May 2021 - Looking Back - 1932-88: The History of Notre Dame’s Mock Political Conventions
by John Hickey ’69
Editor's Note: I participated in the 1976 convention my junior year held at Stepan Center over 2 -3 nights. Being from Massachusetts, anyone with the name of Kennedy was our "favorite son". I recall sneaking cases of beer into the hall which made for a very fun and especially raucous time.
Notre Dame’s mock political conventions were popular quadrennial, three-day events for students in the spring of presidential election years with two exceptions. In 1932, the Notre Dame Law School held the school’s first mock convention. In 1940, the Political Science Department began guiding the conventions under the watchful eye of Professor Paul Bartholomew, who acted as the event’s faculty advisor until his 1975 death. The University’s last convention took place in 1988. There was no mention of a 1936 mock convention in any Notre Dame publication or the South Bend Tribune, and World II caused the cancelation of the 1944 gathering.
The South Bend Tribune published stories about the conventions in 1932, 1940, and 1948 until 1988. The ’32 and ’40 gatherings were in Cushing Hall of Engineering’s auditorium. In 1948, they moved to the Navy Drill Hall, just east of the Old Fieldhouse. Stepan Center housed the conventions from 1964 until 1988. The conventions, which usually featured the party out of power, became elaborate and mimicked their real-life counterparts with platform committees, state delegations, nomination speeches, and delegate demonstrations supporting each nominee.
During the conventions’ halcyon years, participation was 2,500 students in 1952, 2,000 in 1956, 2000-plus in 1960, and 2,600 in 1964. Interest began to wane in the 1970s and petered out by 1988. The likely cause was the first Super Tuesday in 1976, which marked the beginning of the end for the national conventions’ importance in nominating candidates. Below are convention highlights through the years.
ND Law School Dean Thomas Knonop and Judge William Cain were the faculty advisors for the University’s first mock convention. Eighty-six delegates representing twenty-three states participated in the day-day event on May 5 and 6. The party platform included repeal of the Volstead Act, recognition of Philippine independence, repayment of WWI war debts, and strengthening of the navy.
The delegates nominated ten candidates and, on the third ballot, elected Alfred E. Smith, the former New York governor and the Catholic candidate who lost to Herbert Hoover in a landslide during the 1928 general election. Franklin Roosevelt ran a distant fourth during the voting. John Nance Garner, who was Roosevelt’s actual vice-presidential running mate, won the convention’s nomination for vice president.
Now under the guidance of the Political Science Department’s Prof. Paul Bartholomew, the four-day Democratic convention in the Engineering building’s auditorium nominated nineteen presidential candidates. On Tuesday, April 16, President Franklin D. Roosevelt won the convention’s endorsement to be the party’s standard-bearer for a third term. No student publication announced the convention’s selection for vice president.
After a hiatus of eight years, the third mock convention moved to the Navy Drill Hall, built in late 1942 for the Navy’s V-7 and V-12 officer training programs. A young Fr. Hesburgh gave the invocation. The nineteen presidential nominations included Gen. George Marshall, Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, Ohio Senator Robert Taft, Michigan Senator Arthur Vanderberg, and California Governor Earl Warren. Vandenberg was victorious on the sixth ballot, and Warren won the vice-presidential nod, as he did the following summer at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Ralph Thorson ’48, who later became an ND biology professor, was Stassen’s campaign manager.
As the convention dragged on during its last night —Wednesday, April 28—the 10:00 p.m. curfew became an issue. When Rev. Joseph Kehoe, the prefect of discipline, announced the convention could continue until 2:00 a.m., the students cheered. The priest even received one vote for president on the next ballot. The proceedings ended at 1:28 a.m. on Thursday.
The ’52 Republican mock convention (April 21–24) became co-educational with the appearance of St. Mary’s students for the first time. Special guest Paul Harvey, an ABC radio news commentator, opened the convention in the Navy Drill Hall on Tuesday night. More than 2,500 students jammed the hall on the second night. At the end of the second night, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio were the leading contenders. John Houck ’54, a future, favorite College of Commerce professor, led the group backing Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon.
On the third evening, three thousand students crammed into the convention hall. The night ended at 11:35 p.m. after three ballots with Eisenhower and Taft deadlocked with a midnight curfew looming, forcing the proceedings into a fourth day. On Thursday night, Eisenhower won the nomination on the seventh ballot, and Earl Warren became his vice-presidential running mate.
In addition to the South Bend Tribune, local television stations covered the ’56 Democratic Mock Convention, planned for April 16–18. Patrick McCarten ’56, a future ND Board of Trustees chair, was the convention’s permanent chair. On the third night. Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas and Sen. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois were in a dead heat for the nomination after three ballots, again forcing the gathering into a fourth day. On Thursday, having moved from the Navy Drill Hall to the Fieldhouse, the delegates chose Stevenson, who had never led until the fifth and final ballot. The students chose Sen. John Kennedy of Massachusetts as Stevenson’s running mate on the first ballot.
Bill Mapother ’60, the general chairman of the Democratic Mock Convention, called the two thousand participants to order at 1:00 p.m., Sunday, April 3. WSND broadcast the proceedings gavel to gavel. The featured speakers included Sen. Frank Church of Idaho and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Keeping order was a challenge with large demonstrations, especially for the Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy’s nominations. The band tried playing the national anthem several times to quiet—unsuccessfully—the Navy Drill Hall. The other nominees included California Gov. Edmund Brown, Richard Daley, Ohio Gov. Michael DiSalle, and Florida Sen. George Smathers, Adlai Stevenson, and Missouri Sen. Stuart Symington.
The Law School dean refused to permit the law students permission to participate in the ’64 event, so they created a fake candidate, Leonard Fingerman, and booked a hotel room at the actual convention. The AP press even sent a reporter to Los Angeles to find this unknown Fingerman. On the mock convention’s second night, the law students disrupted the proceedings for ninety minutes in support of Fingerman. The South Bend Tribune reported the next day that this “attempt to mock the mock convention was stifled by a sergeant at arms staff” that included uniformed squads of Navy ROTC cadets. The future lawyers created post-convention havoc by sending letters to the Department of Navy condemning the cadets for wearing uniforms for unofficial ROTC functions.
That evening ended after three ballots with Kennedy in the lead, Johnson in second, and Stevenson in third. The following night, Kennedy won the presidential nomination on the fifth ballot by a vote of 934 to 548 over Lyndon Johnson, with more than 1,500 students participating. Stuart Symington won the nod for vice president.
Some mock convention delegates expressed concerns about Kennedy’s religion hindering his candidacy at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles the following summer. Nonetheless, it’s not surprising that ND students always nominated a Catholic when they had a chance—Smith for president in ’32, Kennedy for vice president in ’56, and J.F.K. again in ’60. In four of the first six mock conventions, ND students chose the same presidential candidates as parties’ conventions. The subsequent seven mock conventions’ performances faltered when the students were correct only twice.
Stepan Center, completed in 1962, now became the permanent home to the mock conventions. On Monday, March 2, 2,600 delegates, alternatives, and guests cheered as convention chair Thomas Woods ’64 brought the gathering to order to select the Republican nominees. The speakers included Sen. Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts—who gave the keynote address, and William E. Miller ’35, chair of the Republican National Committee—who became Barry Goldwater’s running at the Republican National Convention in Daly City, Calif. The second night’s nominees included Penn. Gov. William Scranton, Sen. Barry Goldwater, Oregon Gov. Mark Hatfield, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Richard M. Nixon, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, Mich. Gov. George Romney, and Vietnam Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.
On the third night, Lodge won the nomination on the seventh ballot, beating Scranton and Goldwater. The delegates had to return for a fourth session on Thursday afternoon when they nominated Mark Hatfield for vice president.
Ohio U.S. Rep. Robert Taft Jr. was the keynote speaker before 1,600 the Republican mock convention’s delegates on Wed., March 20, after permanent chair Thomas Chema ’68 gaveled the proceedings to order. In a seven-minute filmed speech, former President Eisenhower said their choice would be reached “more thoughtfully and perceptively” than the real convention in August. He further added, with uncanny foresight, that “character, the unimpeachable integrity, without which the trust of a nation cannot long be held” was the most important presidential attribute.
Mass. Gov. John A. Volpe addressed the convention the following afternoon before nominations, including Sen. Mark Hatfield, Gov. Ronald Reagan, Richard M. Nixon, and N.Y. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Harold Stassen, Alabama football coach Paul Bryant, and ten others—all with the requisite demonstrations. By midnight of the third night of the “Peace in Vietnam” dominated convention, Hatfield and Rockefeller were deadlocked, leaving Nixon and Reagan in the dust. The convention went into overtime on Saturday afternoon, and on a record-setting eleventh ballot, Mark Hatfield was victorious. According to Chema, it was likely that Rockefeller would have won the presidential nomination if he had not dropped out of the race earlier. The delegates nominated Volpe for vice president on the first ballot.
Lawrence O’Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, gave the keynote speech on Tuesday, April 25, the second day of the four-day event. Allard Lowenstein, chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action, spoke the following evening. Sen. George McGovern beat Sen. Edward Kennedy for the presidential nomination on the sixth ballot Thursday afternoon. Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh outvoted Rep. Shirley Chisholm, D-N.Y., for the vice-presidential nod on the fourth ballot. The convention expected a crowd of one thousand on opening. By the fourth day, fewer than five hundred delegates voted for president, and only 234 voted for vice president.
After what would be his last convention as its advisor, Prof. Bartholomew spoke to the Scholastic about his memories of the event since 1940. He said the following about the 1960 convention:
“Back when Saint Mary’s girls were sort of pioneering over here, one of the male demonstrators was walking around with a Saint Mary’s delegate on his back.” WSND carried the convention, live the announcer was describing it, and the nuns (at St. Mary’s were listening. “You can imagine what the nuns were thinking. (At that time, no Saint Mary’s girl ever went downtown without her hat, purse, and gloves.) The next day, one of the sisters saw the girl and said, ‘I understand you were carried away last night.’ You might call that C.S.C. humor.”
The delegates dedicated the ’76 mock Democratic convention—beginning Wednesday, March 3—to Prof. Paul Bartholomew, who died the previous December. Robert Strauss, chairman of the National Democratic Committee, gave the keynote address on March 3. Co-chair Vince Moschella ’77 and Nancy Brenner ’76 presided over the proceedings, which dealt with two controversial issues—abortion and busing. The delegates vote for a pro-life and pro-busing platform.
The leading candidates were Morris Udall and Jimmy Carter on Friday night. With a deadlocked convention at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, the delegates chose a compromise candidate Hubert Humphrey on the sixth ballot. That afternoon, Georgia State Senator Julian Bond got the nod for vice president.
The Republican mock convention convened with one thousand delegates on Wednesday, March 5. The issues causing the most delegate tension were national defense (stronger), Equal Rights Amendment (for), busing (against), and abortion (against). George W Bush spoke on behalf of his candidate father Friday evening.
After the fourth ballot that evening, George H. W. Bush, with 671 votes, beat Gerald Ford (192), John Anderson (114), William Simon (14), and Ronald Reagan (3). On Saturday, Former Treasury Secretary William Simon was the delegates’ choice for vice president, who had to outlast a briefly insurgent fuzzy candidate—Cookie Monster. Other v.p. nominations included John Anderson, Howard Baker, Fr. Hesburgh, Adolph Coors, USA hockey coach Herb Brooks, and cartoon character Michael J. Doonesbury. Only half of the one thousand delegates showed up for the vote.
Three hundred students showed up to hear William Mondale, son of Walter Mondale, when the Democratic mock convention opened on Wed., April 4. Theodore Sorensen, representing candidate Gary Hart, spoke to the delegates on Friday night. At 3 a.m. Saturday morning, the delegates chose Colorado Senator Gary Hart on the seventh ballot with 223 votes to Reubin Askew’s 119; Walter Mondale’s backers had dropped out by then. Rep. Marie “Lindy” Boggs (D-LA 2nd Dist.) won the nod for vice president.
Convention chair Vince Willis ’88 convened Notre Dame’s last mock convention on Monday, April 11. Despite being a Democratic gathering, Sen. Dan Quayle R-Ind., gave the keynote speech. On the fifth ballot late Wednesday, Mass. Gov. Michael Dukakis garnered 384 delegate votes to Illinois Senator Paul Simon’s 331. Other candidates nominated included Rev. Jesse Jackson, Tenn. Sen. Albert Gore, N.Y. Gov. Mario Cuomo. Simon and Garfunkel were also nominated while their songs played in the background. The following night, Al Gore edged Jesse Jackson by 300-28 votes.
The April 15 Observer reported hijinks at the end of V.P. vote: “The last night of the convention literally went out with a bang, as two men wearing camouflage pants and head bands stormed the convention state with submachine squirt guns. The mock terrorists quickly mowed down the convention leaders on the stage and seized Denis Weis and Michele Burkart as hostages. Mock secret service agents drove the attackers away with Uzi’s and cap guns, but only after the mock terrorists sprayed several salvos into the audience of delegates. The two attackers were dragged off the stage where they were promptly executed according to mock secret service agent Greg Pax.”
And on this note, Notre Dame students ended their experiences with mock conventions. Lets see how ND Students fared in reationship to the country each year.
Sources for this story can be found at the bottom of this link.