Senator Warren Magnuson narrowly wins re-election, Representative Don Magnuson loses, and the rest of the Congressional delegation wins easily, on November 6, 1962.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 11/07/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5609

On November 6, 1962, Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) narrowly wins re-election to a fourth term, defeating political newcomer Richard Christensen, a right-wing minister, by an unexpectedly small margin. The close call inspires Magnuson to change his legislative priorities, leading to some of his most significant achievements. U.S. Representative Don Magnuson (1911-1979) loses his seat to challenger K. W. "Bill" Stinson (b. 1930). The two Magnusons are not related, but the Representative’s political troubles may have contributed to the Senator’s narrow margin. Washington’s six other U.S. Representatives are re-elected by wide margins.

By 1962 Magnuson had compiled an impressive record of legislative accomplishment. He had been instrumental in establishing Columbia River dams that provided public hydroelectric power and irrigation for the Columbia River basin, in gaining increased funding for health care and research, and in obtaining federal contracts for major state employers like Boeing and funds for projects like the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Most observers considered him a shoo-in for re-election. He was not.

Richard Christensen

Reverend Richard Christensen, a 32-year-old Lutheran minister, was a political unknown when he won the Republican nomination to face Magnuson in 1962. Dan Evans (b. 1925), the liberal Republican state legislator and future governor, later described the Christensen movement as "a bolt out of the blue" (Scates, 205). Presaging the evolution of the Republican party in the 1980s and 1990s, Christensen campaigned on a "family values" platform, attracting substantial support from religious fundamentalists and right-wing conservatives. He was a compelling public speaker and had a committed organization dubbed "Women on the Warpath." Christensen’s attacks on Magnuson were relentless and often inaccurate. He implied Magnuson was a Communist collaborator, asserted he opposed the FBI, and blamed him for the loss of timber jobs and for "our humiliation in Cuba" (Scates, 207).

Magnuson’s staff underestimated the danger Christensen posed to the senator. Irv Hoff, the astute strategist who, as Magnuson’s administrative assistant (head staffer) since 1946, masterminded his successful 1950 and 1956 campaigns, had left the senator’s staff to work as a lobbyist. Hoff’s replacement, Fred Lordon, relied on polls showing Magnuson comfortably ahead. Magnuson’s personal appearance did not help -- he was overweight, fitting the image of a politician who was seen as an "agent for business and commercial interests" (Scates, 209) according to consumer advocate Ralph Nader -- soon to become a close Magnuson ally.

Crisis and Close Call

At the last minute, following Magnuson’s poor showing in the September primary, Lordon called Hoff in to help. Magnuson also turned to his friend President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). Considerable fanfare accompanied the announcement that Kennedy would attend the Seattle World’s Fair closing ceremonies on October 21, 1962, just weeks before the election. However, Kennedy did not make it. His press secretary announced he had a bad cold and was returning to the White House. In fact, Kennedy returned to deal with the Cuban missile crisis, triggered by the discovery of Soviet Union missile sites in Cuba.

Although deprived of Kennedy’s appearance, Magnuson managed to beat Christensen, but it was far from the rout his staff had expected and newspapers predicted. Magnuson won only 52 percent (491,365 votes) to Christensen’s 48 percent (446,204). The narrow 45,161 vote margin depressed and demoralized Magnuson, but ended up inspiring some of his most lasting accomplishments.

Consumer Protection

As the 1962 campaign wound down, Gerald "Jerry" Grinstein, a young Magnuson staffer, searched for a new theme to revitalize the senator’s career and prevent future close calls. Grinstein, the son of Magnuson’s physician, Dr. Alex Grinstein, got the idea of legislation to protect consumers from an article he read in The New Yorker. At the time, Nader was not widely known and consumer protection barely registered as a political issue.

With Grinstein’s assistance, Magnuson recruited bright and idealistic young staffers to develop new legislation. Mike Pertschuk, Grinstein's Yale classmate, became chief counsel to the Commerce Committee that Magnuson chaired, and established an alliance between Magnuson and Nader. Over the next decade, the Commerce Committee produced many landmark consumer protection bills, including the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, the Flammable Fabrics Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Fair Credit Advertising Act, and laws that regulated automobile safety, required manufacturers to live up to their warranties, and set standards for children's toys.

The Other Magnuson

Senator Warren Magnuson survived the 1962 election, but Representative Don Magnuson did not. Don Magnuson was first elected to the House in 1952, and was re-elected four times, representing first an at-large district and then the Seventh District centered in Seattle. His popularity declined following a drunk driving arrest and Republican Bill Stinson defeated him by 57 percent (86,106 votes) to 43 percent (66,052 votes). Warren and Don Magnuson were not related, but voter confusion between the two was seen as another reason for Senator Magnuson’s unexpectedly close race.

Washington’s six other representatives -- Republicans Thomas M. Pelly (1902-1973) in the First District, Jack Westland (1904-1982) in the Second, Catherine May (b. 1914) in the Fourth, Walt Horan (1898-1966) in the Fifth, and Thor C. Tollefson (1901-1982) in the Sixth, and Democrat Julia Butler Hansen (1907-1988) in the Third -- cruised to easy victories, winning re-election by margins ranging from 60 percent (Westland) to 74 percent (Pelly).

Christensen made a second electoral bid in 1964, losing the Republican gubernatorial nomination to Dan Evans, an outcome predicted by Magnuson, who stated, "The people will send a preacher to Washington, but they won’t send one to Olympia" (Scates, 211). Also in 1964, first-term Representative Stinson and longtime Republican incumbents Horan, Westland, and Tollefson all lost their seats in a Democratic landslide. In 1965, Grinstein succeeded Lordon as Magnuson’s administrative assistant; he went on to a successful business career and was a University of Washington Board of Regents member from 1998 to 2004, and Regents president from 2003 to 2004.


Sources: Official Abstract of Votes, State General Election, November 6, 1962 (Olympia: Secretary of State, 1962); Shelby Scates, Warren G. Magnuson and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997), 5, 130, 196, 204-25, 254; Greg Lange, "President Kennedy's Cold War cold supersedes Seattle World's Fair closing ceremonies on October 21, 1962," HistoryLink.org Timeline Library (www.historylink.org).
Note: This essay was updated on May 30, 2008.

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