David and the Kyros upset

0

It’s 1974. It’s a year which in Maine would be remembered for the upset election of the first independent governor of any state in the nation in 44 years, 50-year-old Lewiston insurance executive James B. Longley.

With the possible exception of Longley, the most dramatic and forceful political persona of the era in Maine is owned by the state’s 1st District congressman, Peter Kyros of Portland, a Democrat.

Kyros’s 194-word per-minute highly polished but staccato speaking pace is as rapid as a machine gun. He mows down his adversaries with corresponding efficiency.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the most luminous names in Maine are assaulted by his biennial juggernauts. They include department store magnate Robert Porteous and State Sen. Horace Hildreth Jr.

Advertisement

In his first re-election campaign, in 1968, for example, Kyros’s 57 percent victory over Hildreth — the son and namesake of a multi-millionaire former Maine governor — surpasses the vote total of the leading deity of Maine politics of that era, Edmund Muskie, then running as the vice-presidential nominee on the national Democratic ticket. In 1970, Kyros crushes the Republicans with 60 percent of the vote. Ditto for his 1972 mandate over Porteous.

Kyros’s spell over the 1st District is so formidable that his bid for a fifth term in 1974 is attended by an aura of both invincibility and inevitability. Moreover, the Republicans are besieged by President Nixon’s Watergate scandal. The deepest recession and the most crippling inflation in a generation also renders 1974 as the most promising for Democrats like Kyros in a decade.

The Sisyphean effort to defeat Kyros would be renewed that year then by a person who would be by far his most obscure and under-financed general election opponent to date: a low-key, eyeglass-clad 26-year-old Worcester Polytech-trained electrical engineer and part-time state representative from Rockland. His name: David Emery.

In seeking to bring down Kyros, Emery initially put together a 17-member staff whose payroll could not, however, keep pace with a parsimonious treasury. By the time Emery brought on board a manager, 25-year-old banker turned real estate agent George Smith, the campaign was broke. As Smith recalled for this columnist recently, “He did not have any money. I basically had to fire everybody and start over.”

As Smith went on to explain, “So we had to depend a lot on free media so Dave did a walk… I worked on Bill Cohen’s walk two years earlier so we mounted the same thing for Dave.”

During the 600-mile summer walk and elsewhere in the campaign Emery shook some 45,000 hands in a grassroots effort. An understated — but still friendly — personal style was complemented by his somewhat imposing six-foot, husky physical frame.

Emery’s perambulations and handshaking did not stir much attention from incumbent Kyros. He was — when not in Washington during a time it was distracted by presidential impeachment proceedings and a troubled economy — helping convene committee hearings in 10 seaport cities throughout the country. This was on a proposal to expand from 12 to 200 miles the country’s territorial fishing limits. Kyros would thus hardly turn his head to take even a wink at Emery.

What were the chances the district would become enamored with a nerdy-appearing Republican in a year when Democrats were sailing with a full gust of wind blowing at the stern of their boat?

In the final days of the campaign, Kyros returned home and engaged Emery in a televised debate. Like Emery, Kyros had a technical background, in Kyros’s case a Navy career and an education at both MIT and Annapolis, though the latter was followed by a law degree from Harvard. On television, the two nevertheless exhibited a crucial contrast in both temperament and demeanor.

The personal boldness which Kyros had so adroitly deployed in his four previous elections was no longer suited to taking on a David Emery.

It was one thing to passionately summon his urbane rhetorical energy to arouse broad popular support in an election where the alternatives had ordinarily been the Southern Maine Brahmins who had once been his GOP opponents. It was quite another to display such an image in a match-up with the youthful, methodical country technocrat from Rockland.

In effect, Kyros — for the first time in a general election — could no longer play the populist trump card that had won him so much support from the district’s rank and file working-class constituents. Those demographics were for the first time ones on which his current Republican opponent could stake out a straight-faced claim.

Kyros in the debate thus came across by contrast to the more slowly-speaking Downeast-drawling Emery as brash and patronizing. One issue, for example, was the size and potential delinquency of Emery’s campaign debt. Kyros at one point offered to help Emery pay it off even while at the same time ridiculing him for it.

In the aftermath of the televised encounter, the state’s leading radio talk show host, WGAN’s Steve Morgan, spared no mercy in making hay of Kyros’s debate performance. That those calling in to Morgan’s program shared his assessment foretold the prospect of an election upset like few others in modern Maine.

To be sure, other factors besides the TV debate were also at play. Among them: Kyros’s own complacency. He didn’t feel it necessary to raise a big enough campaign war chest to purchase TV advertising. (His mis-calculation in the use of his free TV time with Emery suggests that paid time in the medium might well have only drawn more attention to his shortcomings, however.) Another was the phenomenon of Jim Longley’s independent campaign for governor.

In the open race for the Blaine House, the charismatic Longley played to an electorate beleaguered simultaneously by high unemployment and inflation, and one also disillusioned by the Watergate scandal. Though neither of Longley’s opponents were incumbents, both had prominent backgrounds in party politics and government. Longley portrayed them as water carriers for a discredited political system.

The same hostility to standard political institutions that propelled Longley also made voters more likely to depart from routine voting practices in the next race down the ticket, the Kyros-Emery contest. The Longley message helped to direct voter outrage against incumbents generally, especially those like Kyros, who already suffered from an ardently partisan political image

As Emery himself described it in a 2009 Bowdoin interview, “Every place I went, I’d run into people (who) didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat, and I’m campaigning, ‘Well I’m running for Congress.’ ‘You in there now?’ ‘No.’ ‘Okay, I’m going to vote for you.’”

Indeed, voters did precisely that even though Democratic incumbents almost everywhere else in the nation were swept back into office. (Because only a few hundred votes separated the candidates out of some 188,000 cast it would take several recounts before Emery’s triumph was finalized.)

Emery’s election would make him the youngest person ever sent by Maine to Washington. It’s a campaign that despite being both overshadowed and somewhat influenced by the election of independent Longley as governor, is still one worth remembering, especially on this, the occasion of its 40th anniversary.

Paul H. Mills, is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in Maine. He can be reached by e-mail: pmills@myfairpoint.net.

It’s 1974. It’s a year which in Maine would be remembered for the upset election

of the first independent governor of any state in the nation in 44-years, 50-year old

Lewiston insurance executive James B. Longley.

With the possible exception of Longley, the most dramatic and forceful political

persona of the era in Maine is owned by the state’s First District Congressman, Peter

Kyros of Portland, a Democrat.

Kyros’s 194 word per minute highly polished but staccato speaking pace is as

rapid as a machine gun. He mows down his adversaries with corresponding efficiency.

During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the most luminous names in Maine are

assaulted by his biennial juggernauts. They include Department Store Magnate Robert

Porteous and State Senator Horace Hildreth, Jr.

In his first re-election campaign, in 1968, for example, Kyros’s 57-percent victory

over Hildreth, the son and namesake of a multi-millionaire former Maine governor,

surpasses the vote total of the leading deity of Maine politics of that era, Edmund

Muskie, then running as the Vice-Presidential nominee on the national Democratic

ticket. In 1970, Kyros crushes the Republicans with 60-percent of the vote. Ditto for his

1972 mandate over Porteous.

Kyros’s spell over the First District is so formidable that his bid for a fifth term

in 1974 is attended by an aura of both invincibility and inevitability. Moreover, the

Republicans are besieged by President Nixon’s Watergate scandal. The deepest

Recession and the most crippling inflation in a generation also renders 1974 as the

2

most promising for Democrats like Kyros in a decade.

The Sisyphean effort to defeat Kyros would be renewed that year then by

a person who would be by far his most obscure and under-financed general election

opponent to date: a low key, eyeglass clad 26-year old Worcester Polytech trained

electrical engineer and part-time state representative from Rockland. His name: David

Emery.

DAVID EMERY – 1974

In seeking to bring down Kyros, Emery initially put together a 17-member staff

whose payroll could not, however, keep pace with a parsimonious treasury. By the

time Emery brought on board a manager, 25-year old banker turned real estate agent

George Smith, the campaign was broke. As Smith recalled for this columnist recently,

“He did not have any money. I basically had to fire everybody and start over.”

As Smith went on to explain, “So we had to depend a lot on free media so

Dave did a walk… I worked on Bill Cohen’s walk two years earlier so we mounted the

same thing for Dave.”

During the 600-mile summer walk and elsewhere in the campaign Emery

shook some 45-thousand hands in a grass roots effort. An understated – but still friendly

3

– personal style was complemented by his somewhat imposing six foot, husky physical

frame.

Emery’s perambulations and handshaking did not stir much attention from

incumbent Kyros. He was – when not in Washington during a time it was distracted by

Presidential impeachment proceedings and a troubled economy – helping convene

committee hearings in ten seaport cities throughout the country. This was on a proposal

to expand from 12 to 200 miles the country’s territorial fishing limits. Kyros would thus

hardly turn his head to take even a wink at Emery.

What were the chances the District would become enamored with a nerdy

appearing Republican in a year when Democrats were sailing with a full gust of wind

blowing at the stern of their boat?

In the final days of the campaign, Kyros returned home and engaged Emery

in televised debate. Like Emery, Kyros had a technical background, in Kyros’s case

a Navy career and an education at both MIT and Annapolis, though the latter was

followed by a law degree from Harvard. On television, the two nevertheless exhibited a

crucial contrast in both temperament and demeanor.

The personal boldness which Kyros had so adroitly deployed in his four

previous elections was no longer suited to taking on a David Emery. It was one thing to

passionately summon his urbane rhetorical energy to arouse broad popular support in

an election where the alternatives had ordinarily been the Southern Maine Brahmins

who had once been his GOP opponents. It was quite another to display such an image

in a match-up with the youthful, methodical country technocrat from Rockland. In

effect, Kyros for the first time in a general election, could no longer play the populist

4

trump card that had won him so much support from the District’s rank and file working

class constituents. Those demographics were for the first time ones on which his

current Republican opponent could stake out a straight faced claim.

Kyros in the debate thus came across by contrast to the more slowly speaking

Downeast drawling Emery as brash and patronizing. One issue, for example, was the

size and potential delinquency of Emery’s campaign debt. Kyros at one point offered to

help Emery pay it off even while at the same time ridiculing him for it. In the aftermath

of the televised encounter, the state’s leading radio talk show host, WGAN’s Steve

Morgan, spared no mercy in making hay of Kyros’s debate performance. That those

calling in to Morgan’s program shared his assessment foretold the prospect of an

election upset like few others in modern Maine.

To be sure, other factors besides the TV debate were also at play. Among

them: Kyros’s own complacency. He didn’t feel it necessary to raise a big enough

campaign war chest to purchase TV advertising. (His mis-calculation in the use of his

free TV time with Emery suggests that paid time in the medium might well have only

drawn more attention to his shortcomings, however.) Another was the phenomenon of

Jim Longley’s independent campaign for governor.

In the open race for the Blaine House, the charismatic Longley played to

an electorate beleaguered simultaneously by high unemployment and inflation, one

also disillusioned by the Watergate scandal. Though neither of Longley’s opponents

were incumbents, both had prominent backgrounds in party politics and government.

Longley portrayed them as water carriers for a discredited political system.

The same hostility to standard political institutions that propelled Longley also

5

made voters more likely to depart from routine voting practices in the next race down

the ticket, the Kyros-Emery contest. The Longley message helped to direct voter

outrage against incumbents generally, especially those like Kyros, who already suffered

from an ardently partisan political image

As Emery himself described it in a 2009 Bowdoin interview, “Every place

I went, I’d run into people (who) didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat, and I’m

campaigning, ‘Well I’m running for Congress.’ ‘You in there now?’ ‘No.’ ‘Okay, I’m going

to vote for you.’”

Indeed, voters did precisely that even though Democratic incumbents almost

everywhere else in the nation were swept back into office. (Because only a few

hundred votes separated the candidates out of some 188-thousand cast it would

take several recounts before Emery’s triumph was finalized.) Emery’s election would

make him the youngest person ever sent by Maine to Washington. It’s a campaign

that despite being both overshadowed and somewhat influenced by the election of

Independent Longley as governor, is still one worth remembering, especially on this,

the occasion of its 40th

Paul H. Mills, is a Farmington attorney well known for his

analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in

Maine. He can be reached by e-mail: pmills@myfairpoint.net.

anniversary.

Advertisement