Chapter Fourteen

After Illinois

Despite the nationwide barrage of anti-LaRouche publicity in the wake of the 1986 Illinois primary, NDPC candidates did well in subsequent primaries that year. According to the NDPC's own figures, it fielded candidates in 31 states, including 157 for Congress, 14 for the U.S. Senate, about 50 for state legislative office, and over 700 for Democratic Party posts (the last figure was probably inflated). Although none was elected to public office, ten made the ballot in November as Democratic nominees (four by winning primary fights, six by filing for uncontested nominations). Well over a million Americans voted for NDPC candidates in the post-Illinois primaries and the general elections.

The Anti-Defamation League compiled the percentage figures for 234 NDPC primary candidates, not including those for Democratic Party posts. It found that 119 received from 0 to 10 percent, 60 received 11 to 20 percent, 22 received 31 to 30 percent, 16 received 31 to 40 percent, 4 received 41 to 50 percent, 4 received over 50 percent, and 9 were unopposed. In other words, almost half received over 10 percent. Percentages of more than 20 percent were obtained in every region, from Idaho to Georgia and from New Hampshire to California.

Oklahoma's NDPC candidate for the U.S. Senate, farmer George Gentry, received 157,000 votes (33 percent) in a two-way race. This vote probably was influenced by the fact that Gentry lost his farm in a sheriff’s auction shortly before the primary—an event widely reported in the local media. In Indiana the NDPC's senatorial candidate, Georgia Irey, campaigned hard in a two-way race against a regular Democrat who aggressively publicized Irey's LaRouche connection. When a Democratic official said the LaRouchians were like cockroaches that can't stand the light of day, Irey announced that she was adopting "La Cucaracha" as her theme song. Promising action to halt plant closings and farm foreclosures, she won 93,000 votes (26 percent).

In Iowa, Democrats and trade unionists were shocked when Juan Cortez, a former member of the Democratic state committee and a past president of Local 231 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, announced as the NDPC's senatorial candidate. In the face of strong attacks on his LaRouche connection, Cortez gained 17,000 votes, or 16 percent. Seventeen counties gave him over 20 percent. In no county did he receive less than 12 percent.

NDPC candidates gained significant vote totals in other statewide contests. In Ohio, farmer Don Scott challenged U.S. Senator John Glenn and received 96,000 votes, or 12.5 percent. In Texas and Georgia the NDPC candidates for state Agricultural Commissioner each won 18 percent—187,000 votes in Texas, 103,000 in Georgia. Both were farmers; the Texas candidate ran against a well-known and popular incumbent, James Hightower.

NDPC congressional candidates polled between 20 and 40 percent in 21 contests in California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Also, two NDPC candidates picked up uncontested nominations in Ohio and Texas. But in New Jersey, where the Democratic Party conducted an especially strong anti-LaRouche voter education drive, the NDPC's 13-candidate congressional slate received only 15,473 votes combined.

On the state legislative level the NDPC won two Michigan state senatorial primaries. Both were in Republican-dominated districts where the Democrats had fielded weak candidates. In Idaho an NDPC candidate picked up an uncontested nomination for state representative, then polled 41 percent in the general election against the Republican incumbent. In Alaska an NDPC candidate won 19 percent in a state senate primary. In Texas an NDPC candidate gained an uncontested Democratic nomination for state assembly, then polled over 20 percent in November.

The NDPC claimed about 50 victories in races for positions within the Democratic Party, mostly county committee seats. In Pennsylvania's Bucks County an NDPC candidate won election to the Democratic state committee over four regular Democrats. In Texas the NDPC fielded over 150 candidates for party posts. Of the 16 who ran for county chairmanships, 12 received over 20 percent. Two months before the primary a newspaper columnist in Bexar County (San Antonio) warned that if the Democrats didn't wake up, the LaRouche candidate for county chairman, Donald Varella, would win. The columnist pointed out that another NDPC member had polled 40 percent in the previous Bexar County chairmanship race (1984). The local Democrats didn't heed the warning, and Varella came in first in the 1986 primary. The party was saved from further embarrassment only by the fact that Varella was not deeply committed to the NDPC. After unfavorable press coverage he dropped out of the race before the runoff primary, saying that he didn't really want to be county chairman and that he'd rather "follow the Man to the Cross than a man to Washington."

Varella was not the only NDPC candidate whose link to LaRouche was tenuous. The Houston Post polled 25 presumed NDPCers who were elected, mostly unopposed, as county committeemen in Harris County. Fourteen said either that they'd had second thoughts about LaRouche or that they'd been unclear about the NDPC's affiliations from the beginning. The same phenomenon was found in other states. Two NDPC candidates for Congress, nominated unopposed in Illinois and Ohio, disassociated themselves from LaRouche. Others, when questioned by the press, were hesitant to back LaRouche fully. "I am not a LaRouche follower," said a General Dynamics technician who won a Michigan state senate primary. "I like some of their ideas and they like some of mine."

But other NDPC candidates were less skittish. Major Robert Patton (USAF, ret.), a U.S. senatorial candidate in New Hampshire, told a local reporter that he backed LaRouche because whenever "evil rears [its] ugly head . . . LaRouche strikes with the written word, and it's effective." An Alabama NDPC candidate for the state legislature laughed off the media's attacks. "At first, we were 'followers of extremist LaRouche, neo-Nazis, blah, blah, blah,' " he told New Solidarity in mid-May. "Now, it's gotten to the point where—in the local media, more so than the national media—we're simply getting straightforward coverage."

Overall, despite the negative media coverage and the Democratic Party's anti-LaRouche mailings to voters in some states, the NDPC's post-Illinois candidates in 1986 did better than its 1984 candidates, who had faced almost no media or party opposition. But the Democrats made no serious attempt to analyze these results. They just noted that the LaRouchians weren't winning elections, as if this would make the hundreds of thousands of NDPC votes disappear. Democratic National Committee spokesman Terry Michael cited races in which the NDPC was held to under 30 percent as proof that the Illinois victories had been a fluke.

The truth was much more complicated. Although there was indeed a fluke factor in many NDPC contests, the high NDPC vote totals sometimes were also the result of hard work and clever demagoguery on volatile public issues. The fluke vote itself was not just a matter of voters pulling the lever at random. The LaRouchians were selecting their contests carefully, concentrating on Democratic primaries in staunchly Republican districts where the regular Democratic candidate was often as obscure as the LaRouchian one. The local party leadership didn't care much about the outcome, the voters didn't care, and the regular Democratic candidate merely went through the motions. Everyone knew the Democratic nominee couldn't win the general election anyway.

When NDPC candidates ran against well-known incumbents with no other primary challenger (e.g., Scott against Glenn in Ohio), they also picked up significant vote percentages with little effort. The incumbent couldn't lose, so again there was little incentive to wage a strong battle against an obscure challenger. Voters who didn't like the incumbent— especially conservative Democrats who regarded him as too liberal— could express their disgruntlement by voting for the NDPC candidate. They might not approve of the NDPC's extremism, but inasmuch as there seemed no danger of the NDPC candidate actually winning, they would seize the opportunity to "send a message," as George Wallace used to say.

These tactics involved conscious manipulation of weaknesses within the Democratic Party. But artful tricks do not explain everything. First, the LaRouchians did well in a number of multi-candidate elections that included well-known political figures on the ballot. Second, the high 1986 vote percentages for LaRouche candidates were mostly in low-turnout primaries. It is a rule of thumb in analyzing election returns that the lower the turnout, the higher the political awareness and socioeconomic status of those who vote. In other words, the LaRouchians were often getting support from the voters least likely to engage in fluke voting. Third, post-Illinois candidates like Georgia Irey in Indiana did well despite vigorous anti-LaRouche voter education specifically designed to counter fluke voting. Fourth, the LaRouchians were striking a chord with angry conservatives on the AIDS issue. In California they collected over a half million signatures in 1986 for an AIDS quarantine ballot initiative. It garnered 29 percent of the vote even after LaRouche's role was widely publicized.

In 1986-87 the LaRouchians were placed on the defensive for the first time—not in the political or ideological arena, but in court. Top LaRouche aides were indicted for credit card and loan fraud, while LaRouche himself was indicted for obstruction of justice. It seemed for a while that this might be the end of the NDPC election machine. But that certainly wasn't the case in Illinois. NDPC candidates for city clerk and city treasurer in the 1987 Chicago municipal primaries received 47,000 and 50,000, respectively, while an NDPC aldermanic candidate received considerable support in a suburban district. Elsewhere, NDPC activity was muted as the LaRouchians reorganized their forces, but by early 1988 their machine was running smoothly again. LaRouche ran for President in more states than ever, including eleven on Super Tuesday. In California his followers recruited 205 registered Democrats in 45 congressional districts to run on his convention delegate slate. (They did this while also collecting 731,166 signatures to place a second AIDS initiative on the ballot.) LaRouchian fund raising also returned to normal, under the command of the very people who had been indicted. By June, LaRouche had gained over $650,000 in federal matching funds, more than in either of his two previous bids for the Democratic nomination.

As in 1984, he did poorly at the polls (receiving only 21,979 votes on Super Tuesday), but NDPC grass-roots candidates did well. In the 1988 Pennsylvania primary an NDPC candidate won the Democratic congressional nomination in the 5th CD by a vote of 10,670 to 9,298. NDPC candidates in the 7th and 10th CDs received 20 percent and 32 percent, respectively. In Pennsylvania's U.S. senatorial primary, NDPC leader Steven Douglas, running in a field of four, polled 146,050 votes, or 13 percent. Back in Illinois, the NDPC fielded a slate of twenty. Sheila Jones received 21 percent (115,000 votes) in the race for Cook County recorder of deeds, while NDPC candidates picked up 22 percent in the 4th CD, 38 percent in the 6th CD, 25 percent in the 13th CD. These Illinois results were achieved in spite of mailings by the party leadership to registered Democrats in the targeted CDs and a massive distribution of anti-NDPC brochures in Cook County.

The NDPC mounted a major effort in Iowa, with candidates for 16 congressional and legislative seats across the state (up from 4 candidates in 1986). Phil Roeder, the state party's communications director, told the Des Moines Register: "They are the political version of the 'Creature from the Black Lagoon.' They keep coming back to haunt us." The party leadership sent out anti-NDPC mailings and urged local party organizations to ban NDPC candidates from their candidates' forums. Juan Cortez, the NDPC's 1986 senatorial candidate, was held to 11 percent in the 2nd CD and the majority of the NDPC candidates received less than 10 percent. However, the NDPC candidate in the 1st CD polled 30 percent, and four NDPC state legislative candidates polled over 20 percent, with a high of 32 percent for a longtime LaRouche farm activist in House District 17.

Prairiefire Rural Action in Des Moines did a county-by-county analysis. It found that a majority of the NDPC candidates received over 10 percent in one or more counties, with their best showings in rural counties and/or their home counties. It described as "surprising" the 14 percent vote Cortez received in his home county, where voters were especially aware of his LaRouche connection. The NDPC congressional candidate in the 1st CD received 40 percent or more in five of the sixteen counties; in three, he received over 45 percent. His best showing was in Wapello County, where "LaRouche operatives campaigned aggressively with door-to-door canvassing and literature distribution efforts." Comparing the 1986 and 1988 NDPC vote, the report concluded that although no "stable bloc" of LaRouche voters yet existed, the vigorous exposures of LaRouche in Iowa had not been entirely effective: "Far too many [voters] chose to support LaRouche-sponsored candidates in 1988. And, in the absence of continued vigilance, there is nothing to suggest that a significant number of Iowans won't make the same mistake again in 1990."

As in previous years, the LaRouchians took advantage of the flabbiness of local Democratic organizations in strongly Republican districts. Indeed, by concentrating on such districts they won more contested primaries in 1988 than in any single previous year. And they also picked up several uncontested nominations in districts where the regular Democrats simply didn't bother to field anyone. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, two NDPC candidates picked up congressional nominations unopposed. In Indiana, Georgia Irey, the NDPC's former U.S. senatorial candidate, gained an uncontested state assembly nomination. In Iowa, NDPC candidates harvested two state senatorial nominations without opposition.

The NDPC's surprise of the year was in Harris County, Texas (Houston). Although LaRouche received only 389 votes for President in Harris County, Claude Jones, a staunch LaRouche loyalist, was elected Democratic county chairman. He defeated the incumbent, Larry Veselka, by a vote of 54,394 to 51,318. In some respects the incident was a replay of Illinois in 1986. The local party leadership and the media again failed to warn the public about the LaRouche candidate, the regular Democrat again didn't bother to campaign very much, and everyone again ignored clear warning signals—the strong vote totals for local LaRouche candidates in several previous elections (for instance, the 26 percent obtained by Harley Schlanger, the leader of the LaRouche Texas organization, in a 1986 Houston congressional primary).

Although Jones had polled only 5 percent against Veselka in the 1986 county chairmanship race, LaRouche candidates had done well in other Texas county chairmanship races that year. In Houston, of all places, the Democrats should have remained vigilant. Harris County is the second-largest election district in the United States. It has 664 voting precincts and sends more delegates to the Democratic National Convention than many states do. Yet the ousted chairman, Veselka, defended his decision not to campaign vigorously: It had clashed with his duties as a trial lawyer, he said.

Houston Democratic leaders put most of the blame on the voters. "Jones is a simpler name than Veselka, so people went with the familiar," said the county committee's executive director. The argument was similar to that of the Illinois Democrats in 1986: that voters had chosen a Hart over a Pucinsky. Houston Democrats speculated that Jones had deliberately kept a low profile in order to keep the Democrats asleep at the wheel, so that he, too, could take advantage of the name factor. It was also pointed out that the record presidential primary turnout had included many voters unfamiliar with party officeholders—a theory far more plausible than the claim by Illinois Democrats that the Hart-Fairchild victories had been due to a low turnout.

The Democrats got off easy this time. The county Democratic leadership met three days after the primary and passed new bylaws stripping the county chairman of all powers, including the power to write checks and handle funds. When the full county committee met to approve the new bylaws, the NDPC could muster only a handful of protesters. Yet it was sheer luck that the LaRouche victory had occurred in an intraparty contest rather than in a race for public office—Jones, unlike Hart and Fairchild, couldn't hurt the Democratic ticket in November.

The LaRouchian electoral record from 1974 through 1988 shows that they have discovered and learned to exploit hitherto unnoticed weaknesses in America's two-party electoral system. And their opportunities for doing so apparently are expanding. An August 1988 New York Times article reported a national increase in the number of uncontested primaries and general elections, reflecting the growing clout of incumbency, the greater costs of running for office, and the closer press scrutiny of candidates' personal lives and finances. In the 1988 New York elections, the Times said, "at least one of every five members of the House and Legislature does not have a major party opponent and is thus virtually assured of re-election in November." Hence any extremist candidate who chooses to run on a shoestring budget can pick up a hefty percentage of the vote and in many cases an uncontested nomination.

Besides LaRouche, other ultrarightists and neo-Nazis recognize the growing potential for mischief. Robert Miles, America's leading old-style white supremacist, hailed the LaRouchians as "political raiders" after their 1986 Illinois victories. Comparing them to Hitler's SS, he said they had wrought "havoc" in the ranks of "ZOG" (the Zionist Occupation Government). "Well done, Lyndon, well done," he crowed. Former Klansman Robert Weems also praised the NPDC's feat in a front-page article in The Spotlight. Leaders of the Populist Party, electoral arm of the Liberty Lobby, called for a LaRouche-style strategy of infiltrating major-party primaries. David Duke, head of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, announced his candidacy for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. Like LaRouche, he compared himself to George Wallace, entered the New Hampshire primary, and applied for government matching funds. Lacking a cadre organization such as LaRouche's, he failed to raise enough money to qualify for federal funds. But on Super Tuesday he received 41,177 votes in five states.

Pollster Michael McKeon believes that the electoral activities of extremists like LaRouche and Duke may "expand exponentially" in the next decade. Democratic and Republican Party leaders have failed to offer blue-collar voters credible solutions to the problems of drugs and street crime. Neither party has done much to reverse the decline of traditional smokestack industries or give long-range hope to America's remaining farm families. Meanwhile, the parties' traditional means of reaching the voter, network television, has been undercut by VCR technology. "The VCR means people can control information coming into their homes," said McKeon. "A lot don't listen to television news anymore. There's a lot of networking going on." McKeon believes that blue-collar voters are looking for ideas that mirror their frustration. "You've got couples working in low-wage or part-time jobs who used to make a good living at a plant that closed down. It simmers and simmers. Fred Flintstone starts picking up on all kinds of strange notions. When the Democrats and Republicans get together to tell him not to vote for a LaRouche candidate, he thinks: What have the Democrats and Republicans done for me?"

In this new political arena, the old standards of political measurement may prove inadequate. In mid-1986, pollster Mervin Field asked registered voters in California about LaRouche. Sixty-five percent had heard of him, and 55 percent had an unfavorable opinion of him. Field said the score was the lowest he'd ever found for a politician. Yet the following November, 2,039,744 Californians voted in favor of LaRouche's AIDS quarantine initiative.