Maine’s Primary Choice
Forty-eight years ago, Senator Margaret Chase Smith awaited the results of her first presidential primary.
- By: Will Bleakley
Image Courtesy Margaret Chase Smith Library
On March 10, 1964, Margaret Chase Smith stood behind Vermont Senator George D. Aiken, her closest colleague and biggest supporter of her presidential campaign, as they watched the results of the New Hampshire primary trickle in. This photograph, which ran in the Bennington Banner, captured the nervous energy of the duo when they momentarily turned their gaze from the television set that Smith had installed a few hours earlier.
As New Hampshire residents voted, Smith spent the day meeting with the Maine delegation, the Northeastern Poultry Producers, and the Senate Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee. She then settled in to her second-floor Washington D.C. office where she vowed to stay up until midnight for the results. Ironically, her office, room 2121 in the New Senate Office Building, used to be that of Lyndon B. Johnson, the very person she sought to defeat in the upcoming general election.
Throughout the day, Smith received interview requests from the New York Times, La Nazione (Italy), WGN in Chicago, the Cincinnati Enquirer, CBS in Texas, and ABC in New York, while NBC set up cameras to film her reactions to the primary. All the news outlets sought insight from Smith, the first female presidential candidate from a major political party, on this historic, yet ultimately disappointing night.
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a write-in candidate, emerged as the surprise victor, capturing the niche of moderate Republicans Smith had angled for. Smith came in fifth with 3 percent support and 2,812 votes, while eventual nominee Barry Goldwater finished second. “I suspect that she never thought she had a chance of winning,” says Merton Henry, who as a Bowdoin student volunteered on her 1948 senatorial campaign and subsequently on her bid for president. “She wanted above all else to prove that a woman could be a serious candidate.”
Where the candidates for the 2012 election have Super PACs to spend millions of dollars on negative attacks, Smith handed out muffin recipes at campaign stops. While current election night results are monitored from campaign “war rooms” of ten plasma televisions and twenty staffers on Blackberrys, Smith huddled around a twelve-inch screen with her closest colleague. Smith did not raise or accept campaign funds, had no campaign workers, nor did she utilize any radio or television advertising. “There is nothing more effective than a handshake and a little conversation,” she would say.
- By: Will Bleakley