Editors note: With 2018 a Gubernatorial election year, noted Florida historian and author Robert Buccellato has written a series on past gubernatorial campaigns. We ran part 1 of his series detailing Dan McCarty’s historic 1952 win, the first by a south Floridian today. Part I on Governor McCarty can be found here.
McCarty would spend the following week campaigning in Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Bradenton.
The next week he moved to the Gulf Coast towards Dade County. In Sarasota, he was asked to reply to Odham’s joint press conference stunt; to which he replied, that if Odham “doesn’t stop crying wolf on the radio, the people won’t think he is qualified as a candidate, even in 1956”.
The final week schedule for McCarty was revealed to show stops at Daytona, Titusville, Fort Pierce, Stuart, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale. He would also travel down rural roads being introduced as the next Governor. Smiling, shaking hands, and taking it much slower this time around as victory was all but certain. He, after all, he had already beaten Odham by 128,000 votes.
“It is wonderful to be back down on the East Coast. All Florida is looking to see what South Florida can do when it gets the chance”.
The candidate even did the unthinkable, he planned to rest in Miami for the weekend. Something that would never have taken place four years earlier.
The final campaign swing called for a 25 car motorcade down the East Coast. The “victory” motorcade down the coast started at Daytona Beach and went as planned all the way down to Miami, arriving Friday night. There the candidate would stay before traveling back to Fort Pierce in time for voting on Tuesday. The motorcade started with the original 25 cars and soon grew into 100 cars by the time it ended, all the cars being hurried along from each town by the local police.
Reaching Fort Pierce on the eve of the election, he held a large, noisy, and joyful rally at his campaign headquarters. When he arrived, he was first greeted by his two boys, and then by Mrs. McCarty. Their warm embrace showed the sacrifice that came from any political race. The past four years had been very hard on all of them, and McCarty had lost precious time with his two youngest children while running for Governor.
“He never stopped running, so by the time of Election Day he had headquarters in every single county. That night was very hectic and there were so many out-of-towners there that day.” according to Bruce Centers.
“Dad had the county headquarters packed that night and over by the old lumber company was the state headquarters that was also very, very hectic”.
A giant hometown night rally was held on Election Day. The Governor and First Lady Elect cut into an enormous victory cake decorated to look like the Capitol Building. Smiling, eating piece after piece of cake, those of the platform were so joyful that their man, Dan, was elected. They had such high hopes for him and for the state.
The press came to the town in mass, turning Fort Pierce into a crowded maze of excitement. McCarty gave interview after interview over the radio, introducing himself as the new governor. Mrs. McCarty’s smile was enchanting as she swelled with pride for her husband. All the pictures of the new first couple that night show two people deeply in love, sharing this moment with one another, a true partnership.
Tired following the long campaign, when asked what the governor elect was going to do next, he said with a smile – rest.
Though never the model image of a national party Democrat, the all but certain next Governor of Florida, made the mandatory endorsement of the party’s faithful selection for president. Adlai Stevenson was only a few weeks into his tenure as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. While Stevenson and McCarty had very similar personalities, politically Stevenson was further to the left than his Floridian counterpart; both could be considered modest, decent, good natured, and charismatic.
McCarty, though well-read, would never have fit the mold of the scholar or intellectual
that was part of Stevenson’s persona. Both came from successful and civic minded families, but McCarty’s family couldn’t boast the inclusion of a former Vice President the way Stevenson’s could. Since winning the nomination back in May, McCarty had been vacationing in North Carolina with his family, spending extra time fishing with his boys and reading to his daughter. Now rested, he traveled to Miami to speak before the state’s American Legion Conference. While there, he finally endorsed the Party’s weak nominee, Stevenson, the governor from Illinois who seemed destined to be swamped at the polls by General Eisenhower that November. His polling numbers in his own home state gave because for serious apprehension for all candidates placed below his name. Therefore, this would explain the Party’s lackluster enthusiasm for the national ticket. When asked if he would stump for the Governor, he made a point of stating that he had yet to be asked and that his involvement would “depend on the kind of campaign I’m confronted with myself”. Unlike future Democratic nominees for the Florida governorship, Dan McCarty, didn’t need the help of the national Democratic Party to get elected, but, he did need to keep it at arm’s length. It was the first time since the 1920s where the party’s nominee for president was a liability in the governor’s race.
By August 1952 with the primary season now over and the summer committee meetings dying down, there began something that happens every post-election season in Tallahassee. A behind- the-scenes and little known ritual that all officeholders take part in; the finding of better paying appointments in the new administration.
Retiring Representatives and many lawmakers, not satisfied with their recent Election Day victories, were all proposing their own indirect, but very direct pleas for advancement. In politics, as it is known, that things don’t happen, they’re made to happen. To make things more difficult for these hopeful yet awkward office seekers, 1952 was nationally the first time in 20 years when Democrats couldn’t count on the patronage of the national party or the White House. No assistant, subcabinet, high-paying post was waiting, if they were defeated in the primary and robbed of the usual level of retention that many incumbents benefit from, there would be no minor national appointment coming to their rescue. Stevenson was almost certain to lose, and Ike a closeted partisan, left him little hope.
Those looking for a way into the new administration could only hope to do so by winning the favor of the young new Governor Elect. McCarty, however, already gave signs that none of Governor Warren’s little cabinet would be retained by the incoming administration. There were also reports that the Governor Elect with seeking interviews with various close friends about possible appointments. The process this time around
was limited to only the campaigns inner circle, with very few bits of information coming from the McCarty Camp.
Former Speaker, Richard Simpson, was the first to be called in for an interview. Representative Fletcher Morgan of Jacksonville was also to be awarded for his efforts in turning around the dysfunctional McCarty Duval County campaign. Also on the list for appointments was a large number of veterans from the Caldwell administration.
Days after Thanksgiving, it was announced that McCarty would be inaugurated the state’s 31st Governor on January 6th the following year, on the west front of the Capitol building. The West front of the Capitol would be facing the newly completed Supreme Court building and McCarty’s inauguration was to mark the first time this side of the Capitol was to be used for such an event. The Chamber of Commerce, along with the McCarty clan’s wishes for a slimmed down inauguration, announced that they would be saving nearly $5000 from the budget with an estimated cost of only $8500. The inauguration would include three balls, a parade, and an open house party at the governor’s mansion.
In January, the family car would be packed, and Florida’s new first family drove themselves to their new elevated status with about as much pomp as a typical family on their way to vacation at a timeshare. They remained positively unaffected by the high honor they had just been given by their fellow citizens. Packed, stuffed in fact, with suitcases, toys, and other beloved items from home. The family car was on its way, the new governor at the wheel, towards the capitol.
The McCarty family was on its way to the mansion.
For more on Governors the Book Florida Governors Lasting Legacies by Robert Buccellato is highly recommended.