Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time : Countdown from No. 25 To No. 1

By Kerwin C. Swint | Go to book overview

20
HOMO SAPIENS, THESPIANS,
AND EXTROVERTS

George Smathers v. Claude Pepper, Democratic Primary,
U.S. Senate, Florida, 1950

This campaign has become the stuff of political legend. "Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sisterin-law, he has a brother who is a known homo sapiens, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage he habitually practiced celibacy."1

These, according to the legend, are the words of one George Smathers, a Democratic congressman from Florida, who in 1950 defeated that state's incumbent U.S. Senator, Claude Pepper, in the Democratic primary. The thing about legends, though—particularly political legends—is that sometimes they are not entirely true, and sometimes they are not true at all.

As for this legend, there is simply no proof one way or the other that Smathers ever made the above remarks attributed to him by history. Smathers supposedly made these historic comments about Senator Pepper as he campaigned through north and central Florida in the spring of 1950.

According to the legend, he spoke to crowds of voters in the small towns of the region. To the mostly rural voters of the area, his accusations against Pepper, using words like "homo sapiens" and "thespian" (which to rural small town voters probably sounded a lot like "homo sexual" and "lesbian"), were nothing short of shocking. Many of these voters, for reasons that will be discussed, were predisposed to believe bad things about Senator Pepper, and so the shock value of these statements may have contributed to his reelection defeat.

-47-

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