Government by Whitaker and Baxter
Clement “Clem” Sherman Whitaker
Clem Whitaker (standing at the podium) was born in 1899 in Tempe, Arizona. His father was a Baptist minister, as was his uncle, Robert Whitaker, a well-known socialist. Raised in the small California town of Willits, Clem Whitaker started working for the Willits News at thirteen. Four years later he began covering the California State Legislature and State Capitol for the Sacramento Union. By nineteen he was the paper’s city editor. He also wrote for the San Francisco Examiner and in 1921 launched the Capitol News Bureau, a service that provided political news to newspapers throughout California.
Whitaker sold the Capitol News Bureau to the United Press in 1929. He then formed his own advertising company, headquartered on K Street in Sacramento. He ran a few minor campaigns before meeting Leone Baxter in 1933. He separated from his first wife, Harriet Reynolds, in 1935 before marrying Baxter three years later. He had three children with Reynolds: Clem, Jr., Milton, and Patricia. Clem Whitaker died of emphysema in 1961 at the age of 62.
Born in 1906 in Kelso, Washington to parents Leon Smith and Grace Hayes, Leone G. Smith became Leone Baxter after marrying her first husband, Alexander. She spent some time writing newspaper copy for the Portland Oregonian before moving to Redding, California, where she secured a job promoting a water carnival for the city's Chamber of Commerce.
By 1933, when she met Clem Whitaker, Baxter was a 26-year-old widow and the manager of Redding’s Chamber of Commerce. Baxter and Whitaker (shown in this 1950 photograph) married in 1938, remaining married until his death in 1961. In 1958, after selling Campaigns, Inc. to Clem Whitaker, Jr. and his partners, the couple founded Whitaker & Baxter International, a public relations consulting firm. Upon Whitaker’s passing, Baxter continued to run Whitaker & Baxter International out of a penthouse apartment at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. She died on March 13, 2001 at the age of 95.
In 1933, the California State Legislature passed legislation authorizing the Central Valley Project (CVP), a massive public works project designed to develop, distribute, and sell water and electric energy in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. Concerned that the power generated by the CVP might be sold to public authorities, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company forced a referendum on the project, seeking to strike down the law with the support of the state’s voters.
To defeat the referendum (on the ballot as Proposition 1 of the Special Election held December 19, 1933), lawyer Sheridan Downey invited Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter to help with the campaign. Whitaker and Baxter began work on their first campaign with a budget of less than $40,000.
Together, the new team of Whitaker and Baxter developed a campaign that heavily used news media – including advertisements like the one shown here, editorials, cartoons, news releases, and radio scripts – to defeat the referendum by 33,603 votes.
Following up on their successful Central Valley Project campaign, Whitaker and Baxter established Campaigns, Inc., a first-of-its kind political campaign management firm. Initially operating out of Sacramento, the Campaigns, Inc. offices eventually settled in San Francisco, with temporary offices opened as required in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. The duo’s empire also included the Clem Whitaker Advertising Agency and the California Feature Service, a newspaper wire service that provided articles, editorials, and cartoons to hundreds of newspapers throughout California.
George J. Hatfield had served as a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California before his run for office. Frank Merriam joined Hatfield on the Republican ticket. Merriam, formerly California's lieutenant governor, had recently been promoted to the governor's office after the death of Governor James Rolph. Merriam was little liked and considered by one Democrat to be "as modern as the dinosaur age."
The 1934 Democratic ticket featured a candidate whom many party elites considered a pariah: muckraking author Upton Sinclair. A former Socialist, Sinclair switched to the Democratic Party and won the nomination by a large margin, garnering more votes than his eight rivals combined.
Sheridan Downey, a friend of Clem Whitaker's, was the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Sinclair and Downey called their ticket, "Uppy and Downey."
Sinclair's proposed "End Poverty In California" (EPIC) program, described in these excerpts from an informational booklet written by Sinclair and entitled "I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty" served as one of the platforms of the Uppy and Downey campaign.
Whitaker and Baxter flooded the state with negative press, and, in some cases, outright lies about Sinclair. They implied that his plans would destroy American traditions and values. For instance, the pamphlet here plays on worries about communism and the "Red Scare" that swept the nation in the mid-twentieth century.
The smear campaign was a coordinated attack by anti-Sinclair groups across the state. Whitaker and Baxter produced doom-laden propaganda for the California League Against Sinclairism. This memorandum from Clem Whitaker shows the extent of their advertising efforts, stating that the "newspaper advertising budget will constitute by far the largest expenditure in Mr. Hatfield's campaign." They also used diversionary tactics, shifting attention from Sinclair's proposed End Poverty in California program – which appealed to Depression-weary Californians – to focus on his personal shortcomings.
The anti-Sinclair campaign also exploited public fears over unemployment, exacerbated by the Great Depression. Slogans like "California -- The Poorhouse of the Nation" appeared in political advertisements to describe what the state would be like under Sinclair's leadership. Louis B. Mayer, renowned studio head and state Republican Party Chairman, filmed actors portraying "bums" riding railcars to California in anticipation of Sinclair's promises of jobs and handouts. These "newsreels" played in theaters up and down the state, while other anti-Sinclair groups distributed leaflets such as the one shown here.
Whitaker and Baxter's campaign plan worked. Despite his lack of popularity, Merriam won the election with 48% of the vote. Sinclair took only 37% of the vote, while Raymond Haight (a third party candidate) took another 13%. Years later, Whitaker and Baxter expressed regret about the anti-Sinclair campaign, stating:
"It was one we hated to handle. Sinclair was an old friend of the Whitaker family. But we had one objective: to keep him from becoming governor."
Initiated by Los Angeles radio personality Robert Nobel, the Ham and Eggs movement proposed that state government provide a $30 weekly pension in the form of "retirement warrants" for California's voting residents over the age of fifty. These warrants could then be used, for instance, to "upgrade" a basic oatmeal breakfast into a hearty ham-and-eggs meal, resulting in a happier, healthier older populace.
The movement's proponents included brothers Lawrence and Willis Allen, owners of the Cinema Advertising Agency in Hollywood. The Allens, who quickly became the movement's leaders, emphasized patriotism in their advertising campaign, as can be seen in this pamphlet.
Many aspects of the Ham and Eggs movement reflected President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs, like the Federal Social Security Act of 1935 that aimed to assist older citizens who were unable to work or find employment. Ham and Eggs proponents hailed the program as a way to ultimately reduce taxes, as can be seen by the arguments made in this pro-Proposition 1 pamphlet. At a time when Americans had suffered through almost a decade of the Great Depression, tax relief measures were seen as a welcome respite.
Proponents of 1939's Proposition 1 disseminated radio spots, pamphlets, leaflets, and newspaper ads to sway public opinion. The movement gained a new moniker, the "30-Thursday" program, after its proposed $30 in weekly warrants. The movement's leaders, Lawrence and Willis Allen, printed their own Ham and Eggs newspaper containing even more propaganda. Ultimately, however, the movement failed to compete with Whitaker and Baxter's campaign.
It is often said that Whitaker and Baxter wrote the book on campaign management. They used very specific, consistent tactics from which they rarely strayed, as if from a rule book.
One common tactic was to create an overarching theme and slogan that could then be incorporated into advertising and speeches. In this case, exploiting the rising tide of fear engendered by Hitler's actions in Europe, Whitaker and Baxter warned Californians that voting for Proposition 1 effectively meant voting a dictatorship into power. The team used explicit language to inflame existing fears, relating the Ham and Eggs "scheme" to Hitler's dictatorship, as seen in these political advertisements.
Whitaker and Baxter took the phrase "know your enemy" to heart, collecting and examining propaganda released by the opposing side of a campaign in order to formulate better counter arguments. For instance, Whitaker and Baxter answered the pro-Ham and Eggs "Be Patriotic!" pamphlet with fliers like the one shown here, featuring America's beloved fictional "Uncle Sam" dismayed over the "disastrous mistake" of retirement warrants.
Whitaker and Baxter also made frequent use of another campaign tactic: widespread advertising. Campaigns, Inc. spent a huge portion of a campaign's budget on advertising in several media types, including newspapers, radio, theater trailers, billboards, posters. The team developed a multitude of pamphlets and handouts in creative formats, such as the Dopey Dough shown here and the “Ezeemunny” Certificate at the beginning of this section.
While Whitaker and Baxter developed all points of communication for a campaign, such as form letters, speeches, radio scripts and advertising copy, they relied on many grassroots organizations to distribute their message. They recruited support from a wide variety of local businesses and citizen groups to do much of the outreach for the campaign. "Northern Californians Against 30-Thursday" is one example of these groups. This letter, written by Leone Baxter, explains the benefits of using a women’s group in a campaign for basic fundamental tasks, such as stuffing envelopes, organizing transportation for voters, and distributing literature.
Whitaker and Baxter inundated the state with anti-Proposition 1 propaganda. In this letter, the duo states that they included "every bona fide newspaper...some 400 in total" in the Northern California campaign alone.
In the end, Proposition 1's proponents could not compete with the thoroughness and force of Whitaker and Baxter's campaign. On November 7, 1939, Proposition 1 was defeated by a vote of 1,933,557 to 993,204, an almost two-to-one margin of victory for Campaigns, Inc.
Many early conservationists, including John Muir, considered California's Hetch Hetchy Valley along the Tuolumne River to be second in beauty and grandeur only to the nearby Yosemite Valley. Unfortunately for Hetch Hetchy, its geology and location also made it perfectly suited as a dam and reservoir site. When San Francisco announced intentions to flood the valley and create a massive reservoir to generate clean water and hydroelectric power for the city, a national debate ensued over the proper use of America's natural resources.
In 1913, this debate resulted in the Raker Act, passed by the U.S. Congress to allow for the construction of a dam. Work on the Hetch Hetchy Project began the following year. The Project's main feature, O'Shaughnessy Dam, was completed in 1923. Over the next decade, the city built a massive system of aqueducts, tunnels, additional storage dams, and other infrastructure to carry water and electricity the 167 miles from the Sierra Nevada mountains to San Francisco Bay. The first water shipped by the Project reached San Franciscans on October 28, 1934.
The 1913 Raker Act permitted the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley for reservoir purposes, but only if the water and power so derived from the Tuolumne River were used exclusively for the public interest. In other words, the City and County of San Francisco could sell hydroelectric power generated by the Project but only if they did so directly to the consumer.
Instead, however, the city sold much of the power to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which then re-sold the power to consumers for a profit. Federal officials, including Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, challenged these practices.
In 1940 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that San Francisco’s arrangement with PG&E violated the Raker Act and that San Francisco must sell this electricity cheaply and directly to the people. The following year, the city’s leaders placed Charter Amendment No. 1, a bond act, before San Francisco voters to raise the funds necessary to construct a municipal hydroelectric power distribution system.
Whitaker and Baxter, working for PG&E, led the 1941 campaign to defeat this charter amendment.
Whitaker and Baxter's campaign centered around the perceived unfairness of Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and the Raker Act. According to the document shown here, a general outline of the campaign:
As the old-fashioned revivalist used to do, we first show our congregation the dangerous road to Hell. Then we pick them up, when they are convinced of the folly of going that way, and show them how to get into Heaven.
Whitaker and Baxter produced brochures, signs, newspaper cartoons, and other advertisements to help sway public opinion in their client’s favor. In November 1941, Campaign, Inc.'s efforts were rewarded when San Francisco’s voters rejected the proposed Charter Amendment 1.
Secretary of the Interior Ickes subsequently threatened to seize control of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, but this threat ended after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the following month. America’s entry into the Second World War shifted the focus of the federal government onto other, more pressing matters.
The debate over Hetch Hetch Valley still rages today between those who would like to see the reservoir remain, and those who advocate for its removal in order to restore the valley's natural habitat.
Wendell Willkie, a former president of a New York utilities holding company, had never held elective office. In 1940, the Republican Party recruited him as a dark horse candidate to unseat the popular President Roosevelt. A registered Democrat until 1939, Willkie switched parties to fight what he claimed were unwise government restraints on business. The charismatic Willkie gained national recognition by publicly criticizing Roosevelt's New Deal programs.
Campaigns, Inc. strategy often repeated campaign slogans designed to elicit fear in the hearts of voters. For instance, the Willkie-McNary campaign relied heavily on the slogan "No Third Term!" Incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt had already served two terms as U.S. President; he broke with long-established tradition to run for a third term. Whitaker and Baxter capitalized on this action by implying that such an unprecedented third term for Roosevelt would destroy democracy and replace it with dictatorship.
Along with dire warnings about potential dictatorship, Campaigns, Inc. also emphasized the promise and hope of a Willkie administration. As stated by the candidate himself in 1940:
I will make Real Jobs for those who now seek them so desperately. I will give those elderly men the one more chance they are looking for. And for those young people, I will make this America of ours once more a land of opportunity.
As national press coverage brought him celebrity status, Willkie campaigns sprang up across the country. At the Republican National Convention that June, Willkie, leading the polls, won the nomination after boasting that he had personally paid his campaign travel and telephone expenses, and, if nominated, would be beholden to no special interests.
By the fall, Hitler's forces were bombing London and national security began to trump economics as the nation's most pressing issue. For Willkie, an ideal campaign would have been to fight what he claimed were Roosevelt's failed New Deal policies. However, as the war in Europe escalated, and after President Roosevelt signed a law to impose a military draft in September, Willkie's poll numbers began to sag.
As the nation's attention turned to war, Whitaker and Baxter searched for new issues around which to center their Willkie-McNary campaign. A month before the election, Campaigns, Inc. attacked what they termed unfair favoritism when the president's son was appointed as captain in the U.S. Air Corps. Cartoons such as the one shown here played on middle-class American unease with perceived aristocratic privilege, showing the President and First Lady Roosevelt in an unflattering royalist light.
By Election Day in 1940, expanding threats by both Hitler and imperial Japan prompted citizens across party lines to resist replacing the experienced incumbent Roosevelt with an untried contender. Nationwide, Roosevelt received 54.7% of the popular vote compared to 44.8% for Willkie. In California, the margin was even wider: Roosevelt captured 57.4% to Willkie's 41.3%.
After his defeat, Willkie surprised many by becoming one of Roosevelt's allies in the president's controversial war initiatives, such as the Lend-Lease Act. He traveled to Britain, China, the USSR, and the Middle East as Roosevelt's personal representative. When Willkie again attempted to gain the Republican nomination in 1944, his party denounced him as a traitor. Even if he had somehow managed to become a contender for president that year, he would not have made it to Election Day. He died of a heart attack on October 8, 1944, at the age of 52.
Campaigns, Inc.'s initial campaign strategy for the 1942 gubernatorial election was simple: “WHO IS THE BEST MAN TO SERVICE CALIFORNIA AS A WAR GOVERNOR?” Whitaker and Baxter immediately set off to establish that Warren was the one man who could rise above partisanship, develop a war plan, eliminate political bickering, and place civilian defense at the forefront of the state’s concerns.
Whitaker and Baxter devised a campaign strategy that focused on one issue: World War II and its related problems. With the help of Whitaker and Baxter, Warren proved to be an impressive candidate. Whitaker and Baxter positioned Warren as non-partisan, “The Candidate for All Californians.” At the same time, they attacked the liberal Olson and his policies and administration. Beginning in June and continuing throughout the campaign, Warren traveled the entire state to promote his evolving views on governing California.
Clem Whitaker believed that their most effective weapon against Olson was the mailer shown here, titled “California Indicts Governor Olson." The flyer contrasted Warren’s stance on war issues with Olson's, and was not without controversy. It promoted Warren’s handling of the Japanese in California at the outset of the war, against the perceived softer approach of Olson. Over 100,000 of these flyers were printed and distributed throughout the state.
Whitaker and Baxter identified one potential weakness of Earl Warren as a candidate for governor: his bland, dour nature. To combat this perception, Whitaker and Baxter pushed Warren to include his family in the campaign, showing Warren as a devoted husband and father. By using photographs of his family in campaign literature like the pamphlet shown here, Warren became a softened figure, more than just the tough prosecutor that voters had known.
Campaigns, Inc. used this photograph heavily in the latter part of Earl Warren's 1942 gubernatorial campaign. The image of his family locked arm in arm and stepping toward the future helped round out Warren's image and increased his appeal with the general populace. By Election Day, over three million copies of this photograph had been distributed to voters across the Golden State.
By Election Day Warren was favored to win, some estimates placing him ahead of the incumbent Olson by a four-to-one margin. Warren supporters were not disappointed, as he won by over 300,000 votes. The campaign was the last one that Whitaker and Baxter ran for Warren. Shortly before the election, Warren and Campaigns, Inc. ended their relationship, over distribution of a speech not approved by Warren. Warren and Campaigns, Inc. soon found themselves on opposite sides of a conflict over what Whitaker and Baxter termed "socialized medicine."
Many considered California's Full Crew Law to be an essential safety measure, including labor organizations such as the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. The law required that each train have a specific number of crew members to for safe operation, even in difficult terrain and hazardous weather.
A brakeman’s job could be especially dangerous: brakemen frequently had to climb atop fast-moving trains to manually operate brakes on individual railroad cars. In the days before the widespread use of airbrakes, brakemen suffered one of the highest fatality rates of any type of worker in America, and injuries resulting in amputations were commonplace.
The campaign against Proposition 3 emphasized safety, both for passengers and railroad employees, as can be seen in these billboards. The proposition's opponents argued that the Full Crew Law saved lives. For instance, labor shortages during the Second World War forced a temporary suspension of the law. Railroad accidents and fatalities in California subsequently rose during this period. The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen used these statistics to claim that the Full Crew Law should not be overturned.
According to the law’s critics, including some railroad companies, the Full Crew Law was both outdated and unnecessary. Unable to reduce the number of crewmembers to levels thought appropriate for routes considered safe, the law was criticized for “padding” payrolls with unnecessary extra employees. This practice was called “featherbedding.”
Whitaker and Baxter’s Campaigns Inc. managed the effort to pass Proposition 3 and repeal the Full Crew Law. Part of their strategy, described in this excerpt from their campaign plan, involved meeting with “railroad chiefs from various towns of California, including prominent lawyers who serve railroads” in order to “lay down policy and strategy” and “explain ways they can help the campaign.”
Whitaker and Baxter argued that featherbedding was an unnecessary expense that raised the costs of transportation for producers and raised the costs of living for consumers. Their billboards, newspaper cartoons, and even sheet music characterized railroad workers as lazy loafers on the tops of boxcars. Campaigns Inc. even attempted to rent a specialized sound-car (actually an automobile built to look like a locomotive and equipped with loudspeakers) to travel across the state playing recorded campaign advertisements.
Whitaker and Baxter’s campaign ultimately won passage of Proposition 3, albeit with a slim majority of only about 64,000 votes. From that time forward, the sizes of railroad crews would be determined by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
The PUC subsequently hired extra employees to conduct a survey in order to determine crew staffing levels for different routes. According to one commission report:
Our men rode the engines and cabooses and often the tops of local and through freight trains in all classes of service, both day and night, including in mountainous northern territory…where sub-zero temperatures and heavy snows prevailed.
Campaigns, Inc. applied many of their standard strategies and tactics to the campaign against compulsory health insurance in California, conducting a massive media campaign. They bought 40,000 inches of newspaper advertising, personally called more than 500 newspaper offices, wrote postcards for constituents to send to their legislators (like the one seen in the previous panel), and provided 9,000 doctors with campaign speeches.
Whitaker and Baxter's campaign against Governor Earl Warren's health plan not only vilified compulsory health care, but also strove to promote an alternative to government-funded medicine: voluntary, pre-paid medical coverage. The duo billed voluntary health insurance as "The Precious American 5th Freedom," as seen in this pamphlet.
The California Medical Association had already organized the California Physicians Service in 1939 as a pilot program providing prepaid health care for employed groups. Whitaker and Baxter sought to expand the Service to diminish support for compulsory health insurance. They also encouraged the growth of other service plans such as Blue Cross, and the promotion of private insurance plans.
To acquaint the public with the availability of prepaid voluntary medical insurance, Whitaker and Baxter implemented a series of Voluntary Health Insurance Weeks in fifty-three of California’s fifty-eight counties. The duo wrote suggested editorials for local newspapers, like the one shown here, urging Californians to "take positive protective measures to cope with the hazards of life" and sign up for a voluntary health plan.
Campaigns, Inc. created a historical drama radio show called California Caravan, sponsored by the California Medical Association. The radio show presented commercials designed to sell voluntary health insurance and encourage enrollment in the California Physicians Service. The script for such a commercial is included here.
By 1948, the California Physicians Service had increased its membership from 100,000 to nearly 600,000. The number of persons enrolled in all voluntary health insurance plans had doubled from 2.5 million to more than 5 million – approximately half the population of California.
Due in no small part to Whitaker and Baxter’s campaign, Governor Warren’s initial health care bill was defeated by one vote in the State Legislature. As Whitaker and Baxter stated in their preliminary campaign plan from April 1945:
If we get the facts, and do the job, compulsory health insurance will be dead as a legislative issue – and neither Governor Warren nor any other Governor will have the effrontery to disinter the remains.
Though the idea of national health insurance began to develop with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the concept did not push to the forefront of the public agenda until after the Second World War when Harry S. Truman gained the presidency.
Truman had expressed support for a national health plan as early as 1945. He proposed a national health insurance fund, to be administered by the federal government. With Truman’s support, backed by a Democratic majority in Congress, national health insurance seemed destined to be decided by the 81st Congress.
The American Medical Association (AMA) had other ideas, however. In December 1948, the AMA decided to assess its 140,000 members an annual twenty-five dollar fee in order to sponsor a nationwide plan of education against President Truman’s proposal. With these new funds, the AMA offered Whitaker and Baxter a $100,000-per-year retainer to direct what they termed the "education drive."
Whitaker and Baxter accepted. On February 10, 1949, they opened the headquarters for the National Education Campaign in Chicago with a staff of thirty-seven.
With the immediate objective of defeating a compulsory health insurance program in Congress, Whitaker and Baxter also emphasized a long-term goal of permanently ending the drive for any future national health insurance program. To do so, they implemented an “affirmative campaign” that sought to enroll as many Americans as possible in voluntary health insurance systems. The company demonized compulsory health insurance as “Socialized Medicine,” pitting it against American freedom and “The Voluntary Way," as seen in this pamphlet.
In their first national campaign, Whitaker and Baxter spent almost five million dollars over three years to spread the American Medical Association’s anti-compulsory health insurance message. They employed a massive publicity drive and mobilized support at the national, state, and local levels.
This booklet outlined the campaign, identifying the responsibilities of national, state, and local campaign offices. It was distributed to doctors, all members of Congress, every governor, newspaper editors, and key leaders of businesses and professions.
Individual doctors themselves were a key part of the campaign envisioned by Whitaker and Baxter. This booklet urges doctors to "help in treating the ills of the body politic" by talking to each and every patient about the "truth" of "political medicine."
At the National Education Campaign's headquarters in Chicago, Whitaker and Baxter controlled the anti-compulsory health insurance message by producing all campaign materials, from posters and pamphlets, to cartoons like those shown here, local publicity templates, and canned speeches.
Drawing on the support of state and local medical societies recruited for the cause, Whitaker and Baxter implemented four main campaign activities: an intensive publicity campaign, a pamphlet distribution system, a Speakers Bureau, and a statewide drive for endorsements by a variety of organizations. In this manner, Whitaker and Baxter executed what they declared to be “the greatest grass roots lobby in history.”
Whitaker and Baxter effectively used imagery to tug on the heartstrings of the American populace. Posters of Sir Luke Fildes' painting of a doctor at the bedside of a sick child, accompanied by the slogan "Keep Politics Out Of This Picture" (similar to this political mailer) could be found in the waiting rooms of doctors across the nation.
By the end of 1949, Whitaker and Baxter had recorded 1,829 organizations as being opposed to compulsory health insurance. By the end of the campaign in 1952, they had secured the support of some 8,000 more groups.
In addition to this successful endorsement drive, the National Education Campaign produced significant amounts of campaign literature. In 1950 alone, they generated over forty different publications and distributed over forty-three million pieces of campaign material at local events, fairs, and conferences like that shown in this photograph.
President Truman's 1949-1950 national health insurance bill died in committee. Despite additional efforts later in his presidency, he failed to push a compulsory health insurance program through Congress before leaving office.
In the words of historian Jill Lepore, Whitaker and Baxter's campaign turned Truman's “sensible, popular, and urgently needed legislative reform into a bogeyman so scary that, even today, millions of Americans are still scared.”* Whitaker and Baxter had forever changed the American political and social landscape.
*"The Lie Factory: How Politics Became a Business," by Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, Sept. 24, 2012
After serving as a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, Knight hired Campaigns, Inc. in 1946 to manage his campaign for Lieutenant Governor. A promotional postcard from that campaign is shown here. The relatively unknown Knight easily defeated his opponent by 330,000 votes. In his 1950 re-election campaign, Knight won both the Republican and Democratic primaries.
“Goodie” Knight was an ideal candidate to work with Whitaker and Baxter. Glib with the public and donors, Knight easily followed campaign strategies and possessed the natural instincts of a seasoned politician. In 1953, Knight assumed the governorship after President Eisenhower appointed then-Governor Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Whitaker and Baxter's strategy for Knight’s 1954 campaign for governor included capitalizing on his gubernatorial experience, recruiting strong labor support, and garnering the respect of industry leaders and everyday citizens. Their campaign plan sought to exploit “the psychology of victory,” which they believed was on their side. One way to accomplish this was for Knight to never speak his opponent Richard Grave’s name.
Their strategy worked. Knight won the governorship by more than 500,000 votes. He served for four years as California's governor before running for the U.S. Senate in 1958.
Whitaker and Baxter took advantage of the recent rise of television in the 1950s as well as Knight’s theatrical abilities when speaking on air or before crowds. They capitalized on the experience he had gained in the 1940s from hosting a radio show called “Knight Court,” where callers aired personal problems.
These prior experiences made Knight comfortable in front of television cameras. He projected confidence and competence in the campaign advertisements, as seen here.
The 1958 U.S. Senate race proved to be the toughest campaign period of Knight's career. Initially, Knight announced that he would run for re-election as governor. These plans, however, quickly changed.
U.S. Senator Bill Knowland, with an eye on the White House in 1960, announced he would leave the Senate and forced his way into the gubernatorial campaign. After much consideration, and largely for party unity, Knight switched to running for Knowland’s vacated Senate seat.
Despite televised advertisements such as the one shown here, both Knight and Knowland lost to Democratic challengers. Knight was defeated by California Democrat Claire Engle, while the Democratic candidate for governor, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, beat Knowland 59% to 40%. This “Big Switch” in the state's political power structure damaged the Republican Party’s once formidable political strength in California.
Whitaker and Baxter managed the Proposition 4 campaign on behalf of eight major international oil importing companies. California voters had previously rejected two similar proposition, so Campaigns, Inc. faced an uphill battle. They, and the opponents of the proposition, each spent upwards of three million dollars on their campaign efforts.
Whitaker and Baxter frequently began campaigns by devising a strategy based on propaganda. Specifically identifying relevant themes or attention grabbers, the firm sought to gain the support of certain segments of the population. In this case, they centered much of their efforts around California women, as illustrated in this pamphlet, “An Open Letter to the Women of California.”
Campaigns, Inc. branched out into television advertising spots for propositions as well as candidates, as seen in this short animated ad. The company used catchy jingles, as with television commercials today, to drive their message home. In the words of Leone Baxter, ""Words that lean on the mind are no good; they must dent it."
Branding the complex proposition under the overarching theme of "oil conservation," Whitaker and Baxter crafted a strategy that exploited an array of media sources such as newspapers, television, radio, leaflets, pamphlets, and billboards. They skillfully manipulated language and employed gimmicky catchphrases to arouse public sentiment. They attempted to convince voters that Proposition 4 would generate wealth and jobs, decrease taxes and gas prices, and protect the environment.
Some criticized Campaigns, Inc. for distorting issues and exploiting Cold War fears. Proposition 4 opponents, such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans, argued that it would weaken, rather than enhance national security, as Whitaker and Baxter suggested. They claimed that the proposition would reduce California oil production in favor of dependency on cheaper foreign oil reserves.
Many labor organizations and oil companies staunchly opposed the measure, alleging that only a NO vote would save jobs and keep taxes and oil prices down.
Whitaker and Baxter ultimately suffered a rare defeat. Harry Lerner, previously employed by Campaigns Inc. but now working for the opposition, effectively used counter tactics similar to those used by Whitaker and Baxter. Lerner attacked Proposition 4 as restrictive legislation that would support the oil monopolies.
Like his former employers, Lerner utilized a number of outlets to display gimmicky, but effective slogans. Lerner negatively depicted the monopolistic oil companies as "anti-democratic," while portraying Whitaker and Baxter as manipulative and money-hungry. The advertisement shown here quotes Leone Baxter as saying "The more they pay you the more they'll respect your ideas and let you run the show."
Lerner's opposition forces handily defeated Whitaker and Baxter and Proposition 4 by a vote of 3,950,532 to 1,208,752.
Richard Nixon hired Campaigns, Inc. to manage his campaign in northern California, while the Los Angeles-based Baus and Ross managed the southern California effort. By this time, Whitaker and Baxter had sold Campaigns, Inc. to Clem Whitaker Jr. and two associates, all of whom had worked for years in the founding partners’ firm.
The plan developed by Campaigns, Inc. focused on two chief issues: the strength of Nixon in foreign policy and his "courage to draw the tax line" in economic policies. The campaign would deliver an "aggressive, hard-hitting, and colorful presentation of issues which will fire the hopes and enthusiasm of people throughout the Nation."
Attacks against Nixon's opponent, such as this flyer showing Kennedy's dismal Senate attendance record, and bumper stickers aiming to link Kennedy with friends of Las Vegas mobsters (see the bumper stickers at the beginning of this section), were widely distributed. Campaigns, Inc. put every tactic learned over almost thirty years of campaign management to good use in preparing for the hotly contested election.
The advent of televised campaign debates and commercials widened the reach of candidates as campaign management firms sprang up across the country. The number of American homes with televisions had grown from 11% in 1950, to 88% in 1960.
Campaigns, Inc. adapted many of the strategies they had used since the early 1930s for the new arena of television campaigns. For instance, they often chose a simple, clear message that repeated again and again. Clem Whitaker once stated:
We assume we have to get a voter’s attention seven times to make a sale. That's an arbitrary figure, of course, but repetition is the only way to swing someone from no position to an affirmative position.
In this advertisement, Nixon's "proven leadership" provides the theme. This phrase is repeated three times in less than twenty seconds.
Campaigns, Inc. also developed revolutionary new ways of bringing a campaign's message to the voters in the television age. This memorandum describes a innovative tactic used first by the company: creating animated television spots based on the editorial and political cartoons typically seen in traditional campaigning.
This series of campaign advertisements urging a vote for Nixon in 1960 is the first use of animated television spots mirroring traditional newspaper editorial and political cartoons. The clips feature caricatures of Nikita Khrushchev ("Mr. K"), John F. Kennedy ("Smilin' Jack") and "Mr. Beatnik." These characters bring attention to both foreign and domestic policy issues important to the nation.
John Dinkelspiel and Caspar Weinberger of the Nixon-Lodge Committee of Northern California reported that these advertisements had been well received, stating "Perhaps the best evidence of their effectiveness is the fact that the Kennedy people have made it known in no uncertain terms that they do not like them one little bit."
The importance of television in crafting a public image was proven forcefully during the campaign. In the first-ever televised presidential debate, Nixon and Kennedy could not have displayed starker differences in manner and appearance.
A youthful and relaxed Kennedy wore a blue suit which contrasted sharply against the gray background. He spoke to the camera, as if addressing the 70 million viewers. Nixon, recently ill and wearing a gray suit that blended into the backdrop, looked exhausted and pale. Accustomed to traditional debate formats, he spoke directly to his opponent. When polled, television viewers gave the win to Kennedy, while those listening on radios concluded the opposite.
In the end, the California campaigns delivered the state to Nixon, albeit by a narrow margin of 50.1% to 49.6% (a difference of only 35,623 votes). Kennedy, the youngest person and first Catholic to be elected president, ultimately won the national campaign by an even smaller margin of 49.7 % to Nixon's 49.5%.
In 1962, Nixon decided to challenge the democratic incumbent, Pat Brown for Governor, but lost that race as well. During what, at the time, was considered to be his last press conference and the end of his political career, Nixon told gathered reporters, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." A few years later, in one of the biggest political comebacks in history, Nixon went on to win the 1968 presidential election.
Championed by its proponents as a movement towards political reform and efficiency, Proposition 1-A was submitted to the voters in 1966. Endorsed by Governor Pat Brown and candidate for governor, Ronald Reagan, the leading force behind the campaign was Speaker of the Assembly Jesse Unruh. Unruh saw the need for a full-time and more professionalized legislature with more control over its own salaries, and fewer ties to outside jobs and influence by special interests.
Unruh realized that he would need a professional team to promote the proposition and manage its campaign. He hired Campaigns, Inc. for their political savvy and connections to a wide range of business interests.
The campaign's strategy focused on the bipartisan support for the measure and its backing among labor and business groups. Campaigns, Inc. was also careful not to bring attention to the fact that the proposition mandated a pay raise for state legislators.
The team that took over Whitaker and Baxter's Campaigns, Inc. in 1958 continued to use many of the duo's campaign tactics. In 1966, this included television advertising. This log documents the geographic areas targeted, dates of airing, and the amount spent on television spots.
California's voters were convinced. They passed the proposition by a wide margin, 4,156,416 votes to 1,499,675.
All images from records of the California State Archives.
Curation of physical exhibit by Lisa Prince, Jeff Crawford, Kira Dres, Chris Garmire, Veronica Lara, Sebastian Nelson, and Paul Rendes, with assistance from Juan Ramos (2015-2016)
Digital adaptation by Jessica Herrick (2016)
Imaging by Brian Guido, Thaddeus McCurry, Jessica Herrick, and Lisa Prince
Motion picture film digitization by Chris Garmire, made possible by the California Audio-Visual Preservation Project
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