Original Document
Original Document
Frank R. Kent, "Pinchot vs. Pepper vs. Vare," The Nation, April 14, 1926.

By long odds the most interesting, colorful and significant political situation in the United States is the one created by the three-cornered Pennsylvania primary contest for the Republican Senatorial nomination which by the time this appears in print will be near its final stage. Its far-reaching and vital character does not appear to be fully grasped either in Washington or outside.

It is not only that the State is the home of the aged Mr. Mellon, concededly the most powerful single influence in the Government today. Nor is it merely because it is the most impregnably Republican State of them all. Nor is it because the Senate seat at stake is that of the pious Pepper, the most eloquent and oleaginous of all the Coolidge eulogists, whose support of the Mellon policies, so far as is known, is marred only the single instance of his committee vote to give the silver producers $5,000,000 to which Mr. Mellon says they are not entitled.

Besides these things, the fight is notable because more millions are actively engaged than in any other political contest in the country or in any we have seen in a long time, and further because the prestige, power, and political position of the dominant group in the dominant party are at stake. The Mellon-Reed interests ran the last Republican convention. They are really running the party now and victory for their candidate means that they will run it in 1928. Defeat means an unpredictable convention, and the surface calm of the good Calvin, plus his cautious if not over-grateful neutrality, does not prevent a complete understanding of the situation at the White House. It is well understood there that the prestige of his most potent support is threatened and that a Pepper defeat would in all probability be followed by a. complete loss of interest in polities by Mr. Mellon and his retirement from the Cabinet. The fact is they are all badly scared. Personally my belief is that the financial interests back of Pepper are so vast that they cannot afford to lose–and won't.

However, politics is an uncertain game. You never can tell. And the battle is such an unusual one that it is a joy to see it go to the finish. It isn't often that the massed power of money is unable to straighten out the kinks without having to go to such lengths. This time they failed and they don't like it. Seldom, too in American politics is there as striking a contrast presented as in the three candidates. It is a wonderful situation. There is present every element of drama save the love interest–which is notably lacking. But everything else is there–hate and greed, revenge, money, religion, license, pride, and the love of power. Also there has been injected as the outstanding issue the question always avoided by politicians if possible, but of more interest to more people than any other–the liquor question.

The story is best told by presenting the candidates. First, Governor Gifford Pinchot, the dryest of the drys, the enemy of the "organization," the denouncer of "the gang," a reformer, an aristocrat, a crusader, graduate of two universities, the possessor of much inherited money, a Roosevelt Republican, not in tune with Mr. Coolidge, and a prickly thorn in the flesh of Mr. Mellon, appealing to the Christian men and women for support and cracking both his opponents over the head as representatives of sinister interests.

Then there is Congressman William Scott Vare, the wettest of the wets, who went to no school after he was fourteen years old; was supporting himself at fifteen; has made his million himself; was once, so it is said, referred to by the late Senator Penrose as "the ash-cart statesman"; is regarded by some as a "roughneck"; is the boss of the unsavory Philadelphia machine, the leader of the gang, the friend of "the boys." The Philade1phia vote is about one-third the vote of the state and the Philadelphia machine is enthusiastically back of its boss, whose platform is apparently all wet. Besides the machine, Mr. Vare has support from Ralph Beaver Strassburger, the wealthy gentleman who once acted as angel for Hiram Johnson, two years ago kept Pinchot from going to the national convention, and owns a few upstate newspapers.

And finally there is Senator Pepper himself. For a while it was impossible to tell how he stood on the liquor question–but he has been smoked out. Reluctantly he took his stand with the Drys-not a very firm stand, it is true, but still a stand. He is not dry as Pinchot, but he is
not as wet as Vare. He is like that in his attitude toward 'machines.' He looks with loathing upon the Philadelphia gang supporting Vare, but with tolerance upon the Pittsburgh machine supporting himself. Thus he establishes the claim of his friends that he is a broad-minded man capable of seeing both sides. Senator Pepper is a good man and highly educated. He never went to a public school; was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has along list of honorary degrees from many universities, which he enumerates in the sketch of his life, written by himself, in the Congressional Directory. In the same sketch he points out that he is a member of "various organizations and learned societies concerned with education and research." In a word, Senator Pepper is a highbrow. He is also the leading authority on the canonical law of the Episcopal church. A fine lawyer with high community standing, he came to the Senate six years ago with a reputation as a political idealist, which he has somewhat marred by the partisan character of his votes and the abandonment of his own views at the crack of the party whip.

The real thing back of Senator Pepper is the Mellon interests. If it were not for these he would not figure in the fight at all. But with Mr. Mellon, his colleague Senator Reed, the banks, the railroads, the steel interests, the big newspapers, and all that these combined interests represent, he has the strongest backing of the three. It is hard to see how he can lose. They can't afford to let him lose. But he isn't happy. Nor are they.

Credit: Frank R. Kent, "Pinchot vs. Pepper vs. Vare," The Nation, April 14, 1926.
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