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The 2014 elections weren’t close. Recently we told you about an election a century ago that was close. This time, we have an election to talk about that wasn’t close … except in Nevada.

In 1964, the Democratic presidential nominee was Lyndon Johnson. He had become president upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and obviously had a degree of public sympathy and support. He also had been an incredibly active president, pushing through the Civil Rights Act and beginning the legislation that would comprise the Great Society.

Meanwhile, Republicans divided. The nominee was Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who led the party’s right wing. Nationally, more liberal Republicans were horrified about Goldwater and his supporters, and the feeling was mutual. Johnson buried Goldwater. He won the largest popular vote percentage of any presidential candidate ever—just over sixty-one percent. His electoral majority was 486-52. But there was a sign of things to come: Goldwater carried his home state, but also five states in the Deep South. The South’s move toward the Republican party had begun and, as the 2014 election showed, it continues.

To show how big Democrats won that year, the Nevada state senate went Democratic for the first time since the 1938 election. Remember that was when each of Nevada’s seventeen counties had a state senator. Rural Nevadans tended to be Republican, and it showed. But not in 1964.

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That year, Democratic congressman Walter Baring won reelection to his seventh term by a large margin over Republican George Von Tobel. But his victory also showed that the Democratic party’s success was wide, but not necessarily deep.

In 1962, Baring came out against Kennedy’s New Frontier, and in 1964 he opposed the Civil Rights Act and virtually everything else LBJ proposed. He really angered the party’s leaders. In 1962, Clark County District Attorney John Mendoza challenged him in the primary, to no avail. One political observer once said of Baring that nobody loved him but the voters. That was true. He took care of constituents and got to know them—retail politics, as it’s known, and he was a master.

Sen. Walter S. BaringIn 1964, he faced another challenge from a Clark County attorney, Ralph Denton. As Denton said, personally, he LIKED Baring. He’d known him for many years. But Denton supported the civil rights movement. He also joined Senators Alan Bible and Howard Cannon in advocating a national park for the area around Wheeler Peak and Lehman Cave in White Pine County—something that Baring did his best to block. Denton campaigned hard. Not long before the primary, Baring’s campaign manager, Charlie Bell, a longtime lobbyist and operative in these parts, put out a flyer about Denton to white neighborhoods: “The colored people are calling for the defeat of your congressman, Walter Baring, because he has the courage to stand up and vote against the unconstitutional civil rights bill. He warned that if the bill were passed, there would be riots and unrest in this country. Congressman Baring stood up for us, now let’s stand up for him.”

Baring won by about seventeen hundred votes out of about sixty thousand cast. It didn’t hurt him that some Republicans crossed party lines and there were Democrats who stayed registered that way to vote for him, and easily won the general election. But we said there was a close race in 1964. Was there ever! That’s for next time.

1/16/15
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