William C. Cramer
|William Cato "Bill" Cramer, Sr.|
|U.S. Representative William C. Cramer in 1964|
|Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 1st district
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1963
|Preceded by||Courtney W. Campbell|
|Succeeded by||Robert L. F. Sikes|
|Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 12th district
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1967
|Preceded by||New district|
|Succeeded by||Dante Fascell|
|Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 8th district
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1971
|Preceded by||Donald R. Matthews|
|Succeeded by||Charles William "Bill" Young|
|State Representative from Pinellas County, Florida|
|County attorney for Pinellas County|
August 4, 1922|
Denver, Colorado, USA
|Died||October 18, 2003
Pinellas County, Florida
|Resting place||Woodlawn Memory Gardens in St. Petersburg, Florida|
|Spouse(s)||(1) Alice J. Cramer (divorced)
(2) Sarah Ellen Bromelow Cramer (married ca. 1992-2003, his death)
|Children||William C. Cramer, Jr.
Mark C. Cramer
|Residence||St. Petersburg, Florida|
|Alma mater||St. Petersburg Junior College|
William Cato Cramer, Sr., known as Bill Cramer (August 4, 1922 – October 18, 2003), was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Florida, having served consecutively from 1955 to 1971. He was the first Florida Republican elected to Congress since 1880, shortly after the close of Reconstruction.
- 1 Background
- 2 Florida political divisions
- 3 State legislative service
- 4 Running for Congress
- 5 Republican National Committeeman
- 6 Dispute with Claude Kirk
- 7 Dispute with Edward Gurney
- 8 Carswell enters Senate primary
- 9 Jack Eckerd opposes Kirk
- 10 A divided GOP
- 11 Cramer v. Chiles
- 12 Nixon to the rescue
- 13 1970 election results
- 14 Later years
- 15 Death and legacy
- 16 References
Cramer was born in Denver, Colorado; when he was three years old his parents relocated to St. Petersburg, currently the fourth largest city in Florida, located on the Gulf Coast in Pinellas County. There he attended public schools and graduated from St. Petersburg High School, where he waged his first political campaigns in student government. He then attended St. Petersburg Junior College, the first public community college in Florida. Cramer's roots were anchored in the Protestant work ethic: as a teenager, he sold fruit, flowers, and candy and worked as a grocery clerk and a theater usher. Before he entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was a bellhop at a resort hotel in North Carolina. When he first ran for office, some voters still recalled him affectionately as "the orange boy."
In 1943, Cramer enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a gunnery officer in the liberation of France during World War II. He served in the United States Naval Reserve until 1946. That same year, Cramer graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina. In 1948, he graduated from Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and entered the private practice of law in St. Petersburg. In 1949, Cramer switched his partisan affiliation from Democratic to Republican at the urging of his law partner, Herman Goldner, the mayor of St. Petersburg. At the time statewide voter registration in Florida was some fourteen-to-one Democratic.
Florida political divisions
Florida's geographic configuration and uneven population distribution has made it more difficult for Democratic factions to persist because urbanites have been unwilling to accept domination by a few party leaders. V.O. Key, Jr., the political scientist, described Florida elections in the years prior to the re-emergence of the Republican Party, as "personality-oriented within narrow ideological boundaries." Republicans, mostly migrants from the American Midwest or the northeastern states, challenged Democratic domination in Pinellas County and other locations known for their concentration of retirees. The migration of business executives and senior citizens drastically altered the partisan profile of the region. As early as 1928, presidential nominee Herbert C. Hoover helped to carry Pinellas County Republicans to victory in races for sheriff, county judge, assessor, and state senator. In 1948, Republican Thomas E. Dewey won Pinellas, Sarasota, Palm Beach, Broward, and Orange counties and a third of the statewide vote. Dissent against the national Democratic Party continued in 1952 and 1956, with the statewide victories of the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket. In 1960, 1968, and 1972, Nixon, as the presidential nominee, prevailed in Florida. Lyndon B. Johnson, however, won the state in 1964, as did Jimmy Carter of neighboring Georgia in 1976. Carter was the beneficiary of an influx of blue-collar and historically Democratic voters.
State legislative service
In 1950, Cramer ran for the Florida House of Representatives and was also the campaign manager for the Pinellas County Republican slate, none of whose fourteen members had previously sought office. The Republicans decried inefficient government and "boss-type" politics, organized the grassroots and offered a unified ticket. All but one of the GOP candidates were elected. Cramer became the de facto "titular head" of the Pinellas party. In 1974, the Florida Republican State Executive Committee honored Cramer as Florida's "Mr. Republican," a designation given earlier at the national level to U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. In 1967, the Tampa Tribune humorously paraphrased the Book of John to emphasize Cramer's role in the state GOP: "In the beginning there was the party, and the party was with Bill Cramer, and the party was Bill Cramer."
When Cramer's two Republican legislative colleagues in 1951 named him minority leader, the Democrats teased them for "caucusing in a phone booth." Because the Florida legislature operates under rules of the United States House of Representatives, Cramer's assertion of "minority rights" raised his visibility. In the state House, Cramer defended junior colleges from challenges waged by the four-year institutions. Having attended a two-year institution himself, Cramer considered junior colleges essential to lower-cost educational opportunities. As a representative, Cramer worked to establish the state's first anti-crime commission, but the Democrats refused to name any Republicans to the panel.
Running for Congress
In 1952, Cramer ran not for a second term in the legislature but for the U.S. House against the Democrat Courtney W. Campbell, a businessman from Clearwater and a former member of the state highway board. There was no incumbent in the race. Having spent $25,000 in a handshaking tour of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Hernando counties. Cramer benefited from the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket but lost by .7 of 1 percent. He served thereafter for two years as the Pinellas County attorney. In 1954, with a stronger organization, Cramer ran again and unseated Campbell by the same .7 of 1 percent margin by which he had lost in 1952. The $40,000 that Cramer spent in 1954 was insufficient for advertising in the still new medium of television.
Then U.S. Representative Robert L. F. Sikes of Crestview depicted his fellow Democrat Courtney Campbell as "hard-working, dedicated, and capable" but ineffective in public speaking: "It was easy to diagnose the problem. Courtney couldn't cope with the articulate Cramer on the platform. His speeches were wooden and uninteresting. I attempted to help him and even wrote out some short messages which I thought would be effective in getting his story across to his constituents. I was dismayed when I heard him deliver them. He sounded like a third grader struggling through a reading assignment. Cramer was articulate, a successful lawyer, and he already enjoyed some recognition in public life. In my effort to help Campbell, I said that Cramer, serving in a Democratic Congress, would be like a lost ball in high weeds. Bill never let me forget that statement, although subsequently we became good friends."
Cramer's election to Congress did not seem to impress Florida's then Republican State Chairman G. Harold Alexander of Fort Myers in Lee County, who handled federal patronage outside Cramer's district. Cramer said that Alexander "did his best to put me in my place" though Cramer was the first Florida Republican to serve in Congress since 1883. According to Cramer, Alexander accented patronage, rather than increasing GOP voter registration or the recruitment of candidates.
Cramer represented Florida's 1st congressional district from 1955 to 1963, at which time reapportionment placed him in the 12th district from 1963 to 1967. Then, he was switched to the 8th district for his final two terms in office, 1967 to 1971.
In 1957, Cramer joined four other southern Republican House colleagues, including Bruce Alger of Texas and Joel T. Broyhill of Virginia, in seeking a conference with President Eisenhower to discuss the Little Rock Integration Crisis, with a view of obtaining the removal of the federal troops sent there to maintain order. However, the troops remained for the 1957-1958 school year.
Republican National Committeeman
In 1964, after nine years in the House, Cramer was elected in the primary as Republican national committeeman, a position that he held for twenty consecutive years. He also headed the presidential delegate slate pledged to U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona. Cramer said that Goldwater asked him to circumvent the party "regulars" led by Harold Alexander's successor, Tom Brown of Tampa, because the state leadership had been too passive. Cramer said that the state committee had "never been really interested in electing Republicans" and had "ignored Republicans when they were elected."
Edward J. Gurney, a transplanted New Englander from Winter Park who had been elected to the U.S. House in 1962, initially joined Cramer and the insurgents but then withdrew his backing. Goldwater tried to "marry" the two slates, but Cramer said that Brown made such demands that no merger was feasible. Republican strategist Richard Kleindienst of Arizona halted a scheduled appearance on behalf of the Cramer slate by Goldwater's two sons. The Brown forces narrowly won the primary, but Cramer said that the insurgents may well have prevailed had Goldwater's backing remained firm. Cramer said that he believed the Brown forces would have "sold out" Goldwater had the "stop-Goldwater" movement coalesced behind Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania been successful.
Dispute with Claude Kirk
In 1964, the politically unknown California native, Claude R. Kirk, Jr., a Democrat-turned-Republican, ran against veteran Democratic U.S. Senator Spessard Holland, the former governor and epitome of the Florida Democratic establishment. While considered a mere placeholder on the ballot, the energetic Kirk campaigned enthusiastically and polled 36.1 percent of the vote in the general election. Cramer said that Kirk would "beg me" to allow him to address meetings held during the delegate and national committeeman races. In this manner, Kirk became acquainted with Republican party activists.
In 1966, Kirk scored a huge upset to become Governor, having defeated the Democrat, Miami Mayor Robert King High. Kirk won majorities in fifty-six of the sixty-seven counties. During this 1966 campaign, a schism developed between Cramer and Kirk to the point that in a 1988 interview, Kirk said he could not recall Cramer having rendered him any assistance at all in either the 1964 or 1966 campaigns: "Cramer never helped me do anything. At all times he was a total combatant."
Kirk claimed that Cramer wanted the gubernatorial nomination himself after the Democratic Governor Haydon Burns, the primary loser, refused to support Mayor High. Kirk said that Cramer's legislative assistant Jack P. Inscoe, a Tampa developer, could verify that Cramer had asked Kirk to bow out. Kirk claims that the three met "in a car ... probably in Palm Beach County". Inscoe said: "This never happened. Kirk is not known for telling too much truth." Though Cramer said that he had no ambition to be governor, Kirk retorted, "How could I have brought this up if it didn't happen?"
Cramer said that he subsequently urged Kirk to merge the gubernatorial campaign in Pinellas County with the regular party organization, but Kirk organized a separate entity to maximize crossover support from Democrats unhappy with the nomination of Mayor High. Cramer recalled this disagreement over strategy as the "first indication that Kirk intended to do his own thing and attempt to form his own organization within the Republican Party in Florida. I didn't get the signal at the time, but it became very obvious later, particularly when he attempted to defeat me as national committeeman in 1968."
Kirk asked then Representative Gurney to serve as chairman of the gubernatorial inauguration although Gurney had not been involved in the Kirk campaign. Cramer was not even asked to serve on the inaugural committee. In 1968, Governor Kirk dispatched his staff to the Republican state convention in Orlando to push for Cramer's ouster as national committeeman. Kirk justified his action against Cramer: "I wanted my own man. After all, I was the leader of the party. If Cramer had been the leader of the party, he would have wanted his own man too." Cramer said that Kirk was attempting to be "not only the governor but the king of the party, and I was about the only person at the time who stood in his way from taking total control."
Despite Kirk's opposition, Cramer attributed his retention as national committeeman to the loyalty of organizational Republicans: "I had proved myself an effective congressman. I was on the House leadership as vice chairman of the Republican Conference and was ranking member on the House Public Works Committee." l
Having recalled a 1967 visit to Kirk's office, Cramer said that a former state legislator was denied an appointment with the governor even though the man was a stalwart Republican. According to Cramer, "Kirk made it very clear that he got a great deal of joy in making sure that this guy didn't get an appointment. ... He just loved to kick people in the teeth to show how much power he had." Despite observing this incident, Cramer said that party unity led him to avoid public criticism of Kirk. Cramer viewed Kirk as "his own worst enemy." Kirk claimed that he had never had a "serious discussion" on any topic with Cramer. Walter Wurfel, a Floridian who was President Carter's deputy press secretary, termed Kirk's election in 1966 as "the worst thing that could have happened to the Republicans. He wasn't interested in the Republican party; party was a matter of convenience for him."
Cramer said that Kirk may have become vice president or even U.S. President had he tended to his gubernatorial duties. Eyeing the vice presidency in 1968, Kirk stood alone in the Florida delegation at the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach in supporting Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York, rather than the clear frontrunner, Richard Nixon. Cramer said that Nixon may have selected Kirk, rather than Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland for the second slot had Kirk concentrated on his duties of office. Kirk claimed that it "had been agreed" that he would run with either Rockefeller or Nixon, but Nixon chose Agnew to obtain contributions from Greek American businessmen.
Dispute with Edward Gurney
Meanwhile, three-term Representative Edward Gurney sought the U.S. Senate seat in 1968 vacated by the retirement of Democrat George Smathers. The Democratic nomination then went to former Governor LeRoy Collins, an ally of the retiring President Lyndon B. Johnson. Cramer and Gurney were prospective primary opponents until Cramer yieled to Gurney, with the understanding that Gurney would thereafter back Cramer for the other Senate seat, which was expected to be vacated in 1970 by Spessard Holland. According to Cramer, Gurney "pledged his support to me, and I did to him, and we shook hands."
Cramer's former law partner, Herman Goldner, who had defected to Lyndon Johnson in 1964, opposed Gurney in the primary but received few votes. Gurney then handily defeated Collins in the general election, having carried all but four counties. Thereafter, Gurney and Cramer crisscrossed the state in various party-building ventures. In the fall of 1969, Cramer declared his candidacy for the Senate; Holland soon announced his retirement. President Nixon encouraged Cramer's candidacy: "Bill, the Senate needs you, the country needs you, the people need you -- now, run."
Cramer's House colleague Robert Sikes, viewed the first Republican member of the Florida delegation as intelligent and hard-working, but James A. Haley, a Democrat from Sarasota, described Cramer as "little in stature and big in mouth" and urged him to "talk less and work more."
The Cramer-Gurney "agreement" unraveled after April 8, 1970, when the U.S. Senate rejected Nixon's second consecutive conservative nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Judge G. Harrold Carswell of Tallahassee, a newly installed member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, but whose judicial service dated back to Eisenhower. Gurney and Holland, both Carswell supporters, were dismayed when a bipartisan coalition rejected the jurist, fifty-five to forty-five on allegations of "mediocrity and past "racism."
Cramer and Gurney had worked well as colleagues but were not friends. "In looking back on it," said Cramer, "I realize that Gurney was very much his own man and apparently was not comfortable with my being the ranking Republican in the Florida delegation." Kirk tried to isolate Gurney from Cramer by naming Gurney's Orlando law firm the counsel for the Florida Turnpike Authority at a $100,000 annual retainer. Cramer's firm received no state business.
Carswell enters Senate primary
Expecting to benefit over the uproar in Florida over the rejection of Judge Carswell, aides of either Kirk or Gurney proposed that Carswell resign from the bench and run for Holland's Senate seat. Gurney declined to discuss the "gentlemen's agreement" with Cramer but said that he and Cramer had "totally different opinions on this. That is ancient history, and I see no point in reviving things. ... If I told my complete version of the matter, Cramer would not believe me, and I don't want Bill angry at me." Gurney claimed that he was unaware that Cramer had considered running for the Senate in 1968 and had deferred to Gurney, with the expectation that Cramer would run for the other Senate seat in 1970.
When Kirk and Gurney endorsed Carswell, Lieutenant Governor Ray C. Osborne, a Kirk ally from St. Petersburg, abandoned his own challenge to Cramer. Years later, Kirk said that he "should have stuck with Osborne," later an attorney from Boca Raton, and not encouraged Carswell to run. Kirk said that he had not "created" Carswell's candidacy, as often depicted by the media. Carswell said that he wanted to "confront the liberals who shot me down" but denied that Kirk took advantage of the failed confirmation to thwart Cramer. ... Neither then nor now did I feel used. ... What feud they had was their own." Carswell said that he had no knowledge of a "gentlemen's agreement" between Gurney and Cramer and had considered running for the Senate even before he was nominated to the Supreme Court. Carswell instead blamed his loss on the "dark evil winds of liberalism" and the "northern press and its knee-jerking followers in the Senate."
Carswell said that Representative Rogers Clark Ballard Morton of Maryland, the Republican national chairman in 1970, had told him that he believed Carswell was "clearly electable" and that Cramer should not risk the loss of an otherwise "safe" House seat held by Republicans since 1955. Cramer reported, however, that Morton had termed the intraparty machinations against Cramer the worst "double crosses" that Morton had ever witnessed in the party. President Nixon sat out the Carswell-Cramer primary even though he had initially strongly urged Cramer to enter the race. Deputy Press Secretary Gerald Lee Warren said that Nixon had "no knowledge and no involvement" in Carswell's candidacy. Gurney claimed that Harry S. Dent, Sr., a South Carolina political consultant with ties to U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, had urged Carswell to run. Carswell further secured endorsements from John Wayne and Gene Autry and retained Richard Viguerie, the direct mail specialist from Falls Church, Virginia, to raise funds. Cramer's Senate candidacy allowed his former district assistant Charles William "Bill" Young of St. Petersburg, then the Florida Senate minority leader, to seek the U.S. House seat which Cramer vacated, a position that Young has retained with few obstacles since 1971. Young, meanwhile in 2012, is the longest serving Republican member of Congress.
In the primary campaign, Cramer stressed his amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibited forced busing to achieve racial balance in public schools. He questioned Carswell's concurrence in two Fifth Circuit busing edicts. At first, Carswell ignored Cramer's charges; then he resorted to "long-winded legalisms" to lambaste the "idiocy" of busing." Carswell's speeches were compared to "legal opinions" aimed more at U.S. Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Birch Bayh of Indiana, who had worked against his confirmation, rather than Florida Republican primary voters. As a circuit judge, Carswell was bound by high court precedent that after 1968 had decreed busing an available tool to pursue racial balance in schools. Like Cramer, Kirk was also identified with anti-busing forces when he failed in 1970 to halt a desegregation plan in Manatee County. Kirk claimed that the New Orleans-based "busing" judges were allegedly "drinking in the French Quarter and reading dirty books." Cramer went beyond the busing issue to attack "cop killers, bombers, burners, and racial revolutionaries who would destroy America."
Cramer said that he had a friendly acquaintance with Carswell prior to the 1970 campaign, but he subsequently viewed the jurist as "a pawn" of kingmakers Kirk and Gurney. Cramer attributed his Senate nomination to his grassroots support and Carswell's lack of campaign experience. Carswell, however, claimed that his support among Democrats would have been considerable had Florida used the open primary which exists in Alabama and Georgia. Carswell said that Lawton Chiles, the Democrat who ultimately defeated Cramer for the U.S. Senate seat, had told him that Carswell would have been more competitive in the general election than Cramer.
In the Republican primary held on September 8, 1970, Cramer polled 220,553 votes to Carswell's 121,281. A third candidate, businessman George Balmer, received 10,974 votes. Carswell expressed no regret that he had resigned a lifetime judicial position for the elusive Senate seat. Senate Republican Leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, who opposed Carswell's confirmation to the Supreme Court, said that Carswell "was asking for it, and he got what he deserved."
Jack Eckerd opposes Kirk
The intraparty Republican division also impacted the gubernatorial challenge to Kirk waged by Jack Eckerd, the Pennsylvania native who relocated to Florida after World War II to operate a chain of drugstores. Eckerd warned that the renomination of Kirk would produce a Republican fiasco in the fall campaign. In a primary endorsement, the Miami Herald depicted Eckerd as "an efficient campaigner with the ability to bring people together constructively. ... [Eckerd has] a common touch, dedication to high principle, and organizing genius." Though he voted in the primary for Eckerd, Cramer took no public position. Also in the gubernatorial race was state Senator L. A. "Skip" Bafalis of Palm Beach, later a U.S. representative. Kirk received 172,888 primary ballots, but Bafalis's 48,378 votes were sufficient to require a runoff with Eckerd, who received 137,731. Kirk then prevailed in the runoff, 199,943 to Eckerd's 152,327, after he obtained Bafalis's reluctant endorsement.
Distraught that Kirk's antics had led to a fatricidal primary, Cramer said that he "customarily" avoided involvement in primaries outside of his own race. Kirk claimed that Cramer assisted Eckerd, whom he called "notorious for his ability to change the scope of the truth. He has an ego problem." Kirk denounced Eckerd for having in the past contributed to Democratic candidates, for allegedly running down a Cuban fisherman in a yacht race, and for spending lavishly from his personal fortune in the 1970 primary campaign. Regarding Cramer, Kirk said the veteran congressman had exerted "no input on the nation after eight terms."
A divided GOP
Though Carswell and Eckerd endorsed Cramer and Kirk, they were inactive in the fall campaign. The tense primaries left the GOP in a defensive posture against the Democratic State Senators Lawton Chiles of Lakeland and Reubin Askew of Pensacola, who skillfully healed philosophical division within their own ranks. Apprehensive Republicans cheered Representative Louis Frey, Jr., of Winter Park, who in addressing the state convention in Orlando implored, without success, the factions to forget their "family feud" and to unite for the general election.
Yet primary lacerations worked to sink the Florida GOP in 1970: "Askew and Chiles form a logical team. Kirk and Cramer don't," said the Miami Herald regarding "an uneasy alliance" between the Republican nominees. Cramer said that he and his staff voted a straight Republican ticket, but years later Kirk retorted "That's my business," when asked if he had actually voted for Cramer. The reply reflected columnist Joseph Kraft's perception that Kirk had "a theatrical flair for personalizing issues."
In its endorsement of the Democrats, the Miami Herald said that Askew had "captured the imagination of a state that plainly deserves new leadership." Kirk ridiculed his opponent Askew as "a momma's boy who wouldn't have the courage to stand up under the fire of the legislators" and a "nice sweet-looking fellow chosen by liberals ... to front for them." Such rhetoric helped to reinvigorate the Democratic coalition. Mike Thompson, who managed Bafalis's campaign and then switched to Eckerd, sat out the general election between Kirk and Askew. Himself the unsuccessful Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 1974, Thompson insisted that Kirk had demolished "the coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats who elected him in 1966. ... The trail from Tallahassee to Palm Beach is littered with the bodies of former friends, supporters, and citizens -- all of whom made the fatal mistake of believing the words of Claude Kirk." Thompson said he would have been unsurprised had Kirk in 1972 joined Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York City on a third- or fourth-party ticket had not Lindsay instead switched his affiliation from liberal Republican to Democrat.
Eckerd said that though he had supported Kirk in 1966 he became disappointed and embarrassed: "I was offended by his public behavior and chagrined that he was a Republican." Despite Kirk's tactics, Eckerd said "time heals all wounds, and now I chuckle about it." He added that his defeat in 1970 probably prolonged his life.
Cramer v. Chiles
In the general election campaign, Cramer questioned Chiles's votes in the state senate on several matters regarding insurance. One law increased automobile liability rates by 50 percent over two years, and another raised premiums for school bus insurance, at a time that Chiles's insurance agency in Lakeland held the policy on the Polk County School Board, but such "conflict-of-interest" accusations seemed to have little political effect. The "self-made" Cramer depicted Chiles as coming from a "silver spoon" background with a then net worth of $300,000, but the media ignored questions about the candidates' personal wealth. Instead, reporters focused on "Walkin' Lawton"'s 92-day, 1,000-day trek from the Florida panhandle to Key Largo. Before the walk, often termed a "public relations stroke of genius," Chiles was identified by only 5 percent of voters; afterwards, he had widespread and often uncritical recognition. The Tallahassee Democrat forecast correctly that Chiles's "weary feet and comfortable hiking boots" would carry the 40-year-old "slow-country country lawyer" with "boyish amiability", and "back-country common sense and methodical urbane political savvy" to victory over his opponent, Bill Cramer. Chiles's "Huck Finn" image was contrasted one night in Miami when he held a fried chicken picnic while the Republicans showcased a black-tie $1,000-a-plate dinner.
Cramer could not match Chiles's public appeal. An observer described the Republican's "charisma" as "a speech in the Congressional Record." A Cramer aide said it was difficult "selling experience. It's not a sexy thing." A Chiles advertisement urged that voters "Vote for yourself. Chiles walked our streets and highways to hear what you have to say. That's why a vote for Chiles is like a vote for yourself." With "shoe leather and a shoestring budget", Chiles presented himself as a "problem solver who doesn't automatically vote 'No' on every issue." Cramer said that he should have demanded more debates and rebuffed the walking tactic: "I never could get that turned around. He was walking, and I was running. But the press was enamored with the walk ... Every time he was asked a question about where he stood, he would quote somebody that he met on the campaign trail to state what he was to do when he got to the Senate consistent with what that constituent had said. The basic approach gave him more credibility to his walk, which had nothing to do with his qualifications for the Senate but gave him free publicity and appealed to the 'little man.'"
With the environment a national concern by 1970, Chiles announced his opposition to the Cross Florida Barge Canal, which had originally been supported by every member of the Florida congressional delegation. The project, one-third completed, was cancelled early in 1971 and is now a protected green belt corridor. Chiles endorsed federal funding to remove waste from the bass-teeming Lake Apopka in central Florida. By contrast, Cramer received little credit from environmentalists although he had drafted the Water Pollution Control Act of 1956 and had sponsored legislation to protect alligators, stop beach erosion, dredge harbors, and remove oil spills. Instead, Cramer critics accused him of having weakened anti-pollution laws. Cramer questioned Chiles's opposition to a proposed severance tax on phosphate mining, which particularly impacted Tampa Bay. Cramer declared that "Liberal Lawton has protected the phosphate industry -- the state's single largest polluter."
In the 1970 primary, all major papers in Florida except the pro-Carswell Tallahassee Democrat had urged Cramer's nomination, but only three publications—in Orlando, Fort Myers, and Pasco County—stuck with him in the race against Chiles, who hence benefited from a nearly monolithic press. In the face of media opposition, Cramer failed to pin the "liberal" label on Chiles, who called himself by the rare hybrid term "progressive conservative." Explaining Cramer's inability to make "liberalism" an issue in 1970, The New York Times observed that Chiles and Askew "convey amiable good ol' boy qualities with moderate-to-liberal aspirations that do not strike fear into the hearts of conservatives."
Chiles relied heavily on his support from the retiring Senator Spessard Holland. He noted that Cramer had expected to face former Governor Farris Bryant, who like LeRoy Collins in 1968, Gurney's foe, had ties to the Johnson administration. Bryant lost the senatorial primary to Chiles. "I'm not anything Cramer thought he would be running against. So he's reduced to telling lies about me," Chiles quipped. Chiles said that Cramer can bring Nixon, Agnew, Reagan, and anybody else he wants. ... I'll take Holland on my side against all of them."
In his Senate career, Chiles supported several programs originally favored by Cramer, including welfare reform and the death penalty for bombers who cause deaths. Cramer had introduced the antiriot measure, approved 389-25 by the House, that made police assault a federal crime. Designed to halt criminals who cross state lines, the law was lauded at Cramer rallies by Vice President Agnew and United States Attorney General John N. Mitchell. It was the basis for the 1970 arrest of black communist Angela Davis and five of the 1968 Chicago Seven defendants.
Cramer said a Republican-majority Senate would lead to the removal of controversial Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who had long opposed the Vietnam War. Chiles, however, noted that if Republicans controlled the Senate, other southern Democrats would also forfeit committee chairmanships earned through their seniority.
Nixon to the rescue
Chiles said that Cramer if elected would be a "rubber stamp" for his mentor, President Nixon. In his presidential papers, Nixon, who campaigned for Cramer in Miami Beach, Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, and Tallahassee, cited the congressman's sponsorship of "significant legislation to stop bombing and riots" and his record on the environment, senior citizens, and education.
Nixon claimed that more Republicans were needed in Congress to bring an "honorable end" to the Vietnam War, to maintain America's international presence, and to halt "permissiveness, pornography, and busing." The heavily Democratic congressional majorities, reaffirmed after the 1970 elections, soon prompted Nixon to claim an "ideological majority", or a bipartisan coalition of conservatives and moderates to pass his programs. Critical of dissenting youth, Nixon reminded the "silent majority" in St. Petersburg that "the impossible dream in most countries is possible in America."
Making the first presidential appearance in Tallahassee since William McKinley, Nixon plugged "neighborhood schools" and renounced busing for the "sole purpose of achieving racial balance" as contrary to law and "quality education." Though Chiles also opposed busing, he attracted African American support by declaring Cramer's antibusing amendment as "just talk" and "an emotional issue." Cramer in turn challenged Chiles's vote in the Florida Senate to give court-imposed busing orders "the status of state law," as Chiles proposed magnet schools to negate busing conflicts.
Despite the Nixon-Agnew "road show", polls showed Chiles and Askew with pre-election leads larger than three-to-two. Democrats benefited from the perception of Chiles and Askew as "overnight sensations." Cramer insisted that the polls reflected only the views of the media. The GOP was further weakened when partisans of former governor George C. Wallace of Alabama, the 1968 American Independent Party nominee, having cited Kirk's earlier criticism of Wallace, endorsed Askew and Chiles. Kirk had earlier declared Wallace "a racist" and a "flaming liberal" in conspiracy with President Johnson to thwart the emergence of the Republican Party in the South.The St. Petersburg Times found Kirk trailing Askew by twenty-two points in Pinellas County, while Cramer led Chiles there in his home county by only seven points. The survey showed Kirk with only 51 percent support from Republicans, compared to Cramer's 75 percent intraparty standing.
1970 election results
Cramer polled 772,817 votes (46.1 percent), or 61,716 more ballots than the number of registered Republicans in Florida. Chiles's 902,438 tabulation (53.9 percent) was less than half of the number of Democratic registrants but reflected majorities in fifty-five counties, compared to thirteen counties for Cramer. Hence, most of the electorate sat out one of the most contested Senate general elections in Florida history. Robert Sikes speculated that some primary supporters of Farris Bryant may have defected to Cramer, but if that occurred, a number of Republicans may have sat out the election too. Sikes speculated that the Kirk-Askew race had little impact on the Senate race because Kirk was a "political accident" with little control over other contests.
Askew won all but nine counties to defeat Kirk, 984,305 to 746,243. Cramer polled 26,574 more votes than Kirk and carried five of the counties that Kirk lost, Broward, Collier, Martin, Pasco, and Pinellas. Cramer outpolled Chiles in Pinellas County by some eleven thousand votes at a time when Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats there by more than three thousand. Kirk and Cramer each won seven counties, Indian River, Lake, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Sarasota, and Seminole, and Kirk took two counties lost by Cramer, Clay and St. Johns.
Cramer, Gurney, and Kirk differ on reasons for their party's 1970 debacle. Besides allowing Chiles's "walk" to go unchallenged and failing to seek more debates, Cramer cited his reliance on an out-of-state public relations firm not well versed in Florida politics as a factor in his loss. Cramer also said the $350,000 spending limit then in effect in Florida did not permit sufficient television advertising to counter Chiles. Cramer also said the intraparty schism hurt his campaign even though the GOP fared poorly across the South in 1970, with the exception of Tennessee, where U.S. Representative Bill Brock was elected to the U.S. Senate. Among southern Republicans going down to defeat were U.S. Representatives Albert W. Watson, a Strom Thurmond ally seeking the governorship of South Carolina, and George Herbert Walker Bush, running a second time for the U.S. Senate from Texas but losing to Lloyd M. Bentsen. Meanwhile, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller was unseated in Arkansas by Democrat Dale Bumpers.
Gurney blamed the 1970 defeat on the inability of the Republican nominees to attract Democratic support. Kirk denied the impact of the party schism in the results and said no Republican could have won statewide that year because Askew and Chiles had re-cemented the majority coalition. The Democrats found that "fresh faces and new looks outweighed age and experience," gained extensive across-the-board support from working-class whites, blacks, Jews, Cuban-Americans, metropolitan residents, and rural voters.
A disappointed Cramer weathered his defeat, having three years earlier told a reporter that "time and circumstance often measure a man's future. Quite often if you aspire to something, it becomes more unattainable because you are seeking it."
Two months after the general election, tensions between Cramer and Gurney resumed when the pro-Cramer L. E. "Tommy" Thomas, an automobile dealer from Panama City associated with the later Reagan campaigns, ousted the Gurney-endorsed Duke Crittenden of Orlando for the Florida state Republican chairmanship. Then three congressmen friendly with Cramer, J. Herbert Burke of Hollywood, Louis Frey of Orlando, and Bill Young of St. Petersburg, and Paula Hawkins of Maitland, later a member of the Florida Public Service Commission and a U.S. senator, prepared a letter to President Nixon urging that Cramer, not Gurney, be the patronage advisor in Florida. Gurney quickly arranged a "peace" meeting with his intraparty rivals, and the letter was never mailed. Gurney, who retired as senator in 1974 and later failed in an effort to regain his former House seat, was thereafter charged and acquitted of federal and state allegations involving $300,000 in kickbacks from federal housing contracts.
Despite talk to the contrary, Cramer never again sought public office and declined to consider an appointment as a federal judge. Instead he opened a Washington law practice. In 1973, Cramer directed the confirmation team for the elevation of House Republican Leader Gerald R. Ford, Jr., of Michigan to the vice presidency to succeed Spiro T. Agnew. He lobbied on behalf of several foreign governments, including that of President Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua. In 1979, he headed the first trade mission to China after the normalization of relations. Cramer represented the Republican National Committee when the liberal Ripon Society unsuccessfully fought the delegate formula adopted in 1972 when Cramer was the chairman of the RNC Rules Committee. In the fall of 1988, about the time of the election of his former House colleague George H.W. Bush to the presidency, Cramer returned to St. Petersburg, where he established another law practice and became involved in real estate with his friend and former aide Jack Inscoe.
The Florida GOP made little headway during the 1970s, as recovery from the Cramer-Kirk schism was slow in coming. Republicans lost the Gurney Senate seat in 1974 but regained it in 1980. The party did not again win the governorship until 1986, when the former Democrat Bob Martinez became the state's first ever Hispanic chief executive. Martinez, however, was unseated in 1990 by former Senator Chiles, who won the first of two consecutive terms as governor. By 1989, Florida Republican had gained their first ever majority among members of the state's congressional delegation. Thereafter, the Florida GOP made gains in registration during the 1980s, having majorities of registered party members in twelve counties. In October 1988, Republicans numbered 2,360,434, compared to 3,264,105 for the Democrats.
Time and circumstance often measure a man's future. Quite often if you aspire to something, it becomes more unattainable because you are seeking it. -- William C. Cramer
Death and legacy
Cramer was a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, the St. Petersburg College Alumni Association Board of Directors, the American Legion, AMVETS, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Moose International, and the Shriners. He was United Methodist.
Cramer died at the age of eighty-one in South Pasadena, Florida, from complications of a heart attack. He was survived by his second wife of eleven years, the former Sarah Ellen Bromelow Hilber; three sons from his first marriage to Alice J. Cramer of Dothan, Alabama, William C. Cramer, Jr., an attorney in Panama City, Mark C. Cramer of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Allyn Walters Cramer of Dothan; two stepsons, Richard D. Hilber of St. Petersburg and Jason E. Hilber of Odessa, Florida, and eight grandchildren.
Cramer is interred at Woodlawn Memory Gardens in St. Petersburg.
Republican potential in Florida had been highly encouraging until the advent of the Cramer-Kirk schism. Republicans at the time were numerically weak, held few congressional seats, and lacked the depth and breadth needed to become a majority party. The legacy of the 1970 campaign rests with the squandering of opportunity. A minority party mistakenly presumed that it could function—quite prematurely and falsely as it turned out—like a majority party. After the 1970 schism, the Florida GOP began to accept defeat as natural and inevitable, particularly when noncontroversial Democrats considered "moderates" equipped with favorable media coverage and sheer political skill kept the Democrats entrenched by secure margins. But with time, Floridians rediscovered the benefits of the two-party system and demonstrated a willingness to reconsider Republicans for statewide leadership. The lessons of the Cramer-Kirk schism rest with the need to nurture firm political roots and eschew intraparty squabbles that work to enhance the opposition.
The William C. Cramer Post Office in St. Petersburg is named in his honor.
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Courtney W. Campbell
|United States Representative from Florida's 1st congressional district
William Cato Cramer, Sr.
Robert L. F. Sikes
|United States Representative from Florida's 12th congressional district
William Cato Cramer, Sr.
Donald R. Matthews
|United States Representative from Florida's 8th congressional district
William Cato Cramer, Sr.
Charles William "Bill" Young
|Party political offices|
Claude R. Kirk, Jr. (1964)
|Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Florida
William Cato Cramer, Sr.
Dr. John Grady (1976)