The Dick Thornburgh Papers

The collection

Campaign for United States Senate (1991)

Extent: 60 linear feet

Having resigned as attorney general of the United States, and with less than three months before Election Day, planning for the campaign for U.S. Senate moved quickly. Staff was assembled, a media team was selected, and Evans Rose once again agreed to chair the fund-raising effort. That effort went well, and President Bush appeared on Thornburgh’s behalf at two events.

The immediate goal was to touch political bases in Pennsylvania, knowing at the outset that there would be very little opportunity to put together a grassroots organization in such a short time. Because Thornburgh was running against a lesser known candidate, Harris Wofford, the two-month time frame was seen as a potential advantage. However, the campaign would need to depend heavily on the Republican organization to provide local-level support and activity.

Thornburgh's announcement speech touched upon all the themes to be emphasized during the campaign. One crucial paragraph, however, referring to “the corridors of power,” was turned into a negative perception as supporting the status quo, rather than enabling Thornburgh to effectively represent Pennsylvania’s interests in Washington as he had intended. This was but the beginning of a successful and damaging media strategy by Wofford’s chief campaign consultant, James Carville, who had “hammered Bill Scranton viciously in the 1986 gubernatorial campaign” (Evidence draft, p. 846).

The central message of the Wofford campaign was stated in a Thornburgh-Wofford debate on September 6. “Early in [the] exchange, Senator Wofford displayed a pocket copy of the Constitution and first raised the issue at which he would hammer for the rest of the campaign: ‘If the Constitution guarantees criminals the right to a lawyer, shouldn’t it guarantee working Americans their right to a doctor as well?’ Thereafter, most of his public message was focused almost exclusively on the issue of healthcare reform, paying heed to the colorful words of Carville: ‘Reporters are like children in a school cafeteria. If you want them to eat spinach, don’t put anything else on their plates’” (Evidence draft, p. 847). Although Thornburgh had spotted the healthcare issue as significant while still in Washington, even with good research and a serious proposal addressing the quality of care for all Americans, by the time it was presented it was effectively “too late and too little" (Evidence draft p. 847).

Although the Thornburgh campaign had a successful gubernatorial record to remind voters of, and Governor Casey’s economic policies had eaten up the surplus and even the Rainy Day Fund left by Thornburgh, by the time of the election “voters were seen to vote against the candidate seen as most qualified and who would most effectively bring federal dollars to the state, namely Dick Thornburgh. ... Postmortem analysis characterized the election as a ‘time for a change’ election ... and by mid-October over 70 percent of the state’s voters said the country was headed in the wrong direction. Thus, whatever message we sought to convey about this election was subsumed in larger national issues on the minds of the voters. Wofford was to characterize his effort from the outset as one designed to ‘send a wake-up call to Washington’” (Evidence draft, p. 848).

However, a valiant, committed Thornburgh campaign is well documented here. The schedules, the events, and the extensive research on all issues are thoughtfully and realistically presented. Included are all the constant campaign appearances by Thornburgh and his remarkable wife, Ginny; the speeches and news releases; the media ads; debate preparation and transcripts; and the successful fund-raising. Also, there are the daily news clippings depicting the day-to-day progress of the campaign, as well as some campaign blunders, the increasingly evident lack of familiarity of campaign press staff with the commonwealth, and what appeared even to supporters and friends to be an inability of the campaign staff to put the best foot forward. One Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, Kit Seelye, “credited Wofford with being ‘guided by the more formidable campaign handlers, noting that I wasn’t ‘always well-served by my staff’ ... and put the ultimate question as: ‘Can an uncertain candidate [Wofford] with a sure-footed campaign overcome a sure-footed candidate [Thornburgh] with an uncertain campaign?’ Her response? ‘Stay tuned.’” (Evidence draft, p. 855).

Ultimately, and ominously, the editorial endorsements, usually a source of strong Thornburgh support in previous campaigns, did an about-face. The Harrisburg Patriot, for example, concluded in its Sunday, October 27, editorial: “In the end, the decision really comes down to this: If you think the country is pretty much on the right course, Thornburgh is your man. If you think the nation has to address a number of serious domestic issues soon or face further economic and social deterioration, Wofford deserves your vote.” All the major newspapers that had endorsed Thornburgh in his gubernatorial campaigns now went against him, and “the remaining steam did seem to go out of our effort” (Evidence draft, p. 859).

Although by Election Day, November 5, the Thornburghs had felt the election slipping away, no one was prepared for the magnitude of the reversal, a 55 percent to 45 percent margin. In his Election Night remarks Thornburgh stated: “So I come before you this evening at a time of reversal, to be sure, but sustained by pride and fulfillment in having had the marvelous opportunities I have had over the past twenty-five years. I say reversal, and not defeat, because reversals are counted in the numbers; defeat can come only in the soul, and my soul’s alive and kicking tonight!”

“The effect of the election outcome was electrifying nationally. ... Few put it as succinctly as Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer: ‘One way to view the Wofford victory is that if you campaign in depressed times and promise to pay everybody’s doctor bills, you are likely to win.’ ... The postelection analysis prepared for [pollster] Bob Teeter found an astonishing 24 percent of those voting for Wofford ‘feel that Thornburgh is more experienced and qualified to be U.S. senator.’ So much for the argument that one can swim effectively against the kind of tide that was developing in 1991 and which broke in full force during the 1992 presidential election. ... Wofford, of course, was unable to fulfill his extravagant promises of free health care … and was soundly defeated when he sought re-election” (Evidence draft, p. 862).

The newspaper endorsements, campaign brochures, campaign ads (both transcripts and online videos), election results, and election analyses are all included here. In addition, a final blow related to campaign debt, a case against Thornburgh resulting in his having to pay $350,000 with personal funds, is also documented here. This followed three years of litigation and surprisingly “established for the first time the legal obligation of a candidate, as distinguished from his or her campaign committee, for unpaid campaign bills” (Evidence, p. 314).

The files are presented in the following sections: "Speeches"; "News Releases"; "Campaign in Progress"; "Questionnaires"; "Schedules and Events"; "Candidate Thornburgh’s Files"; "Ginny Thornburgh Files"; "Issue Research"; "Wofford Opposition Research"; "News Clippings, Ephemera"; and "Kirkpatrick & Lockhart (K&L) Files."


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