“I don’t know.”


W. Eugene Smith, Rail worker Joseph Hunter, Ohio, 1949, (1559.2005)

Rail Worker Joseph Hunter, long time Republican, is switchman on line that serves Bessemer converters at Youngstown. He has three-word opinion of Taft, “I don’t know.”


W. Eugene Smith, Refinery man, Sohio Plant, Cleveland, Ohio, 1949 (1560.2005)


W. Eugene Smith, [Helmeted worker in overalls holding wrench by valves], 1949 (1561.2005)

TAFT AND OHIO
“Mr. Republican” fights for himself and his party

With the defeat on Nov. 8 of John Foster Dulles and scores of lesser Republicans throughout the land, the morale of the G.O.P. sank to a dismal low. There were a few members of the Republican high command who could look forward to 1950 and 1952 without gnawing their knuckles.

The man who had most cause to be scared was Senator Robert Alphonso Taft of Ohio, “Mr. Republican,” who has been nominated as the prime candidate for extinction by the Administration, by organized labor and by internationalists. Even the usually Republican farmers have to be won back to the party. But Taft is not scared. The Democratic deluge has come and gone, and there he stands. He has already drawn his chalk line and begun serious work for the 1950 fight. If anyone takes Taft’s Senate seat next year, he will have to lick a tough man to get it.

As fall turns into winter in Ohio, Taft is in the midst of a 100-day campaign which began on Sept. 4 – a full 14 months before the state goes to the polls. For the first time since 1938 he is swinging through everyone of the 88 counties in the state, repairing his fences with the thoroughness that has long been characteristic of him and with a charm that has not. In the farmlands along the Indiana border, in the big industrial cities of the north and the river towns in the south, taft faces a complete cross section of voters. Ohio is the U.S. in miniature – because its people are so diverse in occupation and background, their ballots check and balance each other like the ballots of the nation as a whole. In every election since 1896, with only one exception (1944), the presidential vote in Ohio has paralleled the nationwide vote. What Taft is doing now, because of Ohio’s status as a testing ground and because Taft is the front runner in the race for the G.O.P.’s presidential nomination in 1952, will effect the whole future of the Republican party.
LIFE, November 29, 1949, p. 101.


W. Eugene Smith, [Portrait of Mike Modny, foreman at Republic Steel’s coke ovens.] 1949 (1562.2005)

Foreman Mike Modney at Republic Steel’s coke ovens in Cleveland is another independent. Modney was once a Democrat and C.I.O. man, is now neither.


LIFE, November 29, 1949, pp. 104-105 (Photos by W. Eugene Smith)

Labor Opposition Is Far From Solid

When the Taft-Hartely Act was passed, labor leaders all over the country swore they would defeat Taft when he ran again. But these threats have not yet hurt Taft and have helped him by making him an underdog – even in the eyes of many union men. Seizing the role, Taft dwells on “the millions that will be spent to defeat me” and asks, “Do you want officials like Petrillo to tell you how to vote?” Thus far none of the workers in the steel mills and the rubber and glass factories has thrown any rocks at Taft when he stood up to speak.

Rail Worker Joseph Hunter, long time Republican, is switchman on line that serves Bessemer converters at Youngstown. He has three-word opinion of Taft, “I don’t know.”

Refinery Men on a truck at Sohio Plant No. 1 in Cleveland are of Slovak, Dutch, Scottish, Syrian, German, English, Russian, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Czech and Italian descent. They typify northern Ohio’s melting pot, and most of them are against Senator Taft.

Foreman Mike Modney at Republic Steel’s coke ovens in Cleveland is another independent. Modney was once a Democrat and C.I.O. man, is now neither.

Skilled Worker Ernest Assman, of the Gruen Watch Company [1894-1958] in Cincinnati, will vote for Taft. So will many others in the higher-paid ranks of labor.
LIFE, November 29, 1949, pp. 104-105

Spoiler alert: Robert Taft, son of President William Taft, a conservative Republican, did win his 1950 re-election campaign with a significant victory margin. Taft unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination a few times. As portrayed in W. Eugene Smith’s photos Taft’s campaign was thorough and exhaustive, he visited every county in Ohio, and spoke at factories, farms, schools, and with the editors of scores of local Ohio newspapers. At the end of July 1953 Taft died of pancreatic cancer in New York, four years after Smith’s photos were made and published in Life.

On the W. Eugene Smith timeline the “Taft and Ohio” story was sandwiched between “Country Doctor” (1948) and “Spanish Village” (1950), and two years before “Nurse Midwife” (1951).


W. Eugene Smith, [Perspective of steel mill, smoke pouring from stacks, all reflected in water along side mill.], 1949 (1557.2005)

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