The Dragon Slayer
When I first came to Washington in 1946, I was a bit naïve
about public service, I suppose, a kind of dragon slayer.
— NIXON, TO STEWART ALSOP, JULY 1958 1
IN THE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION OF 1946 Nixon was not asked to slay dragons but to defeat a saint. Jerry Voorhis, his New Deal liberal opponent, had been in office ten years and was still popular in a district that was predominantly conservative Republican. Nixon was one of many who believed, mistakenly, that Voorhis had inspired the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a story of the triumph of innocence and integrity over evil forces in Congress. 2 The Republicans had been desperate enough even to advertise for a candidate. Walter Dexter, former president of Whittier College, had been offered the spot, but had refused because he felt he could not win and had suggested Nixon. Herman Perry, a Whittier banker and friend of Nixon's parents, had invited him to fly home to be looked over and had been authorized to pay his expenses.
Nixon met with the local party leaders and in a vigorous speech attacked the New Deal for stifling initiative by pernicious controls. The returning veterans, he said, wanted jobs, not government handouts, and he promised an aggressive campaign "on a platform of practical liberalism." When he finished, committee organizer Roy O. Day said with satisfaction, "That is saleable merchandise." 3
When told that he was the committee choice, Nixon wrote exultantly to Day:
I am going to see Joe Martin and John Phillips and try to get what dope I can on Mr. Voorhis' record. His "conservative" reputation must be blasted.... I am really hopped up over this deal, and I believe we can win. 4