60 years ago today - Feb 21, 1964

U.S. representative Harding, who had condemned Benson in Congress, publicly praised his exile to Europe, and circulated the anti-Benson letters of church leaders, was defeated that fall for re-election. Harding and others saw his defeat as a result of Mormon voters' distaste for public criticism of LDS leaders and as evidence of Birch Society influence.

To the contrary, an analysis of election returns from 1960 to 1964 shows that Harding overwhelmingly retained the support of Mormon voters. In fact, in Madison County with its 91.7 percent Mormon population, the number of votes for Harding actually increased from 1960 to 1964, despite his public criticism of Benson. In other words, public criticism of Benson in the 1960s seems not to have alienated a large majority of faithful Mormon voters. They may have shared Harding's dismay at the apostle's endorsement of the Birch Society.

["Solon Embarrassed By Letter Publication," Deseret News, 21 Feb. 1964, A-8; "'Release Unauthorized/ Solon Says of Letters," Salt Lake Tribune, 22 Feb. 1964, C-ll; "Idaho Writers Say Letters Were Widely Circulated," and "Bill Hall's Political Scratchpad," Idaho State Journal, 23 Feb. 1964,1, 4; "How Could He Lose?" Idaho Daily Statesman, 5 Nov. 1964, 1-2; Harding to Frank H. Jonas, 8 Dec. 1964, Jonas Papers; Jack Anderson, "Birch Society Influence Defeated Ralph Harding," Blackfoot News, 15 Jan. 1965, 4, also printed as "Reed Benson Spreads Birch Gospel" in Washington Post, 15 Jan. 1965, B-13; Lynn Broadhead to Dean M. Hansen, 15 June 1967; Swanson, "McCarthyism in Utah," 143; Hansen, "Analysis of the 1964 Idaho Second Congressional District Election. From D. Michael Quinn, Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon Political Conflicts, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26:2 (Summer 1992), also in Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power Salt Lake City (Signature Books, 1994), Chapter

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