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In mid-November, 1955, one hundred friends from Riverside and Imperial County gathered at Indio, California, and endorsed me as Democratic candidate for Congress in the forthcoming 1956 election. I accepted the endorsement, and from that day on I was an avowed candidate and there was no turning back. While the meeting itself was a source of gratitude and satisfaction to me I realized that these friends of mine had come only to pay a personal tribute. While they were willing to give me all the support they possibly could, I knew they felt deep in their hearts that there really wasn't much chance of my winning the election and going to Congress.
The first big break in my candidacy came a month later. Mr. Phillips, the incumbent congressman, a veteran of forty years of public service, in his seventh term in the House of Representatives, announced that he would retire at the end of his current term and not be a candidate for re-election. This threw the race wide open. Within a month eight candidates had announced their intention to run in the June primary, two Democrats and six Republicans.
Among the Republican candidates were a school principal, a schoolteacher, a member of the Riverside City Council, a retired navy admiral, and the scion of a highly respected pioneer family of landowners in Riverside County, a man named Fred Eldridge. The sixth candidate was the world-famous aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran Odlum, winner of many prizes in the field of aviation, leader of the women fliers during World War II, and wife of the multimillionaire financier, Floyd Odlum.
On the Democratic side were myself and a well-known Riverside County attorney, Mr. Carl Kegley, a man active in California politics who at one time had been a candidate for attorney general of the state of California on the Democratic ticket.
At the start my campaign committee had an important decision to make. Should my name appear on the ballot as "Dr." because I had a Ph. D. degree, or "Judge" because I was a judge of the justice court? We decided I should be listed as Judge D. S. Saund. Among my personal friends and political associates I was known as Judge Saund, and it was considered proper that I keep that title during the campaign. Also, since the first public office to which I was elected after I became a citizen of the United States was judge of the justice court, the title had a special meaning to me. Henceforth I was known as Judge Saund, a candidate for Congress.
Cross filing was the rule in California and seven out of the eight candidates had declared their intention to file on both the Democratic and Republican tickets. Even before the 1956 campaign began things were humming politically in the 29th Congressional District. All the candidates were very active and confident and a lively campaign and a wide-open race seemed assured. The prize was membership in the House of Representatives of the United States of America, representing two large, sprawling counties in the unique, colorful desert area of southern California.
The official party organizations, the Republican and Democratic Central committees, were not permitted by law to endorse any candidate before the primaries. But the unofficial party organizations among the Democrats, the Democratic clubs, were anxious to hear the two Democratic candidates. Thus I had plenty of opportunities to appear on the same platform with my opponent before the different Democratic clubs of the two counties. The six Republican candidates similarly appeared before the various Republican groups. It became apparent that the voters would have a choice between eight candidates who represented a wide range and variety of political opinion. There were ultraconservative candidates on the Republican side and, on the Democratic side, two liberals. On two occasions all eight candidates were invited to appear on the same platform, and there I had a chance to meet my opponents in person and find out just where they stood.
Before very long it was clear that the Republican race had narrowed itself down to Mrs. Odlum and Fred Eldridge, and throughout the period preceding the primary election I seemed to be the favorite on the Democratic side. But then the primary campaign started to get extremely bitter in both the Democratic and Republican camps.
My Democratic opponent began efforts to have me disqualified as a candidate on the technical grounds that I had not been a citizen of the United States for seven years. According to the Constitution, a man has to be twenty-five years of age and a citizen for seven years before he can become a member of the House of Representatives. My opponent filed a petition, first in the Appellate Court and later in the Supreme Court of the state of California, asking for an injunction enjoining the county clerks of Riverside and Imperial counties from placing my name on the ballot. This gave me my first good break in the campaign.
I was by this time quite well known throughout Imperial County, but I was pretty much a complete stranger in so far as Riverside County was concerned. I doubt that when I announced my candidacy in November, 1955, I knew a hundred persons in Riverside County, and one of my big tasks was to make my name known there, and quickly. With more than 80 per cent of the registered voters of the entire 29th Congressional District, it was the main arena of the political contest.
Anyone familiar with a political campaign knows what value an issue such as the one my opponent raised is to a rival candidate who is completely unknown. When he filed suit against me, it became front-page, headline news in all the Riverside and Imperial County papers. Even if I could have afforded it, I couldn't have bought that kind of publicity.
I was thus not in the least disturbed by my opponent's move. Besides, I had familiarized myself thoroughly with the provisions of the Constitution and was positive that I was eligible to run. If elected in November, 1956, I would not take office until January, 1957, by which time I would have been a citizen of the United States seven years and sixteen days.
I had no intention of spending any money fighting the case in the courts. A very dear and close friend of mine, Mr. Mobley M. Milam, a young Imperial County attorney, offered to appear with me in the Appellate Court, which was sitting at Fresno in California's great Central Valley. We drove all night from Westmorland to Fresno, appeared in court at nine o'clock the next morning, and returned home the same day. Since my attorney friend did not charge me any fee, that was the only discomfort and expense the suit involved so far as I was concerned. First the Appellate Court and then the Supreme Court of the state of California dismissed the petition on the grounds that the California courts had no jurisdiction over the eligibility or qualifications of members of the House of Representatives because the Constitution is explicit that the sole judge of the qualifications of a member of the House of Representatives is the House of Representatives itself.
On the day the case was filed, and again on the day of the hearing before the Appellate Court, and then again when the Supreme Court acted, my name was all over the front pages of every newspaper in the district. In addition to the publicity, these cases turned out to be highly favorable to me in another way. The American people believe in giving contestants an even chance in any contest, political or otherwise, and they don't like it when one of the contenders tries to have his opponent knocked out before he has a chance to get into the ring. I had become a definite underdog and at no time, in my opinion, is that a handicap in a political race.
As election time neared, my Democratic opponent became increasingly violent in his attacks on me. He quoted passages from my book, My Mother, India, quite out of context, and ran a virulent full-page ad in the newspapers of both counties. In addition he attacked me severely in several radio broadcasts. I paid little attention to these attacks, and in fact refused to listen to the radio broadcasts. Indeed, the full-page ad was of such a nature that the three leading daily papers in the district refused to print it on grounds that it was libelous. My friends were angry and disturbed over all this, but I couldn't let it bother me in the least. I had positively and definitely made up my mind to present myself as a candidate for the high office of congressman on my own merits and not say a word against my opponent. I thus never felt the need nor the desire to answer his charges.
Later in the general election the Republican campaign also hit hard at my being born in India. Every effort was made to make it appear that I was an Indian, not an American. In newspaper ads I was not called D. S. Saund, but Dalip Singh in big letters and Saund in small letters. This sort of practice was widespread, but apparently it did not hurt my candidacy either in the primary or general election.
In the primary election I won the Democratic nomination hands down with a tremendous majority. Mrs. Odlum won the Republican nomination only by a close margin from her runner up, Fred Eldridge, but she received a larger combined Republican and Democratic vote than I did. She was in the lead and thus started her campaign for the November general election with a fair assurance of victory.
My friends and I decided that the key to a successful campaign lay in finding and creating opportunities for me to be seen and heard in public by as many people as possible in Riverside County. Barbecues seemed to be the answer. With the cooperation of the different Democratic groups and my supporters in the various communities of Riverside County, we began to sponsor a series of free barbecues. The meat was furnished by my committee in Imperial County, and my friends and neighbors in Westmorland prepared the barbecue and hauled it fresh from the pit to the town where the barbecue rally was to be held. The local Democratic clubs furnished the hall, the beans, the salad, the coffee, and the buns. This sort of program proved very successful. We had barbecue rallies in nearly a dozen communities in Riverside County. Thanks to the joint efforts of the local Democratic clubs a good deal of enthusiasm was aroused. Crowds ranged from two hundred and fifty to fifteen hundred and the average was between three hundred and four hundred.
But the barbecue rallies in my behalf were peanuts compared to the one big free barbecue which my opponent, Mrs. Odlum, staged in the Riverside County fairgrounds in her home community of Indio. This event was widely advertised and attracted a large crowd. Mrs. Odlum was, of course, a celebrity in her own right, but she added other attractions, and among those who appeared on the program at her barbecue were Bob Hope and Rin-Tin-Tin.
I had won the nomination of the Democratic party, but I faced a number of formidable handicaps as I started the campaign. I was, in the first place, running for Congress on the Democratic ticket in a district that had never elected a Democrat to Congress in its entire history. My opponent was a colorful, world-famous aviatrix as well as a diligent, hardworking, capable, and imaginative campaigner. To give an illustration, on the day nominations were filed in the two counties, my friends dutifully trudged about, circulating the petitions to get the required number of signatures in an ordinary way. Mrs. Odlum, however, took off in her private plane and made stops at different towns and cities in both counties. Her supporters along with as many reporters and photographers as they could round up met her at the airport, where her petition was signed with great fanfare by prominent citizens of the town.
In addition my opponent's campaign had a secret ingredient--money. Not only did I lack this, but there was an acute shortage of rich supporters for my cause. Mrs. Odlum, on the other hand, was the wife of one of the wealthiest men in the country. Our Democratic party organization was very enthusiastic, but it had been only recently organized. My opponent was the personal friend of the President of the United States who in 1956 was at the height of his popularity.
Our campaign attracted nationwide publicity. Mrs. Odlum was a national figure, a colorful personality with a Cinderella-like success story, while I was a native of India, seeking a high office no one of my race had ever held. Time magazine devoted a full-page article to the campaign in June, 1956; half of the page was devoted to my opponent and half to me. Newspapers all over the United States carried stories and national attention was focused on our particular congressional battle. This brought national figures of both political parties to the district. Vice President Nixon came to Riverside to speak for Mrs Odlum, while the highly popular governor of Tennessee, Frank Clement, the keynote speaker of the 1956 Democratic convention, gave a dramatic and eloquent endorsement of my candidacy before an overflow Democratic rally at Riverside.
When we saw we lacked funds to buy space on commercial billboards, always an expensive item in a political campaign, we made our own, using 4 x 8 foot sheets of plywood. The committee furnished these homemade billboards and volunteers in the different towns in the district got permission from property owners to place them on vacant lots in cities and strategic sites along the highways and roads in the area. We had seventy-five signs printed reading ELECT JUDGE SAUND in red letters on a blue background and the name SAUND stretching from border to border. These were put up throughout the district and were apparently quite effective. Being homemade, they attracted attention, and the huge letters of my name were eye catching.
During the months of July, August, September, and October scores of other volunteer workers walked the streets of the towns in both counties, ringing doorbells and passing out literature on my behalf. One lady, a resident of the Palm Springs area, Mrs. Amy Croft, converted her house trailer into a "Saund for Congress" headquarters. She stocked it with literature, placed large signs, "Elect Judge Saund Congressman," on both sides, and pulled her trailer from town to town behind her car. She would go to a town, park her trailer in a promising spot, and stay there for several days, passing out literature, putting up placards in prominent places, and talking to as many people as she could. Then she would move on to the next town. This devoted friend and inspired worker ended her tour by parking her trailer at the business intersection in the town of Riverside, the largest city in the district. Soon the effectiveness of the trailer became evident to my opponent, and Mrs. Croft was asked to move from that location. But there was no trouble finding another good spot--it happened to be a lot owned by a well-known Democratic businessman, Mr. Bill Slape.
Another lady, Mrs. Alice Teeple, left her home in Coachella Valley, rented an apartment in Riverside, and served as a volunteer in charge of the Saund-for-Congress headquarters. She was responsible for registering hundreds of voters and helped to organize the precinct workers for the election-day effort of getting voters to the polls.
With the exception of four or five small weeklies, out of nearly forty daily, biweekly, and weekly newspapers, the press was solidly Republican and solidly opposed to me. The 29th Congressional District was definitely and historically a safe Republican district, and it was therefore extremely difficult for me to receive financial support even from the ordinary pro-Democratic sources. They all sympathized with me sincerely, and they were honest in their appreciation of my efforts, but when it came to contributing money, we might as well have asked them to bet a hundred-to-one shot at the race track.
But if money was lacking, help was not. The volunteer workers, people such as Mrs. Croft, Mrs. Teeple and Indio businessman, Mr Frank Tebo were marvelous. In addition to the efforts of the regulars and volunteers, one of the greatest contributing factors to my success at the polls was the hard work done by the members of my immediate family. Even before the primary election, and then throughout the general election campaign, all the members of my family--my wife, three children, my son-in-law, and my daughter-in-law--were busy ringing doorbells and passing out literature. One time we calculated that members of my family had passed out 11,000 Saund circulars before the primary election in Riverside alone. My wife was teaching school at the time and my youngest daughter was a student at U.C.L.A. During the summer vacation they rented an apartment in Riverside and organized and carried on an intensive campaign of registration. They must have called on thousands and thousands of homes, and they gathered about them scores of volunteer workers. This proved to be extremely effective. On weekends they were joined by my son, my eldest daughter, my son-in-law, and my daughter-in-law.
All of my children are college graduates and so were my daughter-in-law and son-in-law; together and separately they made a highly favorable impression. I recall that a few days before the election I was having dinner at a popular restaurant near Riverside. A prominent Riverside lawyer, whom I had known only casually, came to my table to say, "Judge, you and your family have made a big impression on the people of Riverside County and if we don't vote for you for Congress, it'll be because we want to give President Eisenhower a Republican Congress."
While he was talking to me another gentleman who had been listening came up and warmly shook my hand and said, "Now, look here, Judge, don't you worry. He may vote for anybody, but I'm going to vote for you."
To this day, more than three years after that campaign, people still come up to me to say, "I met your daughter,". . . or "your son-in-law called at my house. . . and that is when I decided that I was going to vote for you." They speak similarly of my wife and my other children who campaigned so patiently and so well. Thus I have no doubt that one of the biggest contributing factors in my election was the family's effort on my behalf.
Although 1956 was a presidential election year as well as a year in which the state of California was to elect a new United States senator, the main interest of the voters of Riverside and Imperial counties was centered on the race for congressman of their district. This proved most helpful to me, since it made it that much easier for me to get a hearing. People everywhere were eager to meet me personally and learn my views on the issues in the campaign.
My opponent was positively opposed to any farm subsidy while I believed (and still do) that farmers need government protection in order to get a fair share in the economic rewards of our American life. I cited as an example the fact that while farmers constituted 18 per cent of the population in the United States, they received only 6 per cent of the total national income. I had farmed in Imperial County for twenty-five years and I was thoroughly acquainted with the problems in the Imperial, Coachella, and Palo Verde valleys, particularly in regard to their vital need for a continuous and controlled supply of water from the Colorado River.
The main campaign theme of the opposition was that President Eisenhower would need a Republican Congress in Washington. Coupled with this, Mrs Odlum hammered at the point that because she knew the President personally, because she was well acquainted with people in important positions in Washington, and because of the great influence her husband wielded in financial circles, she would be able to accomplish big things for her congressional district and be able to bring new industries into the area.
My answer to this was that I did not claim to have any influence in Washington, or expect to obtain any special favors for the people of my district because of my intimate acquaintances with people in high places. And yet I made it quite plain that I was no Johnny-come-lately in politics. At that time I was a member of the top leadership of the Democratic party in the state and had become personally acquainted with many of the leaders in Washington through my work as a chairman of the Democratic County Central Committee of Imperial County and a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic party of the state of California. If elected to Congress I promised to present my case to my colleagues forcefully and respectfully; I would let the matters concerning my district be judged on their own merits and not depend on any particular favors from anybody. I recalled that every time I'd had to make any deals with bigger people than myself in my personal life I'd always ended up with the short end of the stick. My view was that any congressman who expected to get favors from the big boys in Washington got them only by voting the way the big boys wanted him to vote, not the way the interests of his district would lead him to vote.
My opposition, as I have said, made an attempt to use my Indian origin against me. I decided to turn it to my own advantage and announced on a television broadcast that if elected I would immediately fly to India and the Far East. I would appear before the people there and tell them, "You have been listening to the insidious propaganda of the Communists that there is prejudice and discrimination in the United States against your people. Look, here I am. I am a living example of American democracy in action. I was elected by the free vote of the people in a very conservative district of the state of California to membership in the most powerful legislative body on the earth. Where else in the world could that happen?"
Since there are no television stations in Riverside County, in order to reach the voters in Riverside County I had to buy time on the southern California networks in Hollywood. This was an expensive business, but I did manage two fifteen-minute broadcasts. The first time I introduced to the television audience all of the members of my immediate family.
On the second broadcast I had only my wife with me, and to close my short television campaign, I said, "If I do not succeed in my objective to be elected to Congress, I shall know that it will not be because of the place of my birth or the color of my skin, but because the voters of the 29th Congressional District decided to send someone better than myself to Washington."
The real climax of the campaign, however, was a debate between Mrs. Odlum and myself, held on Halloween night in a junior high-school auditorium in Riverside, just a few days before the election. The interest in the campaign was so great that long before the time of the meeting the auditorium was filled to capacity. The debate was broadcast over a network of radio stations in Riverside and Imperial counties. As at important political rallies and sports events, the broadcast started a half-hour before the debate began, and lasted nearly two hours.
The rules of the debate called for Mrs. Odlum and myself to speak for thirty minutes and then answer questions from the audience. I conceded to my opponent the choice of position, and she chose to open and close. She also chose to devote more than half her time in her opening remarks to expounding the virtues of President Eisenhower and running down Adlai E. Stevenson.
I decided to deal more directly with the occasion and said:
"I hold in my heart deep feelings of respect for my opponent.
"I have watched her meteoric career to fame within the last twenty years with pride, along with millions of my fellow Americans.
"I have been thrilled many a time by her great achievements in the field of aviation. I knew of the fame of Jacqueline Cochran Odlum long before she became a candidate for Congress, and I wish to say this tonight: Mrs. Odlum, my respect and admiration for your achievements are second to none."
I went on to point out that I was not a candidate for the presidency of the United States, and that it was to be understood that I was a candidate only for congressman from the 29th Congressional District. The two candidates for the presidency were perfectly capable, in my opinion, of taking care of their own campaigns.
As for President Eisenhower's needing a Republican Congress, there was the fact that during his first term President Eisenhower received more support from Democrats in Congress than from his own party's congressional leaders. I also pointed out that President Eisenhower favored federal aid to education; that President Eisenhower favored revising the Walter-McCarran Act in regard to immigration. Furthermore, under the President's leadership, Congress had enacted the Soil Bank Program. I stated that I agreed with Mr. Eisenhower's views on all of these issues, which was more than could be said for my opponent, who had taken diametrically opposite positions on each one.
My opponent then dragged the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Nehru, into the debate, saying that he was leaning toward the Communists and would certainly like to have a man from India elected to the Congress of the United States. To this I replied that I was presenting myself to the people of the 29th Congressional District as an American candidate for Congress and not as anyone owing allegiance to any foreign country.
The debate reached a very large portion of the voters in Riverside and Imperial counties; some estimated that as many as forty to fifty thousand people heard it on radio. Furthermore, the entire debate, including the question-and-answer period, was reprinted in its entirety in the largest daily newspaper in the district, the Riverside Press Enterprise.
Mrs. Odlum had publicly challenged me to this debate and I must say it proved extremely helpful to me in my campaign. I could not possibly have reached that large an audience through any medium within the means of my campaign committee. She had big billboards throughout the area while I had the makeshift signs. She had the advantage of a well-organized campaign under the supervision of professional managers. I could not possibly match the lines of advertising in the newspapers or the professional quality of her ads. Almost all the press was emphatically on her side. Thus, reaching this great radio audience was a big help to me at the right time just a few days before the election.
After an exciting night of vote counting I came out on top --with a majority of 4,000 votes out of a total of 110,000 votes cast. Mrs. Odlum defeated me by a considerable margin in the city of Riverside and carried the Palm Springs area by an overwhelming majority of 75 per cent. On the other hand, I received 60 per cent of the votes in Imperial County and close to that figure in the other farming areas in the district--Palo Verde Valley and Coachella Valley near Indio. There were nearly five thousand absentee ballots to be counted yet, and even though my majority was too large to be overcome by the absentee votes, the election could not be considered official until these ballots were in. As a result of this tally my opponent gained only 700 more votes. Thus I was the victor by 3,300 votes--the first native of Asia elected to the United States Congress.
On the day after the election I received a congratulatory message from Mrs. Odlum. In reply, I thanked her for her kindness and stated that it had been an honor to have her as my opponent.
VI. FRESHMAN CONGRESSMAN
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