Election to the United States Senate
Georgians were shocked and saddened when they received the news that U.S. Senator William J. Harris had died of a heart attack on April 18, 1932. Even though Harris had suffered spells of illness after his reelection in 1930, his death came as a surprise. Prominent in state and national politics for more than twenty years, Harris left an unexpected void in the higher echelons of Georgia politics.
Governor Russell and his close associates, along with some three thousand mourners, gathered in the cemetery at Cedartown on April 21 to pay final respects to their departed senator. 1 Many who gathered around the grave site, however, had their minds more on who would succeed Harris than on the deceased senator. Indeed, speculation was already rife throughout the state about a Harris successor. This speculation actually concerned two questions. Whom would governor Russell appoint as interim senator until an election could be held, and who would seek the unexpired term of Harris, which ran until 1936? There was widespread belief that Russell himself would run for the unexpired term. 2
Russell was flooded with inquiries and advice as to whom he should appoint as interim senator. Speculation ranged over a broad list of names from the senator's widow to the governor's father. Russell, however, said that he would make a decision only after Senator Harris's funeral. 3 On April 25, he answered both questions that had been the center of state political gossip. He selected John S. Cohen, publisher of the Atlanta journal and Democratic National committeeman from Georgia, to serve as interim senator, and he announced that he would seek the unexpired senatorial term at an election set for September 14. Cohen declared that he would not seek election to the office, leaving the way clear for Russell and fueling speculation that some deal had been