Time Capsule: Goldwater Slaughters Stassen in Indiana Primary

Arizona’s Barry M. Goldwater swept all 32 of the state’s delegates in overwhelmingly winning Indiana’s winner-take-all primary on this day in 1964.

In winning his third primary of the year — and his second in three days — Goldwater demolished perennial candidate Harold E. Stassen by a margin of 267,935 to 107,157.  Frank R. Beckwith, a prominent Indianapolis attorney and the first African-American to ever seek the Republican presidential nomination, garnered 17,884 votes in the primary while little-known Joseph G. Ettl, an attorney from St. Joseph City, polled a relatively insignificant 6,704 votes.

Beckwith, who was waging his second bid for the Republican presidential nomination, refused to support Goldwater’s candidacy later that autumn, claiming that the GOP nominee would set the cause of civil rights back by at least “a decade.”

The more than 100,000 votes garnered by Stassen — his best showing in the 1964 primaries and his last semi-impressive showing in a presidential primary — were cast by Indiana Republicans hoping to contribute to the growing “stop Goldwater effort,” the vast majority of whom neither wished nor expected the former Minnesota governor to be nominated at the party’s national convention in San Francisco.

Stassen, who actively campaigned in the May 5 primary, brought his so-called “Middle Way” campaign to the Hoosier State in late March with a speech sponsored by DePauw University’s Student Senate and Young Republican Club.

“I believe that we will beat Sen. Goldwater in Indiana,” he told reporters at the Indianapolis airport. “I recognize that he has some very powerful support in Indiana, but I do not believe his views represent the majority of the Republican Party.”

Stassen, who was then practicing law in Philadelphia, said that he had been encouraged by former President Dwight Eisenhower to enter the fray in 1964 — “to be one of those to test what the party’s policies should be.”

The one-time “Boy Wonder” of American politics also said that President Johnson could be defeated “if the Republican Party presents a sound middle way program,” an opportunity that would be squandered if Goldwater was nominated.

During his address to the DePauw Young Republicans — the group that circulated his nominating petitions — Stassen outlined his differences with the heavily-favored Goldwater.

“Sen. Goldwater believes that the United States should reduce its support for and reliance on the United Nations,” declared Stassen, who had helped to draft the original UN Charter in 1945. “I consider the United Nations to be the best hope of a lasting peace and want America to take the lead in modernizing and improving it.”

The former Minnesota governor also differed sharply with Goldwater on the question of nuclear weapons, saying that, unlike the Arizona Senator, he was strongly opposed to the “spreading of atomic and nuclear weapons to NATO or its members or generals” while supporting a U.S. initiative to strengthen “the partial nuclear test ban treaty with further steps toward arms limitation, inspection and control.”

Stassen, whose Indiana campaign was managed by former Appellate Court Judge Donald E. Bowen of Indianapolis, later accused his Republican rival of being “too ready to drop atomic bombs,” adding that he had been deeply concerned about Goldwater’s foreign policy views for years.

“Sen. Goldwater,” he said in addressing a third critical issue, “does not believe in the Social Security System as it is now in effect and wants to change it to a voluntary system; I am in favor of the Social Security System as it is now in effect, not only as an essential support for our senior citizens when they retire, but also as one of the economic measures to cushion against depressions.”

A man who always saw triumph in adversity and whose spirit rarely flagged in a lifetime of political setbacks, the 57-year-old Stassen was predictably encouraged by the results in Indiana and believed that his relatively strong showing in the Hoosier State would gain him more serious attention than he had been receiving in some of the earlier primaries.

Much to his chagrin, that never happened.

Describing himself earlier that year as “the tallest tree in a forest of talent” — a reference to the fairly crowded Republican field that included such luminaries as Goldwater, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a reluctant Henry Cabot Lodge, the former UN Ambassador who never openly declared his candidacy, Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith and Pennsylvania Gov. William W. Scranton, a moderate whose last-minute candidacy was a futile attempt to stop the Goldwater bandwagon — Stassen went to the Republican convention in San Francisco later that summer empty-handed.

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