Crossposted to BlueSunbelt.Com the Southern netroots site
Stephen Green has a fascinating look at the 1934 race for Governor of California in which reformer and author Upton Sinclair came in second place despite some $10 million that was spent against him by the Republicans. Sinclair lived in various parts of the country over the years including Greenwood, Mississippi, Buckeye, Arizona, and Bound Brook, New Jersey in addition to California and was a Pulitzer Prize winning author who spent a lifetime fighting for social and economic justice.
Even with 10 million Americans out of work in the depths of the Great Depression, many people scraped together enough change to go to the movies. In the fall of 1934, they were watching Jackie Cooper and Wallace Berry in “Treasure Island,” Ann Harding in “The Fountain” and Joan Crawford and Clark Gable in “Chained.” Along with the movie, they also saw a newsreel and a cartoon.
In California, there was an added feature called “California Election News” distributed by MGM, although the studio’s logo was nowhere to be seen. The short took aim at a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who was scaring the bejuses out of California’s establishment. He was America’s most prominent Socialist and muckraking author, Upton Sinclair.
The 1934 campaign was perhaps the start of modern political campaigns as we know them now.
Whitaker brought a new concept to campaigns — total management. His firm, based in Sacramento’s Forum Building on 9th Street, did everything for the campaign: planning, scheduling, speeches, ad production and placement, paying bills and anything else needed.
Innovations included 30-second radio spots and planting news stories and editorials in newspapers and broadcasts. Editors and news directors were usually willing to use canned material when Whitaker also bought ads and paid in advance. He put on carefully scripted rallies and organized front groups with names such as “California League Against Sinclairism” (CLAS) to mount attacks. One CLAS initiative was the widely distributed red SINCLIAR DOLLAR from the Uppy and Downy Bank “good only in California and Russia.”
His strategies became basic tenants of future campaigns: never wage a campaign defensively; the only successful defense is a spectacular, hard-hitting, crushing offensive; attempt to create actual news instead of merely sending out publicity; more Americans like corn than caviar; the average American doesn’t want to be educated, he doesn’t want to improve his mind, he doesn’t even want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen; most every American likes to be entertained… put on a good show.