Lyndon B. Johnson Wins Texas Senate Seat
Johnson defeats Republican candidate Jack Porter in the general election to win the Senate seat vacated by Senator W. Lee “Pappy” O'Daniel.
During the dramatic 1948 campaign, he travels by “newfangled” helicopter all over Texas. Earlier, he defeated Coke Stevenson to win the Democratic primary by 87 votes and earned the nickname "Landslide Lyndon.”
In 1948, Johnson again ran for the Senate and won. This election was highly controversial: a three-way Democratic Party primary saw Johnson facing a well-known former governor, Coke Stevenson; and a third candidate. Johnson drew crowds to fairgrounds with his rented helicopter dubbed "The Flying Windmill". He raised money to flood the state with campaign circulars, and won over conservatives by voting for the Taft-Hartley act (curbing union power) as well as by criticizing unions himself.
Stevenson came in first, but lacked a majority, so a runoff was held. Johnson campaigned even harder this time around, while Stevenson's efforts were surprisingly poor. As the two candidates see-sawed for the lead, the runoff count took a week. The Democratic State Central Committee (not the state, because the matter was a party primary) handled the count, and it finally announced that Johnson had won by 87 votes. By a majority of one member (29-28) the committee voted to certify Johnson's nomination, with the last vote cast on Johnson's behalf by Temple (Texas) publisher Frank W. Mayborn, who rushed back to Texas from a business trip in Nashville.
There were many allegations of fraud on both sides. Thus, one writer alleges that Johnson's campaign manager, future Texas governor John B. Connally, was connected with 202 ballots in Precinct 13 in Jim Wells County that had curiously been cast in alphabetical order and all just at the close of polling. (All of the people whose names appeared on the ballots were found to have been dead on election day.) Robert Caro argued in his 1989 book that Johnson had stolen the election in Jim Wells County, and other counties in South Texas, as well as rigging 10,000 ballots in Bexar County alone. A judge, Luis Salas, said in 1977 that he had certified 202 fraudulent ballots for Johnson.
The state Democratic convention upheld Johnson. Stevenson went to court, but — with timely help from his friend Abe Fortas — Johnson prevailed. Johnson was elected senator in November, and went to Washington, D.C. tagged with the ironic label "Landslide Lyndon," which he often used deprecatingly to refer to himself.
Once in the Senate, Johnson was known among his colleagues for his highly successful "courtships" of older senators, especially Senator Richard Russell, patrician leader of the Conservative coalition and arguably the most powerful man in the Senate. Johnson proceeded to gain Russell's favor in the same way that he had "courted" Speaker Sam Rayburn and gained his crucial support in the House.
Johnson was appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and later in 1950, he helped create the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee. Johnson became its chairman and conducted investigations of defense costs and efficiency. These investigations tended to dig out old forgotten investigations and demand actions that were already being taken by the Truman Administration, although it can be said that the committee's investigations caused the changes. However, Johnson's brilliant handling of the press, the efficiency with which his committee issued new reports, and the fact that he ensured every report was endorsed unanimously by the committee all brought him headlines and national attention.
Johnson used his political influence in the Senate to receive broadcast licenses from the Federal Communications Commission in his wife's name.
In 1951, Johnson was chosen as Senate Majority Whip under a new Majority Leader, Ernest McFarland of Arizona, and served from 1951 to 1953.
In 1948, he won a Senate seat in a hotly-contested race by a margin of 87 votes.
As senator, Johnson allied himself with Richard B. Russell, the Georgia Democrat who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee and the powerful Southern Caucus. Known as a "senator's senator," Russell could have obtained his party's floor leadership, but he preferred to exert leadership behind the scenes in committee. Russell also strongly dissented from many of President Harry Truman's legislative initiatives, particularly on civil rights. Leadership fell instead to Senators Scott Lucas (D-Illinois) and Ernest McFarland (D-Arizona), who struggled ineffectively to maintain party unity and promote Truman's Fair Deal programs. Lucas lost his race for reelection in 1950 and McFarland in 1952, creating a vacuum in Democratic leadership.
During the 1940s, Johnson and his wife developed profitable business ventures, including a radio station, in Texas. In 1948 he ran for the U.S. Senate, winning the Democratic party primary by only 87 votes. (This was his second try; in 1941 he had run for the Senate and lost to a conservative opponent.) The opposition accused him of fraud and derisively tagged him "Landslide Lyndon." Although challenged, unsuccessfully, in the courts, he took office in 1949.