Advisor(s) - Committee Chair
Carol Crowe-Carraco, David Lee, James Baker
Department of History
Master of Arts
The 1955 Kentucky gubernatorial election was one of the more bitterly contested political campaigns in the state’s history. In the Democratic primary, former Lieutenant Governor, Governor, United States Senator, and Baseball Commissioner Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler, back from a nearly sixteen-year absence from Kentucky politics, challenged the entrenched Democratic administration headed by United States Senator Earle C. Clements and Governor Lawrence Wetherby. After deliberating for several months, the Clements-Wetherby political machine selected as its candidate Bert T. Combs, an Eastern Kentucky attorney best known for defeating former Governor Simeon Willis for a position on Kentucky’s Court of Appeals. The heated race that followed featured a barrage of allegations from both sides, including Chandler’s famous unsubstantiated contention that Governor Wetherby had spent $20,000 on a rug for the executive mansion. In the end, Chandler’s oratorical gifts, name recognition, and ebullient personality outpaced the organizing power of the Democratic administration and Combs’ sincere but dull campaigning. Chandler won 258,875 votes to 241,754 for Combs.
In the general election, Chandler faced Edwin R. Denney, a former United States District Attorney who had encountered little opposition in the Republican primary. The Kentucky Republican Party believed it could exploit the rift that had developed in the Democratic Party during the primary and capture the governorship. To this end, Denney mounted a campaign based on a progressive platform and attacks against Chandler’s character. Chandler countered by portraying Denney as a heartless politician who not only voted against legislation beneficial to Kentuckians but who also supported the controversial farm policies of Republican Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson. On election day, Chandler quashed Republican hopes when he received the largest majority, nearly 129,000 votes, attained by a Kentucky gubernatorial candidate to that time.
American Politics | Arts and Humanities | History | Political History | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences | United States History
Hill, John, "Kentucky Politics at Its “Damnedest”: The 1955 Gubernatorial Election" (1998). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 3383.
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