Campaign for U.s. Congress (1966)
Extent: 5 linear feet
“Because of the depleted state of the local party and my persistent inquisitiveness about how to improve the community and help solve its problems, party officials approached me to run for mayor of Pittsburgh. And although I begged off at that time, I was nevertheless hooked on politics and did succumb to the 1966 congressional campaign” (“From Star Car to the Governor’s Office,” JFK School Bulletin, fall/winter 1987).
And so in 1966, Thornburgh made his first run for public office as a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress from Pittsburgh’s 14th Congressional District, wholly contained within the City of Pittsburgh, and where Democrat registered voters outnumbered Republicans by more than three to one. Thornburgh faced running against William S. Moorehead, Jr. who was the four-year Democrat incumbent who had won election easily twice before. As stated in his book, “Ginny and I had no particular issues on which to challenge Moorhead and no illusions about our ability to win the seat. We knew, however, that we had to test our interest in running for public office” (Evidence, p. 25).
This was a lonely endeavor at the start when news of Thornburgh for Congress, delivered to Pittsburgh’s two newspapers, the Post-Gazette and Press, merited small mentions, in one case not even mentioning Thornburgh’s name in the headline: “Lawyer Seeking Moorhead Seat.” Most of spring 1966 was spent attending various Republican ward meetings and soliciting endorsements. On Primary Day, May 17, Thornburgh, in what he describes as a “smashing victory,” corralled 78 percent of the meager Republican turnout, but as he further states, “the greater challenge lay ahead” (Evidence draft, p. 106).
By Primary Day the campaign, now chaired by John Heinz, had come together quite well. Finances were handled smoothly, and a group of volunteer supporters provided a strong research team. Briefing books were prepared on issues of importance, and ultimately a compendium of positions was put together including topics such as: hard line against organized crime and official corruption, concern for the elderly, urban problems, strong civil rights position, support for United Nations, conservative fiscal policies, transportation issues, job training, improved public education, and concern about Vietnam. It is notable that many, even most, of these topics of concern in 1966 recurred in Thornburgh’s continued career and are well documented in the archives.
The general election campaign included attending a three-day candidates’ conference sponsored by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington. Of interest is that another “rookie” challenging a Democrat incumbent and attending this conference was President George H.W. Bush. The fall was busy with events and campaign appearances. Travel around the district was by what became known as the “Star Car,” a clunker Rambler station wagon. There were three debates between Moorhead and Thornburgh, and Ginny Thornburgh energetically masterminded a dedicated volunteer organization. These were the times of door-to-door canvassing of voters, handing out emery boards and calorie counters with “Thornburgh for Congress,” and billboards picturing Thornburgh holding a large wooden spoon titled “Thornburgh Will Stir Things Up in Congress.”
Despite all the hard work, solid research, and dedicated volunteer activity, ultimately Thornburgh lost to William Moorhead on Election Day, 82,732 to 38,528. As Thornburgh concludes in his book: “All, of course, was not for naught. Ginny and I discovered how much we actually enjoyed the campaign process—meeting and mingling with the voters, puzzling through our positions on difficult issues, and feeling that there was indeed a way to make a difference for the better in people’s lives” (Evidence, p. 30). Even the Post-Gazette noted, “In Mr. Thornburgh the GOP has presented an exceptionally attractive candidate of the sort who should be encouraged to run for public office. While he did not pick the right office at the right time, we hope he will be encouraged to stay active in politics so that the public can avail itself of his services on another occasion” (Evidence draft, p. 14).
Researchers should take note that issue background material here relates and interconnects with other Pittsburgh and Allegheny County reports and articles in these other sections of the archive: “Civic Activities,” “Politics,” and “Constitutional Convention.” These campaign archives are organized in nine sections: “Campaign Plans and Ephemera,” “Issues and Position Papers,” “Opposition Research,” “News Releases and Media,” “Campaign Volunteer Effort,” “Candidate Thornburgh’s Files,” “Election Results,” “Campaign Finances,” and “Correspondence.”