Thursday, January 14, 2016

Farmer Krajewski and the Presidential Election of 1952

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, January 15, 2016.

Exeter, like a lot of New Hampshire towns, certainly gets a great deal of campaign traffic during presidential primary years. Among our photo stacks of politicians is one of “Farmer Krajewski” taken in the 1950s. In terms of documentation, you can’t ask for a better photo. It’s usually a struggle to determine when, where and why a picture was taken, but this guy (and the photographer – A. Belcher) managed to nail down all the basics in one inspired shot. The candidate stands next to his car, which is festooned with “Farmer Krajewski for 1952 President of the United States” and “Square Deal Program – Poor Man’s Party – Independent Candidate – New Jersey,” posed in a no parking zone directly in front of the Exeter Inn on Front Street. Our copy even has the date – May 14, 1951 – scribbled on the back. For an archivist, it doesn’t get any better than that. Except, of course, that no one’s ever heard of the guy. What in heaven’s name was going on in with the 1952 election?

When we look back on that election, it seems like a slam dunk. It was the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower – “I Like Ike” a near landslide for the Republicans in November. But that outcome was in no way foreseeable in the early days of the campaign. The incumbent, Democrat Harry Truman, although eligible thanks to the 22nd amendment, had flushed his re-election chances the previous year when he fired General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination. MacArthur, still a hero to most Americans for his World War II victories, had encouraged an escalation in the on-going Korean War. Truman’s popularity ratings sank to all-time lows. He tried to recruit someone to run, hoping perhaps Eisenhower – who had not declared his party affiliation – would run as a democrat. Eisenhower surprised everyone by declaring himself a Republican. Adlai Stevenson, Truman’s second choice, showed no interest in running for president because he was happy serving as governor of Illinois and wanted to run for a second term. That left the Democrats with Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, who soundly won the New Hampshire Democratic primary even though Truman was still listed on the ballot.

Dwight Eisenhower won the primary for the Republican Party and in June of 1952 resigned his commission in the army and began his presidential campaign. Think about that for a moment – he BEGAN his campaign in June of the election year. Presidential elections were shorter back then. Last October, with 13 months before the general election, Joe Biden’s chances at a presidential run were considered hopeless due to a late start. Eisenhower pulled it off in 5 ½ months. The Republican Party convention, held in July, gave the nomination to Eisenhower on the first ballot.

The Democrats were faced with a larger problem. Estes Kefauver won 12 of the 15 state primaries, but the party hierarchy disliked him intensely. He’d been part of a congressional watchdog group that had investigated corruption in the party and, considering these were the days of Joseph McCarthy’s ‘Red Scare’ with all of its witch-hunting and blacklisting, such behavior was viewed as intolerable to party bosses. Not to mention he campaigned wearing a coon-skin cap on a dogsled, which was just too silly to be taken seriously. Kefauver had to go down at the Democratic Convention, and go down he did. The party was also hobbled by civil rights issues – the Southern delegates threatening to walk if desegregation came up. In the end, the reluctant Adlai Stevenson was drafted as the nominee choosing John Sparkman of Alabama as his ‘balance-the-ticket’ running mate.

And then, of course, there was New Jersey pig farmer Henry Krajewski. Could there have been an unlikelier candidate? With his foreign sounding name (pronounce it, “kra-YEV-skee”) and crazy political platform – he endorsed a one-year tax moratorium for most taxpayers, a free pint of milk each day for every school child, more beer parties for the poor man – he was the diversion many people were looking for. He hailed from Secaucus, New Jersey where he ran a 4,000 pig farm. Often campaigning with a pig tucked under his arm he decried “piggy deals” in Washington. A supporter of Joseph McCarthy, and “America First” he was hardly the people’s choice. His campaign was aided by the creation of his very own music, the “Hey! Krajewski! Hey! Polka,” that you can still find on YouTube performed by Philadelphia’s Polish String Band (look it up, it’s worth it). In spite of all this fun, and his status as the earliest candidate to campaign in Exeter for the 1952 election if our dated photo is to be believed, Krajewski, like nearly all stunt candidates didn’t draw enough support for even one electoral vote, failing even in his home state of New Jersey. His photo, however, serves as a foreshadowing of the crazy, nutty circus that politics – particularly primary politics – in New Hampshire would evolve into as our ‘first-in-the-nation’ status dug into the national scene. Next time you get caught in a robo-poll on the phone, tell them you’re voting for Farmer Krajewski.

Photo: Candidate Henry "Farmer" Krajewski made a campaign visit to Exeter in May of 1951. In spite of his colorful campaign platform, he ultimately lost the election to Dwight D. Eisenhower.


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