William C. Cramer

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William Cato "Bill" Cramer, Sr.
William Cato Cramer.jpg
U.S. Representative William C. Cramer in 1964
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 1st district
In office
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
In office
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
In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1971
Preceded by Donald R. Matthews
Succeeded by Charles William "Bill" Young
State Representative from Pinellas County, Florida
In office
County attorney for Pinellas County
In office
Personal details
Born (1922-08-04)August 4, 1922
Denver, Colorado, USA
Died October 18, 2003(2003-10-18) (aged 81)
South Pasadena
Pinellas County, Florida
Resting place Woodlawn Memory Gardens in St. Petersburg, Florida
Political party


GOP U.S. Senate nominee, 1970

(1) Alice J. Cramer (divorced)

(2) Sarah Ellen Bromelow Cramer (married ca. 1992-2003, his death)

William C. Cramer, Jr.
Mark C. Cramer

Allyn Walters Cramer
Residence St. Petersburg, Florida
Alma mater

St. Petersburg Junior College University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Harvard Law School
Profession Attorney
Religion United Methodist

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, elected in an upset campaign in 1954 and serving consecutively from 1955 to 1971. The first Florida Republican elected to Congress since 1880, shortly after the end of Reconstruction, he became prominent in the very small state Republican Party. He helped to build it through the mid-20th century.[1] Beginning in 1964, he represented the state for 20 years on the Republican National Committee and served as its counsel for six years.[1]

The long absence of Republican officials from state office and weakened condition of the party was due initially to the disenfranchisement of African Americans at the turn of the century, as they had constituted the majority of the Republican Party in the state. Most were not able to vote until after passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.[2] For longer than the first half of the 20th century, Florida, like other states of the South, was a one-party state in which effectively only white Democrats had political power.


Cramer was born in Denver, Colorado; when he was three years old, his parents relocated the family to St. Petersburg, Florida. Located on the Gulf Coast in Pinellas County, in the early 21st century it has become the fourth-largest city in the state. Cramer attended public segregated schools and graduated from St. Petersburg High School, where he waged his first political campaigns in student government. He attended St. Petersburg Junior College, the first public community college in Florida. Cramer grew up with a strong work ethic: as a teenager, he sold fruit, flowers, and candy, and worked as a grocery clerk and a theater usher. Before entering the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to complete a 4-year degree, he worked as 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."[3]

In 1943, Cramer enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a gunnery officer in the liberation of France during World War II. After returning to the US, he served in the United States Naval Reserve until 1946.[4] 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 moved to St. Petersburg; he entered the private practice of law.

As part of getting established, Cramer married Alice of Dothan, Alabama. They had three children together before divorcing decades later.

In 1949, Cramer switched his partisan affiliation from Democratic to Republican at the urging of his law partner, Herman Goldner, who was also the mayor of St. Petersburg. At the time statewide voter registration in Florida was some fourteen-to-one Democratic,[5] largely because of disenfranchisement of African Americans as voters since the turn of the century by the state constitution and subsequent laws.[2] They had comprised the majority of the Republican Party at that time, and the party was hollowed out in the state.

Florida political divisions[edit]

Florida's geographic configuration and uneven population distribution made it more difficult for Democratic factions to dominate as state demographics changed. The state attracted new migrants from the North and its urbanization also resulted in change: 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 shifts in the Republican Party, as "personality-oriented within narrow ideological boundaries."[citation needed] In the 1940s and 1950s, new Republicans settled in the state, mostly white migrants, often retirees, from the American Midwest or the northeastern states. They 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, Republican 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.[citation needed]

Shifts in the state were reflected in presidential voting 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. Following passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided for federal enforcement of rights, African Americans were able to register and vote again, and did so in increasing numbers. They generally affiliated with the national Democratic Party which had supported their civil rights struggle. Texan Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson won the state in 1964, as did Jimmy Carter of neighboring Georgia in 1976. Carter also gained votes by the changing demographics of Florida, which attracted blue-collar and historically Democratic voters, and he appealed to African Americans.[6]

State legislative service[edit]

In 1950, Cramer ran for the Florida House of Representatives. He 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 County 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.[7] 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."[8]

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 was able to assert political "minority rights" and raise his visibility. In the state House, Cramer defended junior colleges from challenges waged by the four-year institutions. Having attended a two-year institution, Cramer considered junior colleges essential to lower-cost educational opportunities for state residents. 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.[7]

Running for Congress[edit]

In 1952, Cramer chose to run for the U.S. House against Courtney W. Campbell, a Democratic 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 national Eisenhower-Nixon ticket but lost by .7 of 1 percent. He was appointed as the Pinellas County attorney, serving for two years.[4] 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.[9] Cramer found that the $40,000 he spent in 1954 was insufficient for advertising in the still new medium of television.[10]

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."[11]

Cramer's election to Congress did not seem to impress Florida's then Republican State Chairman G. Harold Alexander of Fort Myers, 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 used his position to distribute patronage, rather than working to increase the number of GOP voters or recruit candidates for office.[10]

Cramer represented Florida's 1st congressional district from 1955 to 1963. 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.[4]

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. They wanted to persuade the president to remove federal troops he had sent there to maintain order. Eisenhower kept troops in the city for the remainder of the 1957-1958 school year.[12]

In time, Cramer became the ranking minority member on the then-named House Public Works Committee. He was also vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.[4]

Republican National Committee[edit]

In 1964, after nine years in the House, Cramer was elected in the primary as Republican national committeeman, a position that he held for 20 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."[10]

Cramer was a delegate or alternate delegate to each Republican National Convention from 1952 to 1984. As a 20-year RNC member, he also served as the committee's general counsel for six years.[4]

Edward J. Gurney, a transplanted New Englander who settled in Winter Park, was elected as a Republican to the U.S. House in 1962. He initially joined Cramer and the insurgents but then withdrew his backing. Goldwater tried to "marry" the two slates of election delegates, 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 in 1964, 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 that coalesced behind Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania been successful.[13]

Dispute with Claude Kirk[edit]

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 by the state Republican Party as a 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.[13]

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.[14] During this 1966 campaign, a schism developed between Cramer and Kirk. Years later 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."[15]

Kirk claimed that Cramer wanted the gubernatorial nomination himself after Democratic Governor Haydon Burns, who lost the Democratic primary to Mayor High, refused to support him in the state campaign. 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."[15] 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?"[15]

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 in order 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."[15]

Kirk asked US Representative Gurney to serve as chairman of the gubernatorial inauguration, although Gurney had not been involved in the Kirk campaign. He did not invite Cramer 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."[16] Cramer said that Kirk was trying 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."[16]

Cramer attributed his retention as national committeeman, despite Kirk's opposition, to the loyalty of the state's 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."[17] l

Recalling a 1967 visit to Kirk's office, Cramer said that a former state legislator was denied an appointment with the governor, although he 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."[16] 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."[16] Kirk claimed that he had never had a "serious discussion" on any topic with Cramer.[16] 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."[18]

Cramer said that Kirk may have become vice president or even U.S. President had he tended to his gubernatorial duties. Kirk was alone among the Florida delegation at the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach in supporting Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York, rather than the 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.[19]

Dispute with Edward Gurney[edit]

Meanwhile, three-term US Representative Edward Gurney sought the U.S. Senate seat in 1968 vacated by the retirement of Democrat George Smathers. The Democratic nomination went to former Governor LeRoy Collins, an ally of retiring President Lyndon B. Johnson. Cramer and Gurney were prospective primary opponents until Cramer yielded to Gurney. They based this on an understanding that Gurney would thereafter back Cramer for the other Senate seat, which was expected to be vacated by Spessard Holland in 1970. According to Cramer, Gurney "pledged his support to me, and I did to him, and we shook hands."[20]

Cramer's former law partner, Herman Goldner, who had voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, opposed Gurney in the primary but received few votes. Gurney defeated Collins for the US Senate in the 1968 general election, having carried all but four counties. Thereafter, Gurney and Cramer crisscrossed the state in various Republican Party-building ventures. In the fall of 1969, Cramer declared his candidacy for the Senate; Holland announced his retirement as expected. President Nixon encouraged Cramer's candidacy: "Bill, the Senate needs you, the country needs you, the people need you -- now, run."[20]

US Representative 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."[8]

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. He had been newly appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, but his 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."[21]

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."[22] Kirk named Gurney's Orlando law firm as the counsel for the Florida Turnpike Authority, at a $100,000 annual retainer. Cramer's firm received no state business.[23]

Carswell enters Senate primary[edit]

Expecting to benefit over the uproar in Florida over the rejection of Judge Carswell, political aides suggested that Carswell resign from the bench and run for Holland's Senate seat. In an interview, 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."[24] 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.[25]

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," and not encouraged Carswell to run. Kirk said that he had not "created" Carswell's candidacy, as often depicted by the media.[24] 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."[25] Carswell said that he had no knowledge of a "gentlemen's agreement" between Gurney and Cramer and that he had considered running for the Senate even before he was nominated to the Supreme Court.[25] In 1970 Carswell said his loss was due to the "dark evil winds of liberalism" and the "northern press and its knee-jerking followers in the Senate."[26]

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 said, however, that Morton had termed the intraparty machinations against Cramer the worst "double crosses" that Morton had ever witnessed in the party.[27]

President Nixon did not voice support for either candidate during the Carswell-Cramer primary contest. Deputy Press Secretary Gerald Lee Warren said that Nixon had "no knowledge and no involvement" in Carswell's candidacy.[28] 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.[27] Carswell secured endorsements from actors John Wayne and Gene Autry and retained Richard Viguerie, the direct mail specialist from Falls Church, Virginia, to raise funds.[29]

Cramer's House seat was open, and his former district assistant Charles William "Bill" Young of St. Petersburg, then the Florida Senate minority leader, ran for this seat. He won and has been re-elected to the seat since 1971.[22] The congressional district has been majority white and Republican since that time. Young in 2012 was 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.[30] At first, Carswell ignored Cramer's charges; then he lambasted the "idiocy" of busing."[31] A reporter from the Miami Herald compared Carswell's speeches 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; after 1968 the federal courts had decreed busing as a tool to pursue racial balance in schools.

Like Cramer, Kirk was identified with anti-busing forces, as he had failed in 1970 to halt a desegregation plan in Manatee County. [32] At a time of cultural change and social unrest, Cramer went beyond the busing issue in his speeches to attack "cop killers, bombers, burners, and racial revolutionaries who would destroy America."[33]

Cramer said that he had a friendly acquaintance with Carswell prior to the 1970 campaign, but he later 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. Both Alabama and Georgia conducted open primaries. Carswell said that Lawton Chiles, the Democrat who ultimately defeated Cramer for the U.S. Senate seat, had said he thought that Carswell would have been more competitive in the general election than Cramer.[34]

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.[35] 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."[36]

Jack Eckerd opposes Kirk[edit]

The intraparty Republican division affected the primary challenge to governor Kirk waged by Jack Eckerd. A Pennsylvania native and businessman, he had relocated to Florida after World War II where he operated and expanded a large 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."[37] Though he voted in the primary for Eckerd, Cramer took no public position. Also in the gubernatorial Republican primary 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 prevailed in the runoff, 199,943 to Eckerd's 152,327,[38] after he obtained Bafalis' reluctant endorsement.[39]

Cramer said that he "customarily" avoided involvement in primaries outside of his own race. But 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," and strongly criticized the candidate.[40] Regarding Cramer, Kirk said the veteran congressman had exerted "no input on the nation after eight terms."[41]

A divided GOP[edit]

Though Carswell and Eckerd endorsed Cramer and Kirk, they were not active in the fall campaign. The GOP came out of its fierce primaries 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. Representative Louis Frey, Jr., of Winter Park,[42] addressing the state convention in Orlando implored, without success, the factions unite for the general election.[43]

"Askew and Chiles form a logical team. Kirk and Cramer don't," said the Miami Herald regarding "an uneasy alliance" between the Republican nominees.[44] Cramer said that he and his staff voted a straight Republican ticket.[45]

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."[46] Such rhetoric helped to reinvigorate the Democratic coalition. Mike Thompson, who managed Eckerd's campaign, sat out the general election between Kirk and Askew. Thompson later said 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."[45]

Eckerd has said that his defeat in 1970 probably prolonged his life.[47]

Cramer v. Chiles[edit]

In the general election campaign for the US Senate seat, Cramer questioned Democrat Lawton Chiles' 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' insurance agency in Lakeland held the policy on the Polk County School Board. Such "conflict-of-interest" issues seemed to have little political effect.[48] The "self-made" Cramer depicted Chiles as coming from a "silver spoon" background (his net worth was $300,000), but the media ignored questions about the candidates' personal wealth.[49]

Reporters focused on "Walkin' Lawton"'s 92-day, 1,000-mile trek from the Florida panhandle to Key Largo. Before the walk, often termed a "public relations stroke of genius," Chiles had name recognition by only 5 percent of voters; afterward, he had gained widespread and often uncritical recognition.[50] 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.[51]

Cramer could not match Chiles' 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."[52] With "shoe leather and a shoestring budget," Chiles presented himself as a "problem solver who doesn't automatically vote 'No' on every issue."[53]

Cramer later 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.'"[54]

With the environment a national concern by 1970, Chiles announced his opposition to the Cross Florida Barge Canal. This had originally been supported by every member of the Florida congressional delegation. The project, one-third completed, was cancelled early in 1971; the area is now a protected green belt corridor. Chiles endorsed federal funding to remove waste from Lake Apopka in central Florida, which was known for its bass fish. 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' opposition to a proposed severance tax on phosphate mining, which particularly affected Tampa Bay.[55]

The issue of protecting the environment continued to attract more support in Florida. By 1974, a survey showed Floridians favored limits on development, and 60 percent urged more government funding for conservation initiatives.[56]

In the 1970 Republican primary, all major papers in Florida except the pro-Carswell Tallahassee Democrat had urged Cramer's nomination, but in the general election against Chiles, Cramer was supported by only three publications—in Orlando, Fort Myers, and Pasco County.[57] Cramer failed to pin the "liberal" label on Chiles, who called himself a "progressive conservative," a rarely used hybrid term.[58] 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."[59]

Chiles gained from his support by the retiring Democratic Senator Spessard Holland. Chiles said, "I'm not anything Cramer thought he would be running against. So he's reduced to telling lies about me," Chiles quipped.[60] Chiles said that Cramer could bring "Nixon, Agnew, Reagan, and anybody else he wants. ... I'll take Holland on my side against all of them."[61]

During this period of social unrest, Cramer had introduced an anti-riot measure to the US House, which had passed 389-25, making 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 Angela Davis, a black activist and communist, and five of the 1968 Chicago Seven defendants.[62]

Cramer said a Republican-majority Senate would result in the removal of controversial Democratic Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He had long opposed the Vietnam War. In response, Chiles noted that if Republicans controlled the Senate, other southern Democrats would also forfeit committee chairmanships earned and long controlled through their seniority.[63]

Nixon to the rescue[edit]

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.[64]

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.[65] Critical of dissenting youth, Nixon reminded the "silent majority" in St. Petersburg that "the impossible dream in most countries is possible in America."[66]

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."[67] 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.[68]

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.[68] 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.[69]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.[70]

1970 election results[edit]

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 registered Democrats, but he gained majorities in 55 counties, compared to 13 counties tilting to Cramer.[71] Most of the Democratic electorate sat out what political analysts thought was 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, and a number of Republicans may have sat out the election, too.[72]

Democrat Askew won all but nine counties to defeat Kirk for the governorship, 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 11,000 votes at a time when Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats there by more than 3,000. Kirk and Cramer each won seven counties, Indian River, Lake, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Sarasota, and Seminole. Kirk took two counties lost by Cramer, Clay and St. Johns.[71]

Cramer, Gurney, and Kirk differ on the reasons for their party's 1970 debacle. As a factor in his loss, Cramer cited his reliance on an out-of-state public relations firm not well versed in Florida politics. He has said that the $350,000 spending limit then in effect for elections did not permit sufficient television advertising. Cramer believed that the intraparty schism hurt his campaign.

But, in 1970 the GOP fared poorly across the South. The exception was Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Representative Bill Brock was elected to the U.S. Senate. Defeated Southern Republicans included 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 from Texas for the U.S. Senate but losing to Lloyd M. Bentsen. Meanwhile, Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller was unseated in Arkansas by Democrat Dale Bumpers.

Gurney blamed the 1970 defeat in Florida on the inability of the Republican nominees to attract cross-over Democratic support. Kirk said no Republican could have won statewide that year because Askew and Chiles had commanded the majority coalition in the state. The Democrats found that "fresh faces and new looks outweighed age and experience." They gained extensive support from working-class whites, blacks (who were voting in higher numbers), Jews (including retirees from the North), Cuban-Americans, urban residents, and rural voters.[8]

Later years[edit]

Two months after the general election, tensions between Cramer and Gurney resumed. L. E. "Tommy" Thomas, an automobile dealer from Panama City who was supported by Cramer, gained the Florida state Republican chairmanship, defeating the Gurney-endorsed Duke Crittenden of Orlando. 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, drafted 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 they never mailed the letter.[73] Gurney retired as senator in 1974. He later failed in an effort to regain his former House seat. He was charged and acquitted of taking $300,000 in kickbacks from federal housing contracts.[74]

Cramer never again sought public office and declined to consider an appointment as a federal judge. He continued on the Republican National Committee until 1984. Based on his long experience in Washington, DC, he opened a law practice there. In 1973, he served as an unpaid adviser to House Republican Leader Gerald R. Ford, Jr. of Michigan for confirmation as vice president following the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew from the Nixon administration. Cramer also aided in talks when President Ford decided to pardon previous president, Richard M. Nixon after his resignation following the Watergate scandal.[1] Cramer lobbied Congress and the executive branch on behalf of several foreign governments, including that of President Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua.

In 1979, Cramer was selected by the Ford administration to head 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 dating from 1972, when Cramer had been chair of the RNC Rules Committee. In the fall of 1988, his former House colleague George H.W. Bush was elected as president, and Cramer returned to St. Petersburg. He established another law practice and became involved in real estate with his friend and former aide Jack Inscoe.[75]

The Florida GOP made little headway during the 1970s. Republicans lost the Gurney Senate seat in 1974 but regained it in 1980. The party did not win the governorship until 1986, when the former Democrat Bob Martinez was elected as the state's first ever Hispanic chief executive. Martinez was unseated in 1990 by former Senator Lawton 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. 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.[76]

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

Fraternal and civic activities[edit]

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 Methodist.[77]

Death and legacy[edit]

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 (née Bromelow) Hilber. He and his first wife Alice had three sons together before their divorce: William C. Cramer, Jr., who became an attorney and car dealer in Panama City; Mark C. Cramer, an attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina; and Allyn Walters Cramer, a car dealer in Dothan, Alabama (his mother's hometown); two stepsons, Richard D. Hilber of St. Petersburg and Jason E. Hilber of Odessa, Florida; and eight grandchildren.[1] Cramer is interred at Woodlawn Memory Gardens in St. Petersburg.

  • The William C. Cramer Post Office in St. Petersburg is named in his honor.[4]

Historian Billy Hathorn says that the Cramer-Kirk schism so damaged the growth of the Republican Party in the state that it took years to recover, and that the party lost an opportunity in the 1970 campaign.[78] But that year Democratic candidates swept the entire South, and it took years for the shift among conservative whites to the Republican Party to take place. After the 1970 schism, the Florida GOP were confronted by the continued success for years of noncontroversial Democrats considered "moderates." But with time, more voters in Florida have shifted to support Republicans for statewide leadership.[79]


  1. ^ a b c d "Wolfgang Saxon, "William C. Cramer, 81, a Leader of G.O.P. Resurgence in South", October 27, 2003". The New York Times. Retrieved December 26, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Richard M. Valelly, The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 146-147
  3. ^ Billy Hathorn, "Cramer v. Kirk: The Florida Republican Schism of 1970", The Florida Historical Quarterly, LXVII, No. 4 (April 1990), p. 404
  4. ^ a b c d e f William C. Cramer, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, p. 697
  5. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 404
  6. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk," pp. 404-405
  7. ^ a b "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 405
  8. ^ a b c Tampa Tribune, June 18, 1967
  9. ^ State of Florida, General election returns, November 4, 1952, and November 2, 1954
  10. ^ a b c "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 406
  11. ^ Robert Lee Fulton Sikes, He-Coon: The Bob Sikes Story (Pensacola, Florida, 1985), p. 324
  12. ^ Osro Cobb, Osro Cobb of Arkansas: Memoirs of Historical Significance, Carol Griffee, ed. (Little Rock, Arkansas: Rose Publishing Company, 1989), p. 249
  13. ^ a b "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 407
  14. ^ State of Florida, General election returns, November 8, 1966
  15. ^ a b c d "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 408
  16. ^ a b c d e "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 409
  17. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 409
  18. ^ Alexander P. Lamis, The Two-Party South (New York, 1984), p. 292
  19. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", pp. 409-410
  20. ^ a b "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 410
  21. ^ The New York Times, April 9, 26, and July 15, 1970
  22. ^ a b "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 413
  23. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk, p. 414
  24. ^ a b "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 411
  25. ^ a b c "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 411
  26. ^ Miami Herald, September 4, 1970; U.S. News and World Report, September 7, 1970, pp. 34-35
  27. ^ a b "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 412
  28. ^ The New York Times, April 21, 23, 29 and September 9, 1970
  29. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 412
  30. ^ Newsweek, September 21, 1970, p. 39; Time, September 21, 1970, pp. 16-17; Tallahassee Democrat, September 6, 1970
  31. ^ The New York Times, July 31, 1970, Miami Herald, September 4, 1970; Tallahassee Democrat, September 6, 1970
  32. ^ Miami Herald, September 5, 1970
  33. ^ The New York Times, August 31, 1970
  34. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 414; Tallahassee Democrat, September 4, 1970
  35. ^ State of Florida, Primary election returns, September 8, 1970
  36. ^ Tallahassee Democrat, September 10, 1970
  37. ^ Miami Herald, September 6, 1977
  38. ^ State of Florida, Primary election returns September 8 and 29, 1970
  39. ^ Tallahassee Democrat, September 12, 14, 1970
  40. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk," pp, 414-415
  41. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 415
  42. ^ Frey lost the 1978 Republican gubernatorial primary to Jack Eckerd.
  43. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", pp. 415-416
  44. ^ Miami Herald, October 1, 11, 1970
  45. ^ a b "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 416
  46. ^ Miami Herald and Tallahassee Democrat, October 30, 1970
  47. ^ Jack M. Eckerd and Charles P. Conn, Eckerd (Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1987), pp. 113-119
  48. ^ Miami Herald, October 10, 1970; Tallahassee Democrat, October 10, 18, 1970
  49. ^ Miami Herald, October 23, 1970; Tallahassee Democrat, November 1, 1970
  50. ^ Lamis, Two-Party South, p. 185; Miami Herald, September 9, 1970; Tallahassee Democrat, September 6 and November 1, 1970
  51. ^ Tallahassee Democrat, November 1, 1970
  52. ^ Tallahassee Democrat, November 1, 1970; Miami Herald, September 4, 1970
  53. ^ Miami Herald, September 9 and October 29, 1970
  54. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 418
  55. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk" p. 418
  56. ^ Jack Bass and Walter DeVries, The Transformation of Southern Politics: Social Change and Political Consequence Since 1945 (New York, 1976), p. 116
  57. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 419
  58. ^ Numan V. Bartley and Hugh D. Graham, Southern Politics and the Second Reconstruction (Baltimore, Maryland, 1975), pp. 146-147; Miami Herald, October 27, 1970
  59. ^ The New York Times, October 11, 1970
  60. ^ Cramer v. Kirk," p. 419
  61. ^ Tallahassee Democrat, September 30, 1970
  62. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 420
  63. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 420
  64. ^ Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon (Washington, D.C., 1971), p. 950
  65. ^ Nixon Papers, pp. 951-956
  66. ^ Nixon Papers, p. 962; The New York Times, October 30, 1970
  67. ^ Tallahassee Democrat, October 28, 29, 1970
  68. ^ a b "Cramer v. Kirk," p. 421
  69. ^ Nick Thimmesch, The Condition of Republicanism (New York, 1968), p. 239
  70. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk," pp., 421-422
  71. ^ a b State of Florida, General election returns, November 3, 1970
  72. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 422
  73. ^ Tampa Tribune, June 13, 1971; Miami Herald, September 27, 1971
  74. ^ Lamis, Two-Party South, p. 293; Bass and DeVries, The Transformation of Southern Politics, p. 125
  75. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 424
  76. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 425
  77. ^ "Cramer". Political Graveyard. Retrieved December 28, 2011. 
  78. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 426
  79. ^ "Cramer v. Kirk", p. 426
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Courtney W. Campbell
United States Representative from Florida's 1st congressional district

William Cato Cramer, Sr.

Succeeded by
Robert L. F. Sikes
Preceded by
New district
United States Representative from Florida's 12th congressional district

William Cato Cramer, Sr.

Succeeded by
Dante Fascell
Preceded by
Donald R. Matthews
United States Representative from Florida's 8th congressional district

William Cato Cramer, Sr.

Succeeded by
Charles William "Bill" Young
Party political offices
Preceded by
Claude R. Kirk, Jr. (1964)
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Florida

William Cato Cramer, Sr.

Succeeded by
Dr. John Grady (1976)

External links[edit]