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Congressman John F. Kennedy is showered with confetti as he enters his Boston headquarters on Nov. 5, 1952 leading in his contest with Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. for the latter'’s seat in the U.S. Senate. (AP Photo/Frank Curtain)

If one is of a certain conservative Republican political bent, the name Kennedy evokes the same kind of emotional response that Boston sports fans usually reserve for the likes of Lebron James and Alex Rodriquez: intense hostility and irrational hatred. Yet, 60 years ago, Republican Party conservatives played a decisive role in creating the very thing they have since come to gnash their teeth over, the Kennedy family political dynasty.

In 1952, John F. Kennedy, then a brash and inexperienced Democratic congressman, defeated popular incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. to become only the third Democrat in history to win a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts. The victory paved the way for Kennedy’s successful White House run in 1960, and opened the door for his brothers Robert and Edward to pursue future Senate seats and presidential campaigns. If he had lost in 1952, none of this would have been possible.

So how did Kennedy do it? According to many of his supporters, he won by outworking and outhustling his Republican opponent, by knocking on more doors, attending more political rallies, and generally ingratiating himself with the electorate.

President John Kennedy and Henry Cabot Lodge pictured together on Dec. 12, 1961 in Washington. (AP File Photo)

Retail politics aside, there is another, less well-known explanation for this political outcome. Heading into the 1952 election year, Lodge became deeply involved in efforts to see former World War II Supreme Allied Commander and Columbia University head Dwight D. Eisenhower become the Republican nominee for president. A moderate by nature and temperament, Lodge felt that the Republican Party had lurched too far to the right in the 1930’s and 1940’s during the liberal Democratic administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

He believed the Republicans needed a credible middle-of-the-road alternative like Eisenhower to regain national prominence. Otherwise, it risked long term irrelevance, or worse. As he revealed in his 1973 memoir “The Storm Has Many Eyes,” Lodge feared the GOP would “either disintegrate completely or shrink into a small minority of extreme reactionaries and, in the South, a crew of patronage-hungry professionals.”

To put Ike over the top, Lodge personally took charge of Eisenhower’s campaign and engineered a stunning political upset at the Republican National Convention. He accused party conservatives backing the front runner, Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft, of “stealing” delegates. Taft, a prominent isolationist and leader of the GOP’s right wing in Congress, had no effective political counter to this charge. Eisenhower easily chalked up a first ballot victory and went on to win the presidency in a landslide over Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson.

GOP conservatives never forgave Lodge for what they regarded as his personal treachery against Taft. They sought political revenge, and the best way to deliver it was by abandoning him at the polls in Massachusetts and voting for Kennedy. “It seems likely,” wrote a conservative to Lodge, “that a majority of Taft supporters will not help you, as your chief occupation for some years has been to destroy their interest…You have fallen further than Lucifer.”

Basil Brewer, an influential New Bedford newspaper publisher and chairman of the Taft-for-President state committee, was equally vociferous in his condemnation. He publicly blasted Lodge for allegedly bolting his party with “his votes for the Truman socialistic New Deal.” Owing to the prevailing Red Scare attitudes of the day, he also unfairly accused Lodge of being soft on Communism. Kennedy, he wrote in the pages of his newspaper, “has shown … a surer grasp of the problems and personalities involved in the nation’s struggle for survival than his opponent, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.”

Come Election Day, the heavy hand of Brewer and his fellow state conservatives was felt at the ballot box. Lodge lost to Kennedy in a close race. “You see,” Lodge later revealed in a JFK Library oral history, “Brewer could make the difference of 35,000 votes. That’s what he did. I was beaten by 70,000. If 35,000 had gone the other way, I’d have been in the clear.”

A review of election results confirms this contention. When placed alongside the statewide vote of successful Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Herter that year, Lodge’s tally comes up 34,708 votes short. Add to this Lodge’s under-performance in traditional conservative Republican strongholds and it’s clear that he was adversely affected by these defections. “I felt rather like a man who has just been hit by a truck,” he wrote afterward.

Interestingly, that has been a common reaction of conservatives running for office against a Kennedy in Massachusetts ever since.

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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  • noslack2327

    We voters in MA pretty much have Kennedy fatigue. Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley was as much a referendum on Ted Kennedy’s legacy. There may well be a move to the middle in this Commonwealth.

    • J__o__h__n

      It was not. It was a low turnout race with a lacklucter candidate who didn’t campaign.

      • noslack2327

        John…
        Whatever your sentiments about the candidates and race which elected Brown, I trust you do agree that we are over the Kennedys. The rape charge, the Catholic Church nullifying Joe III’s marriage (!) despite the fact he has children, Jack’s marital transgressions at the White House and Teddy avoiding a vehicular homicide charge all have contributed to the fatigue I referred to earlier.

  • Pam

    Many of us voters in MA appreciated Ted Kennedy’s well-staffed and responsive Senate Office,here in MA and in D.C. and support Joe Kennedy now.
    Brown is NOT a bipartisan moderate.He cast a few votes for bills that wouldn’t pass but,otherwise,has supported a right-wing agenda and is now being suported by such.His national correspondence clearly shows that.
    Brown’s victory would mean a Repub majority in the Senate and a swing even further to the right for the US.
    Warren’s committment to protecting consumers lends itself to bipartisan efforts if we have a Congress amenable to that.The present Congress is not amenable.Brown has shown NO interest in consumer protection or fairness for the elderly etc.He has shown himself to be on the side of Corp interests with the phony claim that it’s about jobs.
    He voted against the ACA, 3 jobs bills,unemployment extension,the Fair Pay Act.
    It is Brown and Repub fatigue that we now have.

  • Roy Tucker

    Everyone alive today owes a debt of gratitude to Lodge for helping to avoid a Taft presidency. Taft died of cancer in 1953. His vice presidential choice was to be General Douglas MacArthur, who was leading the charge for World War III, publicly calling for atomic bombs to be dropped on 26 cities in North Korea and China.

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