Fifty years ago, on January 27th, 1964, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine announced her candidacy for President of the United States. The following July, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, the Great Lady from Maine became the first woman to have her name entered into nomination by a major party for our nation's highest office. I recently spoke on the Senate floor to commemorate this remarkable leader and this significant milestone in American history.
At the time of her announcement, Senator Smith was in her twenty-fourth year in Congress and was an established groundbreaker. She was the first woman elected to both the House and the Senate, and the first to serve on the Armed Services Committee. She was the woman who gave other women the opportunity to have careers in the military. Due to her early and energetic support for the space program, she was called the woman who put a man on the moon.
Her courageous "Declaration of Conscience," delivered in the Senate on June 1st, 1950, turned the tide against McCarthyism and reminded all Americans of our nation's core values of free expression and independent thought.
Senator Smith made her presidential announcement in a speech at the Women's National Press Club in Washington. It was an important address, in which she described both the progress America had made against hatred, bigotry, and extremism, and the challenges that remained.
But she saved the best for last. After telling her audience of the flood of letters she had been receiving from all over the country urging her to run for president, Senator Smith described the reasons offered by her supporters. Such as, she had more experience at the national level than the other confirmed candidates. She had the stature that could break the barrier against women being seriously considered for president. She would provide a moderate, middle-of-the-road option in an election that was shaping up as one between conservative and liberal philosophies.
Then she described the reasons she should not run - the widespread contention that the presidency was a man's job, her lack of financial resources and a professional political organization, and the fact that the odds were heavily against her.
Senator Smith said she found the reasons offered against running far more compelling than those in favor. So imagine the audience's surprise when she said that, because of those reasons, she had decided to enter the New Hampshire primary.
Her campaign was off and running, and what a campaign it was. Senator Smith accepted no money from anyone - all contributions, large and small, were returned to sender. She took to the campaign trail only when the Senate was not in session in order to preserve her perfect record of never missing a roll -call vote and to keep the pledge of dedicated service she had made to the people of Maine. Her campaign motto was, "There is nothing more effective than a handshake and a little conversation."
As a consequence of her self-imposed financial and time restrictions, Senator Smith did not win a primary, but in the one primary where she was able to campaign somewhat extensively - Illinois, for all of two weekends and a total cost of $85 - she finished a strong second in a field of six, losing only to the eventual nominee, Barry Goldwater. With 25 percent of the vote, she came in far ahead of such well-known candidates as Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, and Henry Cabot Lodge. It is intriguing to think what she could have done with a more traditional campaign.
At the Republican National Convention that year, Senator Smith's name was entered into nomination by Senator George Aiken of Vermont. He told the delegates that Senator Smith's integrity, ability, common sense, and courage made her "the best qualified person you ever voted for." On the first ballot, 27 delegates did vote for Margaret Chase Smith.
Unlike the other candidates, Senator Smith did not release her delegates to the landslide victor, Senator Goldwater. This was not done out of spite - she campaigned for him earnestly in the general election - but because she wanted the historical record to show that a woman had been given serious consideration for the presidency.
From the first time we met, when I was a senior at Caribou High School, Margaret Chase Smith has been my role model, my inspiration. Although I did not realize it at the time, that meeting was the first step in a journey that led me to run for her seat 25 years later. And I am so proud to hold the seat of a Senator whose entire public career personified integrity and service.
Many words have been spoken over many years in attempts to describe the character of Senator Margaret Chase Smith. Perhaps the best were offered by the candidate herself on that campaign trail a half-century ago: "I have few illusions and no money, but I'm staying for the finish. When people keep telling you, you can't do a thing, you kind of like to try." On this milestone anniversary, I am honored to celebrate an extraordinary Maine woman who tried and failed in one endeavor, but, in so doing, inspired generations of Americans with her strength and determination, and demonstrated, as she once said, that a woman's place is "everywhere."