In 1946, the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, told the American Legion Convention in San Francisco that 100,000 Communist subversives were active in America. HUAC had been very active and public in their efforts to expose subversives, and soon enough Hollywood was dragged into to fracas as well, with among others Ronald Reagan eventually testifying in front of HUAC (as President of the Screen Actors Guild). NIxon and other Republican candidates simply framed their campaigns as “Communism vs. Republicanism”; the fear factor was growing, and just the accusation of being soft on Communism was a political killer. Nixon’s campaign never flat-out called Voorhis a Communist, but politically-speaking, in the eyes of many voters, Voorhis was guilty by indirect accusation.
Nixon wanted credit for exposing Voorhis, and the only way that could occur is if he won the election. Nixon ignored the reality that the link between Voorhis and the minor radical group was practically non-existent, and Nixon portrayed Voorhis as a stooge for the Communists. Soon, Nixon claimed that Voorhis towed the Communist Party Line, and many voters believed Nixon. It wasn’t until 11 September 1946 that Voorhis took out full page ads to refute Nixon’s claims, demanding that evidence be presented.
It soon became apparent to Voorhis after the debate that Nixon had crushed him, and the Voorhis campaign never recovered. The debate started voters in the district to seriously discuss the candidates and the campaign, which was exactly what Nixon needed. Also, the Republican Party in California finally realized that Nixon was for real and could win, and 70% of Nixon’s campaign money in the last phase of the campaign came from the CA Republicans. Another factor in Nixon’s corner was that the Los Angeles Times, due initially to Kyle Palmer’s insistence, fully endorsed Nixon.
There were four more debates, and Voorhis was slaughtered in every one; the crowds grew larger in order to see the political bloodletting. Nixon enjoyed mentioning as often as he could that Voorhis was a former member of the Socialist Party, and it sure didn’t help Voorhis when Nixon stated that Radio Moscow had endorsed the CIO’s list of candidates. Another obstacle for Voorhis was that Nixon’s campaign was very well organized and focused, where Voorhis’ campaign was a wreck, which in part meant that Nixon was able to speak to groups of voters that had never heard the name of Voorhis. A cheesy campaign strategy by Nixon’s staff right before the election worked this way: when the phone rang, and the person that answered said “Vote Nixon for Congress”, and the caller was from the Nixon campaign, that person’s name was put in the running to win a toaster. Voorhis yearned for a genteel political discussion in public, but Nixon conducted an aggressive and rugged campaign, and in essence Voorhis brought a banana to a knife fight.
In winning the seat to Congress from California’s 12th District, Nixon showed qualities that would be seen again and again: audacity, resourcefulness, resilience, hard work, and knowing what voters wanted to hear. But the dark side of Nixon showed itself as well: awkwardness, deep resentment, expediency-over-purpose, chronic insecurity, and the use of smears against an opponent. In just four years, Nixon would be elected to the US Senate from California, and two years after that, Eisenhower tabbed Nixon to be his Vice-President. In just six years, Nixon had gone from obscurity to the second-highest elected office in the nation in what was perhaps the fastest rise to political prominence in US History.
Addendum: Richard Nixon's years before he received the letter from Herman Perry