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Robert J. Morris

Bush Texas rival was three-time NJ U.S. Senate candidate

Robert Morris challenged George H.W. Bush twice in Texas Senate primaries

By David Wildstein, December 01 2018 3:40 pm


A New Jersey man was one of George Bush’s first opponents.

Robert Morris sough the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate five times, three times in New Jersey and twice in Texas – both times against Bush.

In the 1950’s, the Jersey City-born Morris served as chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Internal Security, the equivalent to the old House Un-American Activities Committee.

Morris returned to New Jersey in 1958 to seek the open U.S. Senate seat of retiring Republican H. Alexander Smith.   Rep. Robert Kean, the father of the future governor, won the GOP primary with 43% of the vote.  Bernard Shanley, who had served as a top White House aide under President Dwight Eisenhower, finished second with 36%; Morris ran third with 21%.

In 1960, Morris challenged freshman U.S. Senator Clifford Case in the Republican primary and lost 64%-33%.  After the primary, he moved to Texas to become the president of the University of Dallas.

Morris was one of four Republicans who entered the race to challenge Texas’s Democratic U.S. Senator, Ralph Yarborough. One of the other candidates was Bush, who was making his first bid for public office.  Morris won 20% of the vote in the Republican primary, finishing third, 34,706 votes behind Bush (44%) and 17,282 behind Jack Cox.  Cox had won 46% of the vote as the Republican candidate for governor against John Connolly in 1962.

In a runoff, Bush beat Cox 62%-38%.  Yarborough won the general election 56%-44%.

Bush was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966 and re-elected in 1968.  He gave up his seat after four years to mount another challenge to Yarborough in 1970.

Morris again challenged Bush in the Republican Senate primary and lost by an 88%-12% margin.

Yarborough wound up losing the Democratic primary to Lloyd Bentsen, who then defeated Bush 44%-46%.

That loss set Bush on a different path, becoming Richard Nixon’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 1971.  From there he served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. Envoy to China, and Republican National Chairman.

Like Bush, Morris also ran for president.

In 1976, Morris sough the nomination of the American Independent Party.  Eight years earlier, the AIP presidential nominee, former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, carried five states on a largely segregationist platform against Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.

At the AIP convention, the nomination went to former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox.  Maddox received 177 delegates to Morris’ 80.  A third candidate, former Louisiana Rep. John Rarick, finished third with 70 delegates.

Morris returned to New Jersey and in 1984 again became a U.S. Senate candidate.

Most of the Republican organization was backing Montclair Mayor Mary Mochary in her uphill battle to unseat freshman U.S. Senator Bill Bradley.

Mochary won most of the organization lines, although Ocean County Republicans endorsed Morris.  She won the primary by 41,433 votes, a 61%-39% margin.  (Full disclosure: I was Mochary’s campaign manager in her race against Morris that year; her campaign strategist was Roger Stone.)

It was during that campaign that Bush and Mochary met for the first time, when they met in Washington during a day of briefings the White House held for Republican candidates.  Mochary was seated next to Bush at a lunch and they discovered they had both faced the same primary opponent.

Bush asked Mochary if Morris had changed over the years.  Mochary said he had not.

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