Unfortunately, negative political ads are nothing new! As we near election day and political polarization reaches its peak, here is a full page ad from the August 12, 1934, Sunday Lincoln Journal and Star that may sound familiar.
In the Nebraska gubernatorial race, a fellow Democratic candidate accused Roy Cochran of being a tool of the private electric power companies who were opposing Nebraska’s new public power initiative – a potentially damaging accusation in the Democratic primary. Cochran was quick to respond, calling the statement a “malicious falsehood.”
No one knows how false it is better than the man responsible for putting such a statement in a public appeal for votes for himself, printed in the closing days of the campaign. But he, and those associated with him in this act of trickery and vilification are not concerned with the truth. They are willing and are out to get votes by any method. They would appeal to ignorance in order to win…People who believe in fairness and decency in public life will resent such slimy methods.
Cochran went on to present himself as honest and courageous, able and experienced. In 1934 Nebraska was experiencing a major drought, and Cochran believed “Nebraska’s recovery program demands these steps: 1. A Rigidly Economical Administration, 2. Full Development of the State’s Resources, 3. A Matter of Vision and Experience.”
An editorial on the left side of the ad again condemns using personal attacks for political gain.
Men do strange things in the heat of a campaign. This reflection is inspired by the spectacle presented in the democratic gubernatorial primary contest. There are a number of able, intelligent, and ordinarily fair-minded men seeking the nomination. After some of them have cooled off, they will be a trifle ashamed of some of the charges and some of the innuendoes directed against a rival for the same honor.
In 2008, Cochran’s daughter Mary Cochran Grimes wrote a book about her parents called Aileen and Roy: Up from the Sand Hills to the State House. In it she mentions that after winning the nomination, Cochran tried to gain support from those he had been competing against.
It was customary for the winner in a primary election to call on and enlist the support of the losers. When Roy called on Gene O’Sullivan and requested his support, he said “Roy, I would like to help you but can’t see how I can do it.”
Roy looked at him with wonder and asked, “Why?”
“Roy,” was the reply, “I said so d— many mean things about you during the primary campaign that nobody would believe me if I said anything good about you now.”
Cochran went on to serve as Nebraska’s governor for three two-year terms, from 1934-1940.
We haven’t researched whether the accusation against Cochran had any merit or not, but his response is similar to what we would expect today. The basic human dynamics of campaigns are not much different, although most campaigns no longer wait as late as the eleventh hour to start the “trickery and vilification.”
- Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant