In keeping with our Presidential visits to Rochester series, on November 3rd, 1964, Rochester’s Senator Kenneth B. Keating lost his re-election bid to Robert F. Kennedy
In 1964, New York Senator Republican Kenneth Keating from Rochester faced two big obstacles in his re-election bid. In 1958, Keating had only narrowly defeated Frank Hogan by less than two percentage points.
First, Keating’s opponent was Robert Kennedy. Only nine months after JFK’s assassination, RFK walked within the aura of his slain brother.
Furthermore, Kennedy had been a popular US Attorney General under LBJ before leaving his cabinet position on August 22, 1964 to run for the senate.
Second, at the top of the Republican ticket in 1964 was Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was very unpopular in New York; Kennedy was sure to ride Lyndon Johnson’s big coattails.
Keating had the same problems faced today by many Republican lawmakers and candidates who are wary of Donald Trump at the top of the 2016 Republican ticket. In an October 9th article, The growing list of Republicans withdrawing support for Donald Trump, The Guardian offers a long list of prominent Republicans leaders who have disavowed Trump, many fearing for their own re-elections.
Three days ago, in Which Republicans Oppose Donald Trump? A Cheat Sheet, The Atlantic added to the list, including a report that Colin Powell might endorse Hillary Clinton.
Like other Republicans in Democratic leaning states, in 1964 Keating tried to distance himself as much as possible from Goldwater. During the Republican convention, Keating left the Cow Palace before Goldwater’s acceptance speech. During the campaign, Keating jousted with the national GOP who didn’t want Keating to reject Goldwater outright.
In September, former Vice President Richard Nixon offered to support both Goldwater and Keating. Nixon himself had chosen not to run for President in 1964, sure that LBJ could not be beaten.
Goldwater did not campaign in Rochester, but his vice presidential candidate, NYS Representative William E. Miller from Lockport came to Rochester on October 24th. Miller heartily endorsed Keating and said he himself would vote for Keating in November.
During the campaign, Keating portrayed Kennedy as a carpetbagger from Massachusetts. While New York State law only requires a senator be a resident at the time of election, Kennedy had only spend a short time in the state, all during his boyhood. (The same charges of carpetbaggerism were made when Hillary Clinton successfully ran for NY Senate in 2000.) After Kennedy won, a popular quip was: now Massachusetts had three senators.
Keating’s Rochester supporters also tried to dim the aura of the Kennedy name. Several dozen Rochesterians named Kennedy placed an ad in the D & C, “Kennedys for Keating,” warning against falling for the “Kennedy” spell.
Keating best hope was big crossover voting, a split ticket: Johnson for president and Keating for senator. Another ad in the D & C instructed voters how to mark a crossover ballot. And Split Ticket buttons appeared: Johnson 1-B and Keating 2-A.
Keating drew big crowds at Rochester rallies. The Seneca Indians even made Keating an honorary blood brother for backing a 15 million dollar bill to compensate the tribe for the loss of much of its Allegheny Reservation.
Keating was very much Monroe County’s favorite son. Born in Lima, NY, Keating graduated from the University of Rochester, taught for a year at East High School, practiced law in Rochester and was Brighton’s town attorney. From 1947 – 1959, Keating represented Rochester-area districts in Congress.
As a moderate Republican leaning newspaper, it was not surprising that the Democrat and Chronicle endorsed Keating, accusing Kennedy of negative campaigning.
But Kennedy also drew big crowds, including a rally at the University of Rochester. Keating’s obstacles proved too great. Kennedy won 53.5 – 43.4%. Keating did carry Monroe County and did better state wide than Goldwater.
The night of November 3rd was jubilation at the Manger Hotel and dejection at the Powers Building. After a two week vacation in the Virgin Islands, Keating returned to Rochester looking rested if not unburdened.
Upon his death in 1975, the Times-Union reviewed Keating’s many accomplishment including making brigadier general in the Army Reserves in 1948, serving as an associate judge at the State Court of Appeals, and serving as the US Ambassador to Israel from 1969 – 1972.
In his will, Keating left his Georgian Colonial home on 3500 Elmwood Road in Brighton to the University of Rochester where his papers are held in the Rush Rhees Rare Book Room. Keating’s body was interred in Arlington National Cemetery, Fort Myer, Virginia.
THE PRESIDENTIAL VISITS SERIES