins fellow Democrat Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) in the Senate, where they will serve together for 28 years. Jackson's victory comes in what is otherwise a Republican year. Washington voters support retired General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), who wins the presidency, re-elect Republican Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966), and elect Republicans to all but one of the state's seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. They approve the sale of colored oleomargarine but reject increased welfare benefits. King County voters reject a proposed Home Rule charter and a $2.5 million parks bond issue.

Jackson announced his Senate candidacy on his 40th birthday, May 31, 1952. He was already a veteran lawmaker, having become the youngest member of Congress when first elected to the House of Representatives in 1940 at age 28. Jackson held the Second District House seat, which encompassed his hometown of Everett and much of Northwest Washington, for six two-year terms. In 1952, he decided to take on Senator Cain, who had an erratic record and was widely considered to be among the least competent members of the Senate.

Harry P. Cain

Harry Cain's unusual political career includes the distinction of being the man that the two most influential senators in the state's history each defeated to win a Senate seat. Cain entered politics in 1940, when he was elected mayor of Tacoma. In that race he finished third in the primary, making it onto the general election ballot after the leading primary vote-getter died.

At the time, Cain was a liberal Democrat. Almost alone among West Coast politicians, he opposed the internment of Japanese residents ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945). Cain helped maintain an atmosphere of tolerance in Tacoma in the face of the anti-Japanese hysteria sweeping the West, saying of Japanese citizens, "They have been our friends and our neighbors ... keep cool!" (Martin and Kellogg, 168). In 1942, Cain was re-elected to a four-year term as mayor with 70 percent of the vote. He then took a leave of absence to join the U.S. Army in World War II. While still on duty in Europe, Cain sought and won the Republican nomination in the 1944 Senate race, but lost the general election to then-Representative Magnuson.

Two years later, as a returned war hero and a Republican in a year of voter backlash against Democrats across the country, Cain won a Senate seat by defeating incumbent Senator Hugh B. Mitchell (1907-1996). Monrad C. ("Mon") Wallgren (1891-1961) had previously held the seat. When Wallgren was elected governor in 1944, he had appointed his chief of staff Mitchell to replace him in the Senate.

Cain's Senate performance was a marked contrast to his promotion of tolerance as mayor of Tacoma. He was an outspoken conservative and an ally and imitator of "red-baiting" Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), who was infamous for his witch hunts against alleged Communists in the government. Cain often took contradictory positions, as when he advocated war with Communist China while calling for U.S. withdrawal from the Pacific and opposing defense spending that Jackson supported. Cain was viewed as incompetent by many in the national press, and further damaged his image with a messy divorce and an affair with a staffer.

Jackson's Victory

Jackson attacked the incumbent's performance, denouncing Cain's opposition to enlarging the Air Force and his votes against hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River that Jackson and Magnuson saw as crucial to the state's economic growth. The Senate campaign was masterminded by John Salter, the strategist who had run Jackson's campaigns since his first election as Snohomish County Prosecutor in 1938, when Jackson and Salter were both 26. Magnuson lent support and staff to Jackson's campaign in a pattern the two senators would follow throughout their tenure together. Salter and Gerry Hoeck, an advertising executive who handled Magnuson's media work, ran an innovative media campaign.

Cain slashed back, suggesting that Jackson, a staunch Cold Warrior but also an opponent of McCarthy's tactics, was insufficiently anti-communist. Cain even brought McCarthy to Seattle to campaign for him. It did not work. Jackson decisively defeated Cain, winning 56 percent of the votes (595,288) to Cain's 44 percent (460,884).

Republican Landslide

Jackson's victory was particularly striking given the strength of the Republican landslide. Eisenhower won the state by 54 percent (599,107 votes), just under his nationwide margin of 55 percent, to the 45 percent (492,845 votes) of Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965). Langlie won his third term as governor by 53 percent (567,822 votes) to Hugh Mitchell's 47 percent (510,675 votes). Mitchell, after losing the 1946 Senate race, was elected in 1948 to the First District House of Representatives seat that Magnuson formerly held. Mitchell gained the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in a bruising campaign in which State Senator Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011) of Seattle labeled him "left wing." Many Democrats blamed Rosellini for providing ammunition that aided Langlie's victory.

In addition to the presidency and governorship, Republicans won six of Washington's seven seats in the House of Representatives. Thomas M. Pelly (1902-1973) won the First District seat that Mitchell gave up to run for governor, defeating Stimson Bullitt by 51 percent (121,926 votes) to 48 percent (114,617 votes). Bullitt was the son of A. Scott Bullitt (1887-1932), a leader of the state Democratic party in the 1920s and early 1930s, and Dorothy Stimson Bullitt (1892-1989), the Seattle business and civic leader who founded King Broadcasting Company. In Everett's Second District, which Jackson had served for six terms, Jack Westland (1904-1982) defeated Harry F. Henson 54 percent to 46 percent (91,853 to 77,179 votes) to win the seat for the Republicans.

Republicans Russell V. Mack (1891-1960) in the Third District, Hal Holmes (1902-1977) in the Fourth, Walt Horan (1898-1966) in the Fifth, and Thor C. Tollefson (1901-1982) in the Sixth also won House races. The only Democrat to win a House race was Don Magnuson (1911-1979) -- no relation to Warren Magnuson -- who barely won an at-large seat by 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent (515,213 to 504,783 votes) over former State Representative Albert F. Canwell (1907-2002) of Spokane. In 1947 and 1948, Canwell had created and led the legislature's Committee on Un-American Activities (also known as the Canwell Committee), a forerunner at the state level of Joe McCarthy's communist-hunting committee in the U.S. Senate.

Among several statewide initiatives on the ballot, voters strongly approved a measure permitting the sale of yellow-colored oleomargarine, but soundly rejected a proposal to increase state welfare benefits.

King County Rejects Charter and Park Bonds

In King County, voters decisively rejected a proposed Home Rule charter supported by the Municipal League and other good government reformers and opposed by both political parties and most of the county's existing power structure. The defeated charter would have replaced the three-member Board of County Commissioners and numerous quasi-independent elected county officials with a seven-member Board and an appointed administrator overseeing a centralized governmental structure. A somewhat different Home Rule charter was approved in 1968.

In the 1952 election, King County voters also defeated Proposition No. 1, a $2,500,000 parks bond issue. The money would have gone to purchase approximately 30 sites, mostly beachfront properties, for future public parks. Robert Beach, chairman of the Puget Sound Park Study Group, argued that land prices would never get cheaper, and that if the County didn't act, beachfront properties would be bought by private citizens and never again be available for public use. Dick Anderson, chairman of the Taxpayers Committee Against the County Bond Issue, called the bond issue a "socialistic program" that would needlessly put the County into competition with private resort operators. He felt that there was "absolutely no need for more picnic grounds in King County."

Sources: Official Abstract of Votes, State General Election, November 4, 1952 (Olympia: Secretary of State, 1952); Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 43, 64-70; Peter J. Ognibene, Scoop: The Life and Politics of Henry M. Jackson (New York: Stein and Day, 1975), 56, 61, 95-96; William W. Prochnau and Richard W. Larsen, A Certain Democrat: Senator Henry M. Jackson (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), 117-25; Harry Martin and Caroline Kellogg, Tacoma, a Pictorial History (Norfolk : Donning, 1981), 168; Shelby Scates, Warren G. Magnuson and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 111-12, 125, 163-66; Walt Crowley, Routes: An Interpretative History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993), 34-37; "County Charter, Park Bonds Lose," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 5, 1952, p. 1; "Charter, 2 Park Bond Issues Lose at Polls," The Seattle Times, November 5, 1952, p. 2.
Note: On June 3, 2006, this essay was expanded to incorporate three smaller timelines, no longer extant, treating aspects of the election.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You