Wayne Babbitt

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Wayne Hubert Babbitt

(Arkansas veterinarian, businessman, and politician)​

Political party Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Arkansas, 1972​

Born April 21, 1928​
Died August 6, 1994 (aged 66)

Resting place:
Rest Hills Memorial Garden in North Little Rock, Arkansas

Spouse Eleanor Joan Timmerman Babbitt (married 1946-1994, his death)

Children:
Mark Randall Babbitt
Holly Babbitt Longtin
Maureen Babbitt Watson

Wayne Hubert Babbitt (April 21, 1928 – August 6, 1994)[1] was a Republican politician in the U.S. state of Arkansas, who in 1972 became the only member of his party ever to oppose the reelection of entrenched Democratic U.S. Senator John McClellan.​

Personal life

Babbitt met the former Eleanor Joan Timmerman (March 1, 1926 – April 29, 2005) at Merritt Beach in Omaha, Nebraska, and they married in 1946. The Babbitts had three children, Mark Randall Babbitt of Little Rock; Holly Babbitt Longtin and husband Joey and Maureen Babbitt Watson, formerly Maureen Beldin and since the wife of Gary Watson.[2]

Business and political career

Some sources say that Babbitt was born in Nebraska, where he obtained his Social Security number; The Political Graveyard cites Babbitt's place of birth as Macedonia in Pottawattamie County, Iowa.[3] He moved to Arkansas in 1957 to practice veterinary medicine and thereafter became involved in GOP politics. In 1963, Babbitt became the chairman of the Pulaski County (Little Rock) Republican Committee. The next year he ran for the Arkansas State Senate but lost to the Democrat Dan Sprick. He was also a delegate to the 1964 Republican National Convention, which met in San Francisco, California, to nominate Barry Goldwater for the presidency. He was vice chairman of the Arkansas GOP in 1966 and reluctantly withdrew from consideration as chairman to support Odell Pollard, the party's general counsel from Searcy in White County, who carried the backing of then Governor-elect Winthrop Rockefeller, the state's first Republican chief executive since Reconstruction.

Governor Rockefeller first appointed Babbitt chairman of the state Livestock and Poultry Commission and then elevated him to state director for the Federal Housing Administration. U.S. President Richard M. Nixon then named Babbitt to head the Housing and Urban Development office in Little Rock, at which Babbitt tried to extricate families from substandard housing and into clean homes at a time when urban renewal was not a uniform policy.​

1972 Senate campaign

Babbitt resigned from HUD to run for the U.S. Senate. In April 1972, he declared his candidacy at the Sam Peck Hotel in Little Rock, now known as The Legacy.[4]

John McClellan, meanwhile, ran into strong opposition in the 1972 Democratic primary. McClellan only narrowly won his party's nomination, 52-48 percent, over the determined opposition of then U.S. Representative (and later Governor and U.S. Senator) David Pryor. Both McClellan and Pryor lived at the time in Camden in Ouachita County in southern Arkansas. Pryor had the support of organized labor and among many African American in the runoff election, but more conservative voters in small towns and rural areas throughout Arkansas managed to renominate McClellan for his last term in the Senate, a term that he did not live to complete.[5]

As a Senate candidate, Babbitt vowed to tackle the lingering Vietnam War, the economy, and fight for better-paying jobs. Babbitt tried to appeal to Pryor supporters in the primary, but many were Democratic party loyalists even though they had rejected McClellan in the primary. Babbitt ran full-page "open letter" to Senator McClellan in various Arkansas newspapers. He questioned why McClellan did not retire in 1972, when the veteran senator turned seventy-six. He cited McClellan's attendance record in the Senate, where he had cast votes only half the time on Senate roll calls in 1972 alone. McClellan missed the vote when his Arkansas colleague, J. William Fulbright, brought forth a proposal to bring the Amtrak passenger train line into Arkansas. "Maybe at seventy-six years of age, you have grown tired of putting your votes on the record," declared Babbitt in one of the letters. He declared McClellan to have been "a nineteenth century leader" misusing the advantages of Senate seniority.[6]

In the summer of 1972, McClellan suddenly became chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee on the death of neighboring senator, Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana. McClellan seemed to resent the need to campaign against a Republican—something he had never previously done—to win his sixth term. Babbitt erred when he tried to tie McClellan to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern of South Dakota, while trying at the same time to appeal to Pryor supporters, many of whom also favored McGovern. Babbitt tended to dwell on certain minor issues. He even called a press conference with two Little Rock housewives to accuse McClellan of failure to alleviate drainage problems from Rock Creek in the southwestern part of the capital city.[7]

Babbitt waged an active race, while McClellan refused to take part in the general election campaign. Babbitt spent less than $20,000 on his race. He campaigned in all Arkansas cities of at least a modest population.​ Though Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew were coasting to reelection at the head of the national GOP ticket, the party practically abandoned Babbitt and senatorial nominees Gilbert L. "Gil" Carmichael of Mississippi and Winton Blount of Alabama. Nixon decided not to alienate Senators McClellan, James Eastland, or John Sparkman by stumping hard for Babbitt, Carmichael, and Blount. His inaction left the southern GOP Senate choices with little chance of victory. An exception was in North Carolina, where Jesse Helms won the first of his five terms as a Republican, but there the Democratic candidate was not an incumbent, having unseated the incumbent, B. Everett Jordan, in the party primary.​

The Arkansas statewide Republican candidates fared poorly across the board. McClellan defeated Babbitt, 386,398 (60.9 percent) to 248,238 (39.1 percent). Babbitt won only two of the seventy-five counties, Searcy in in the northwestern part of the state, with 58.3 percent, and Garland, which includes Hot Springs, with 52.8 percent. In twenty-six other counties, Babbitt polled at least 40 percent of the ballots cast. Babbit also ran 14.5 percentage points ahead of his gubernatorial ticket mate, Len Blaylock of Perry County, another Rockefeller associate who was defeated by the incumbent Governor Dale Bumpers.[8]​ Other losing Republican candidates that year were Ken Coon, running for lieutenant governor; Edwin Ruthvin Bethune, Jr., seeking the position of attorney general; and Jerry Climer, a public administrator running for secretary of state.

Later life

After his political career ended, Babbitt purchased the Bush Caldwell Company and then created the companion National Custom Hollow Metal in Little Rock. He also practiced veterinary medicine in North Little Rock and throughout Pulaski County. At the time of his death he and his wife were residing in Heber Springs in Cleburne County near Little Rock. The Babbitts are interred at Rest Hills Memorial Garden in North Little Rock.[2]


References

  1. Social Security Death Index, Ancestry.com (under pay wall)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eleanor Joan Babbitt. Rollerfuneralhomes.com. Retrieved on June 10, 2019.
  3. Babbitt, Wayne H.. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on June 10, 2019.
  4. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 7, 1972, p. 2488; Suzi Parker, "Politician 'thrived on challenge'", Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 7, 1994, p. 4B.
  5. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 7, 1972, p. 2488.
  6. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 7, 1972, p. 2488; Arkansas Democrat, October 3, 1972.
  7. Arkansas Democrat October 3, 11, 1972; Arkansas Gazette,, November 2, 1972.
  8. Election Statistics, 1972 (State of Arkansas: Secretary of State).

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