The gold standard of name calling in American political campaigns came in a 1950 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Florida, where New Jersey-born Rep. George Smathers was running against incumbent Claude Pepper.
The legendary “redneck speech” may never have been given. But after Time magazine reported it, the story has become legendary among political junkies.
Smathers: “Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, he has a brother who is a known homo sapiens, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.”
The real issue in that primary was attacks on Pepper for having communist sympathies. Smathers called him “Red Pepper,” and capitalized on comments by Josef Stalin after a meeting with the Senator in the Soviet Union called Pepper “a man Americans could trust.”
Smathers won 55%-45%.
The New Jersey connection Smathers was born in Atlantic City. His uncle, William Smathers, was a state senator from Atlantic County before ousting an incumbent Republican U.S. Senator in 1936. Smathers is the last person to beat an incumbent Senator from New Jersey in a general election.