In the mid- 1950s President Eisenhower and Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Benson found their most ardent support at Purdue University. Various faculty were usually on tour one place or another to defend the free market and a businessas-usual approach to managing agriculture. To enliven their show, they often invited a self-styled "tame liberal" by the name of Willard Cochrane to represent the opposing point of view. He rose to the challenge with such clear thinking and wonderful writing skills that he soon began to steal the show in some circles. The National Farmers Union, one of the largest farmer groups of the time, became particularly supportive of the professor from Minnesota and added much-needed political backing to his policy program. Within a very few years he was a man to be reckoned with, not only in the classroom but in national discussions as well.
Orville Freeman was the governor of populist Minnesota in those years. While lacking any knowledge of agriculture -- Cochrane once recalled a long conversation with him about policy options for grain sorghum, only to have Freeman ask, "What is grain sorghum?" -- Freeman was a very capable politician. He was also well connected and lived under the wing of Senator Hubert Humphrey. Freeman set up a special governor's commission to study the problems of Minnesota agriculture and asked Cochrane to chair it. This made official what had been brewing for a while -- Cochrane was now the leading agricultural advisor to liberal politicians. When Humphrey announced his intentions to run for president in 1960, it was only natural that Cochrane would work closely with him.
The relationship was productive but short-lived. John Kennedy beat Humphrey so badly in the West Virginia primary that Humphrey threw in the towel,