Washington voters elect Albert Rosellini governor and re-elect Warren Magnuson to the United States Senate on November 6, 1956.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 1/30/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9284

On November 6, 1956, Democrat Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) wins his third term in the United States Senate, easily fending off a challenge from Republican Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966). State Senate Democratic leader Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011) wins the governor's mansion that Langlie has given up in his unsuccessful bid for the Senate. Although Democrats win the two highest-profile state races (and all the partisan statewide offices), Republicans are re-elected to six of the state's seven U.S. House of Representatives seats and Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) carries Washington on his way to winning a second term. Pearl Wanamaker is ousted from the non-partisan post of Superintendent of Public Instruction after four influential terms.

Tangled History 

In 1956 Warren Magnuson, Albert Rosellini, and Arthur Langlie already shared a long and tangled political history.  Langlie actually launched Magnuson’s storied senatorial career in 1944, appointing him for the first time to the seat from which he would try to oust Magnuson 12 years later.  In 1944, then-U.S. Representative Magnuson was one of the leading Democratic politicians in the state and many in his party urged him to run for governor against Langlie.  Instead, Magnuson sought the United States Senate seat vacated when Democratic Senator Homer T. Bone (1883-1970) was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.  As Magnuson won the election to the Senate, the state’s other U.S. Senator, Mon Wallgren (1891-1961), defeated Langlie in the 1944 governor’s race.  Before leaving office, Langlie appointed Magnuson to the remainder of Bone’s senatorial term, giving him crucial seniority over other newly elected senators at the start of what was to become one of the longest and most influential careers in the U.S. Senate.  Langlie initially resisted doing so -- a puritanical teetotaler, he disapproved of Magnuson’s hard drinking and flamboyant lifestyle as much as his liberal politics -- but ultimately bowed to intense pressure from other Washington politicians to give the state the extra clout that Magnuson’s additional seniority would provide. 

Even earlier, when Magnuson was King County Prosecutor in the mid-1930s, Rosellini worked in his office.  Soon after Magnuson moved on to the U.S. House of Representatives, Rosellini won election to the state Senate, where he became a leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.  Rosellini and conservative Republican Langlie feuded from the time Langlie was first elected governor in 1940.  Rosellini led the 1941 fight to strip Langlie of the governor's traditional right to name the Senate Majority Leader and throughout Langlie’s three terms each worked to thwart the other’s political agenda. 

After his 1944 defeat, Langlie regained the governor’s office in 1948. He won again in 1952, when he also played an active role in General Dwight D. Eisenhower's successful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.  Rosellini ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to challenge Langlie in 1952, and his attacks during the primary on the ultimate nominee, U.S. Representative Hugh B. Mitchell (1907-1996), as a "left-winger" actually aided Langlie, allowing the governor to link Mitchell to Communism and subversion, a potent tactic during the "Red scare" of the 1950s.  Rosellini may have inadvertently aided Langlie’s 1952 re-election, but he kept up the pressure on the governor from his state Senate post.  A series of violent riots in the underfunded and understaffed state prisons marred Langlie’s final term and Rosellini used Senate hearings into the riots to make the prison crisis a centerpiece of his successful 1956 run for governor.   

"Eisenhower and God" 

Although Rosellini campaigned against Langlie's record, Langlie was not running for governor in 1956. Many expected him to retire or obtain a judicial appointment from President Eisenhower, but Langlie instead embarked on a quixotic attempt to defeat Senator Magnuson.  A Langlie aide later claimed the governor made the decision after "consulting with President Dwight Eisenhower and God" (Scates, 167).  Eisenhower, who hoped for a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, encouraged Langlie's candidacy and enhanced his stature by making him the keynote speaker at the 1956 Republican national convention. But it was God, or at least Langlie's deep-seated moral sense, that was the major influence. Langlie abhorred Magnuson's "playboy" lifestyle and was appalled by his friendships (and alleged financial dealings) with Hollywood starlets as well as reputed gamblers and other shady characters. 

What Langlie failed to realize is that even leading conservative businessmen, including many Republicans, who otherwise shared his views, cared far less about Magnuson's lifestyle than about his proven ability to deliver for them and for the state.  Despite an aggressive campaign, the lifestyle attack on Magnuson went nowhere.  Langlie was forced on the defensive when Rosellini used Langlie's record to attack Lieutenant Governor Emmett Anderson, Langlie's choice as the Republican gubernatorial candidate.  Although Eisenhower carried Washington by a wide margin -- 620,430 votes (54.3 percent) to 523,002 (45.7 percent) -- on his way to a repeat victory over Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965) for his second term as president, his coattails did not help either Langlie or Anderson. 

Mixed Results 

Magnuson won his third term to the Senate (he would go on to win three more) by a landslide margin of 685,565 votes (61.1 percent) to 436,652 votes (38.9 percent) for Langlie.  Rosellini’s victory over Anderson was only slightly less sweeping: 616,773 votes (54.8 percent) to 508,041 (45.2 percent).  Voters also chose Democrats for all the other partisan state-wide offices: Lieutenant Governor John Cherberg, Secretary of State Victor A. “Vic” Meyers (1898-1991), Treasurer Tom Martin, Auditor Cliff Yelle, Attorney General John J. O’Connell, Commissioner of Public Lands Bert Cole, and Insurance Commissioner William A. Sullivan.  In the non-partisan race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Spokane State Senator Lloyd Andrews defeated incumbent Pearl Wanamaker (1899-1984), who had pushed through many reforms, some controversial, during her four terms in office. 

Republicans dominated the races for Washington’s seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, since they held six seats and incumbents won all seven races.  Republicans --  Thomas M. Pelly (1902-1973) in the First District, Jack Westland (1904-1982) in the Second, Russell V. Mack (1891-1960) in the Third, Hal Holmes (1902-1977) in the Fourth, Walt Horan (1898-1966) in the Fifth, and Thor C. Tollefson (1901-1982) in the Sixth  -- were re-elected to the six district seats, while Democrat Don Magnuson (1911-1979) -- no relation to Warren Magnuson, but certainly benefiting from the name -- won re-election to an at-large seat.

Sources: Official Abstract of Votes, State General Election, November 6, 1956 (Olympia: Secretary of State, 1956); Michael J. Dubin, United States Congressional Elections, 1788-1997: The Official Results of the Elections of the 1st through 105th Congresses (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1998), 611, 613; HistoryLink.org, The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Rosellini, Albert Dean (b. 1910)" (by Walt Crowley), "Wanamaker, Pearl Anderson (1899-1984) " (by Michael Hood), "Langlie, Arthur B. (1900-1966)" (by Kit Oldham), and "Magnuson, Warren G. (1905-1989)" (by Kit Oldham), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed January 28. 2010); Shelby Scates, Warren G. Magnuson and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 167; "State of Washington Members of the Legislature: 1889-2009," Washington State Legislature website accessed January 27, 2010 (http://www.leg.wa.gov/History/Legislative/Documents/Members_of_Leg_2009.pdf).

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