Tracing Tracy Territory: A campaign stop of long ago
by Sam Matthews
Oct 19, 2012 | 2484 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Adlai Stevenson (center) of Illinois, Democratic Party candidate for president, spoke on Sept. 10, 1952, to about 1,500 Tracyites from the back of a campaign special train in the Tracy Southern Pacific yard. He was flanked by sons John (left) and Borden. It was the most recent campaign stop here for a presidential candidate.  Press file photo
Gov. Adlai Stevenson (center) of Illinois, Democratic Party candidate for president, spoke on Sept. 10, 1952, to about 1,500 Tracyites from the back of a campaign special train in the Tracy Southern Pacific yard. He was flanked by sons John (left) and Borden. It was the most recent campaign stop here for a presidential candidate. Press file photo
Fresh from Tuesday night’s debate, the presidential race heads toward its climax on election night, Nov. 6.

Well, more or less.

As students of government will point out, the actual vote for president will take place Dec. 17, when members of the Electoral College cast their votes. And, of course, those votes will be based on the outcome of Nov. 6 voting.

But in the process, any state not considered “a battleground state” is frozen

out of the

campaign. Yes, that includes California, which, because it’s considered a safe state for the Democrats, is out of the loop.

A state with a population of 38 million, 17 million registered voters and the most electoral votes — 55 — is ignored by presidential campaigns, except when President Barack Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney comes calling for campaign cash.

We haven’t seen presidential candidates swing through the Tracy area in at least a decade. The closest we came was in 2000, when George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, waved at local supporters from the back of his campaign train as it rolled east through the countryside south of town on the Union Pacific line.

In this year’s presidential campaigns, the folks in states such as Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Nevada are seeing candidates repeatedly. We can only watch on TV.

It’s long past time to get rid of the anachronism known as the Electoral College and base the outcome of the election on the popular vote. That would put California back in the presidential-election ballgame.

Until that happens — and it has to someday — all we can do in our town is remember the times of days gone by when presidential election candidates came our way.

The last time, to the best of my research, was 60 years ago. On the morning of Sept. 10, 1952, a “campaign special” passenger train came over the Altamont Pass and stopped near the Southern Pacific station.

Out onto the rear platform stepped Adlai Stevenson, the governor of Illinois and Democratic candidate for president, flanked by his two sons, John and Borden.

I was standing there among an estimated 1,500 Tracyites who turned out. Stevenson, an eloquent speaker, outlined his campaign platform, but he really didn’t have much of a chance of beating Dwight D. Eisenhower, the World War II military hero.

After the stop here, the campaign special train headed for campaign stops in Modesto, Merced, Madera and Fresno.

Any other presidential visits? Well, yes:

Nov. 2, 1928

A train carrying Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover stopped in Tracy en route to the San Francisco Peninsula.

Hoover came out on the rear platform and limited his talk to saying how nice it was to be here and that he was saving his voice for a radio talk he was to give from his home on the Stanford campus. His Tracy talk, as counted by the Tracy Press, contained 45 words.

He defeated Democratic candidate Al Smith, then-governor of New York.

September 1948

A campaign train from the Bay Area carrying President Harry Truman stopped at the SP station at 7 a.m.

Tracyites, knowing it was early in the day, were hoping for at least a wave or brief greeting from the president. None came, and the train pulled out a short time later after the locomotive had taken on water.

George Murphy, then publisher of the Manteca Bulletin, was among those present, as I was. The next edition of the Bulletin carried a blank rectangle on the front page with the caption: “Truman in Tracy.”

Truman upset Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York to stay in office.

Oct. 3, 1964

Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, Democratic Party candidate for vice president (on the Lyndon Johnson ticket), arrived in Tracy after stops in Fresno, Merced and Modesto.

He spoke for roughly 20 minutes from the back of the train in what had been the Southern Pacific yard, flanked by Pierre Salinger, John F. Kennedy’s press secretary who had been appointed U.S. senator from California.

One U.S. president, although not campaigning, stopped in Tracy early in the past century. On Oct. 9, 1909, William Howard Taft’s train pulled into Tracy from the Bay Area. He spoke to the assembled crowd, extolling the virtues of the American spirit he was finding in his trip through the western states.

Other presidents also came here, but before they had reached the highest rung on the political ladder.

On April 12, 1950, Rep. Richard Nixon, R-Whittier, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, spoke from the back of his station wagon parked in front of City Hall (then the old Central School on Central Avenue).

Nixon beat incumbent Helen Gahagen Douglas in the race.

He returned here on Aug. 27, 1962, to speak to Republican supporters in the Tracy Inn Gold Room during his unsuccessful candidacy for governor of California, losing to Jerry’s dad, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown. Nixon gained the White House in 1968.

Ronald Reagan came to Tracy on June 1, 1966, while campaigning for the Republican nomination for governor. He spoke in a vacant storefront on Adam Street next to what was then the Tracy Post Office (now the Tracy Historical Museum), promising to curtail government spending. Sound familiar?

After winning the governorship, he returned here in 1967 to dedicate the California Water Project’s pumping plant. The great communicator won the presidency in 1980, ousting Jimmy Carter from the White House.

Probably the largest crowd to see a “candidate” here was in on Nov. 18, 1971, when Robert Redford rode in a convertible in the Tracy High homecoming parade while scenes of “The Candidate” were being filmed.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at
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