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Chapter 175: Home Stretch

August 9, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland


At this time in Florida politics, it was customary to hold two primaries for the top two Democratic contestants, even if the races weren’t all that close, which would be decided in late June of the election year. The winner would face the Republican nominee in November for the general election.

As of the date of the first primary, April 30, 1912, it was still considered a three-man race among Emmett, Dannite Mays, and W.W. Flournoy.

Although the returns were incomplete at press time early on Wednesday, May 1, 1912, Emmett has a strong lead in his race for U.S. Congress; Frank Mayes had no problem making an early prediction that Emmett and Dannite Mays would face off in the second primary. Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 1, 1912, page 1, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov.

Although Emmett had a significant lead over Mays and Flournoy (and apparently he’d held one for several weeks, per contemporary sampling of voters across the panhandle), he wasn’t taking anything for granted. His schedule for the days leading up to the primary were packed with speaking tours, meet-and-greets with voters throughout the district.

Chart of contemporary media coverage of Emmett Wilson’s campaign from my notes. Source: Author’s research notes.

And it was for a good reason, too: Even though Emmett had a resounding early lead, by the time the polls closed, the votes were only two-thirds counted the day after the primary (May 2, 1912), and his lead had shrunk considerably.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, Thursday, May 2, 1912, page 1, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov.
Source: The Pensacola Journal, Saturday, May 4, 1912, page 1, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov.

There were no electronic or computerized tabulation of votes, so the idea of having to wait days, and in this case, almost a week, until the winner of the first primary could be confirmed was not unusual. But because this was Emmett’s first political contest ever, the pressure must have been tremendous.

Several days before the primary, Emmett’s brother Cephas, the well-known, politically prominent judge and mayor of Marianna, Florida, was asked to write a letter for The Pensacola Journal in support of Emmett.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, April 21, 1912, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

I’ve not been a huge fan of Cephas since the beginning of Emmett’s research. Sure, he had his good points (taking his siblings into his Marianna home when his father remarried until they married and/or fledged; supporting his siblings economically/professionally), but he was an incredibly egotistical blowhard. His wordy political support letter is all about him and how busy he was with his own important career to actually go out and stump for his younger brother (whose career was about to eclipse his own). Blah, blah, blah, Cephas. We get it. You’re a busy guy.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, April 21, 1912, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Finally, mid-way through Cephas’ praise for himself, we get to his endorsement of Emmett; but good grief, Emmett’s name is misspelled, not once, but twice in the letter. I realize that probably wasn’t Cephas’ doing; still, not a good look.

Interestingly, there aren’t many specifics from Cephas about Emmett in the endorsement. Why does he say in the first line under ‘qualifications’ that it is “useless to mention his qualifications?” Perhaps that meant something different than what it implies in 2022 (i.e., why do it it because who knows what they are)? Cephas goes on to say that Emmett is energetic, progressive, has integrity and ability, but without examples. If Cephas had given this letter to me to review before publication, I would say, “Ok, but SHOW us what you mean by ‘energetic’ and ‘integrity’; don’t tell us!”

It strikes me, upon reflection, that I can see why Emmett was on the road so much campaigning up until the last day because, if you read the articles carefully, most of his publicity was composed of fancy but general descriptions without specifics or examples to back up the claims. If people saw him, buttonholed him on the street and said, ‘OK, what specific things will you do for me and your constituents?’, he’d have to answer, give details. Even so, the articles written about him while he was on the road don’t contain many specifics about how he planned to enact his published policies. Emmett had a good marketing team, that’s certain; Frank Mayes, Chipley Jones, and Jerry Carter knew exactly what to write about and for Emmett that would, well, hypnotize the readers into thinking there was more to Emmett that what people actually saw on the campaign trail.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, April 21, 1912, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

The final section of Cephas’ endorsement is more about what Cephas thinks about himself, and that because he’s such a great guy, YOU, the reader, can trust his advice! I’m a great guy, and so, by association, is my little brother Emmett! (I remember the first time I read this letter and by the end of it, feeling confused about who it was that was actually running for office.) Perhaps a lot of newcomers into political office use and/or used the success-by-association marketing technique; I understand it. It’s applicable in other ways; for example, in job-seeking, in which applicants who don’t have a lot of skills rely on ‘it’s-who-you-know’ to get one’s foot in the door.

And I understand why Cephas said that if Emmett lost the campaign, that he’d be bothered by it more than Emmett would; Cephas, Frank Mayes, and several others in the Florida Democratic Committee were invested in Emmett’s success at the polls, much more so than Emmett actually was at this point in his career.

The final vote count and decision wouldn’t be known until May 6, 1912. It was, to be certain, an intense and stressful home stretch for Emmett and his supporters.

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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