Republicans had expected to win the Governor’s race in 1961, when Democrat Robert Meyner was retiring after two terms. Their candidates was James Mitchell, a Democrat-turned-Republican who had served as U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Dwight Eisenhower. He won a multi-candidate GOP primary against Walter Jones, the State Senator from Bergen County. Mitchell had begun his political career in 1933 as a New Deal Democrat, working for President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration as the head of the New Jersey Relief Administration’s Union County office. He later went to Washington as head of labor relations for the U.S. Army Construction Program and became Director of Personnel for the U.S. Department of War in 1942. After World War II, Mitchell returned to New Jersey to head the personnel department at Bloomingdales, and contined to work for the Army in Germany and Korea. He became a national leader of Democrats for Eisenhower in the 1952 campaign; after Eisenhower’s election he became the the Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor. Ten months later, Eisenhower appointed Mitchell to his cabinet, where he served until January 1961. In the general election, Mitchell faced 52-year-old Richard Hughes, a former Superior Court Judge and federal prosecutor who became the compromise choice of Democratic party leaders. Hughes, the father of Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and former gubernatorial candidate Michael Murphy, had served as Mercer County Democratic Chairman and had lost a bid for Congress 23 years earlier. For the first time, two Roman Catholic candidates faced off in a campaign for statewide office in New Jersey. Hughes proved to be a tremendous campaigner, while Mitchell was forced off the campaign trail for several weeks that fall after breaking his leg. Hughes won by 34,920 votes, a 50%-49% margin. Hughes went on to win a landslide re-election in 1965, and served as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1973 to 1979. Mitchell returned to the private sector after the election and died of a heart attack on October 19, 1964. He was 63-years-old. Had Mitchell won the gubernatorial election, he would have become the first Governor of New Jersey to die in office since William Livingston, the state’s first Governor, in 1790. Mitchell would have been succeeded by the State Senate President, 42-year-old Charles Sandman of Cape May County. Sandman lost Republican primaries for Governor in 1965 and 1969; he upset incumbent Governor William Cahill in the 1973 primary, but lost the general election to Brendan Byrne by 721, 378 votes. Footnote: Hughes had been serving as a County Court Judge when Republican Governor Alfred Driscoll appointed another New Jersey Democrat, William Brennan, as an Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Driscoll then named Hughes to replace Brennan on the Superior Court. Eisenhower later nominated Brennan for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Hughes’ campaign for Governor was launched by law partner was Mercer County Democratic Chairman Thorn Lord, a former U.S. Attorney who had run for U.S. Senate against Clifford Case in 1960.