For extreme junkies only

After attending Columbia University, 24-year-old Joseph Christopher O’Mahoney, an Irish Catholic from Boston, went west in 1908 to work as a newspaper reporter, first in Colorado and then in Wyoming, where he became the City Editor of the Cheyenne State Leader. Nine years later, when Governor John Kendrick won a seat in the U.S. Senate, O’Mahoney went to Washington as his Executive Secretary. While working on Capitol Hill, O’Mahoney received his law degree from Georgetown University, and returned to Wyoming in 1920 to practice law. He served as Cheyenne City Attorney and as Wyoming’s Democratic National Committeeman before joining the fledgling administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as Assistant Postmaster General in 1933. Kendrick died in December 1933 and O’Mahoney was appointed to fill his Senate seat. He won the seat in 1934 and was re-elected in 1940 and 1946. But in 1952, after nineteen years in office, O’Mahoney lost his bid for a fourth term to Republican Frank Bartlett, the incumbent Governor and a former four-term Congressman, by a 52%-48% margin. But O’Mahoney’s retirement was short indeed. Wyoming’s other Senate seat was held by Democrat Lester Hunt, a dentist and Illinois native who had served as a state legislator, Secretary of State and Governor before ousting Republican U.S. Senator Edward Robinson in 1948. This Senate seat had changed hands several times, producing a string of four one-term Senators. Robinson, a rancher and businessman, unseated Democrat Harry Schwartz in 1942; in 1936, Schwartz had beaten Republican Robert Carey, a former Governor who won the seat in 1930 after the death of Francis Warren, Wyoming’s first Governor and a United States Senator for 34 years. Hunt became the prime target of national Republicans, who wanted to protect their one-seat majority going into the 1954 mid-term election. In late 1953, Hunt’s 21-year-old son was arrested on charges that he solicited sex from an undercover male police officer. Republicans threatened to expose the arrest and conviction of Lester Hunt, Jr. (who paid a $100 fine as a first offender) to “every mailbox in Wyoming.” The Senate GOP campaign chairman, Styles Bridges, reportedly asked the Washington, D.C. police department to hold the Senator’s son over for a fast-track trial, suggesting that if they did not, they would accuse the police of obstructionism. Their primary goal was to get Hunt to resign his seat so that the Republican Governor could fill the vacancy. “Arrested, soliciting as a queer,” Bridges said when telling a reporter about the incident. On June 19, 1954, Hunt committed suicide inside his Senate office. He hid a shot gun inside his coat and shot himself just as the Senate was about to recess for the summer. Outraged over the treatment of his friend and former colleague, the 70-year-old O’Mahoney ran for Hunt’s Senate seat. He defeated Congressman William Henry Harrison, the grandson of President Benjamin Harrison and great-great-grandson of President William Henry Harrison, by a 51%-49% margin. Wyoming’s other Senate seat went Democratic in 1958 when Gale McGee, a 43-year-old University of Wyoming professor who had worked as O’Mahoney’s legislative assistant, defeated incumbent Bartlett, 51%-49%. In poor health, O’Mahoney declined to seek re-election in 1960; both parties viewed the seat as enormously competitive. The Republicans had a hotly contested primary between two generations of Wyoming politicians: Bartlett, the 68-year-old former Senator and Governor, and three-term Congressman Keith Thomson, a younger Republican who was viewed as the much more conservative choice. Thomson won a narrow primary victory and easily defeated (56%-44%) Democratic State Chairman Raymond Whitaker in the general election. On December 9, 1960, just 31 days after his election to the U.S. Senate, the 41-year-old Thomson died of a heart attack. The Democratic Governor, J.J. Hickey, appointed himself to the U.S. Senate, giving his party a seat that the GOP had easily won in the previous election. Hickey ran in a November 1962 special election for the remaining four years of Thomson’s term, but lost to Republican Milward Simpson, 65, whom he had ousted as Governor four years earlier. Voters historically have a history of rejecting appointed Senators and Hickey was no exception: he won just 42% of the vote. One of Simpson’s running mates was Thomson’s widow, Thyra Thomson, who was elected Secretary of State. She held that job for the next 24 years. Simpson had first run for the Senate in 1940, when he won 42% in his race against O’Mahoney. During one campaign stop, O’Mahoney supporters through oranges at the Harvard-educated lawyer; undeterred, he hurled the oranges right back at the hecklers. Simpson’s son, Alan Simpson, later spent eighteen years as Wyoming’s Senator.

For extreme junkies only