Jerry Voorhis, 83, a former five-term member of the House of Representatives who became nationally known after his 1946 defeat for a sixth term by a young Republican named Richard M. Nixon, died Sept. 11 in Claremont, Calif.
He died at the medical unit of Claremont Manor, a retirement home where he and his wife Louise had lived since 1972. Mr. Voorhis, who had emphysema, had been confined to the home's medical unit since Aug. 1.
Mr. Voorhis, a Yale graduate and former teacher, had represented California's old 12th District for a decade before he was challenged by Nixon. A pipe-smoking former socialist, Mr. Voorhis, a Democrat, had gained a reputation as a low-key opponent of "Red-baiting" and a firm supporter of the New Deal and its social legislation.
Defeated for the California state Assembly in 1934, he was elected to Congress by 8,589 votes in 1936. By 1940, his majority had increased to 44,000 votes and his seat seemed fairly safe to most observers.
The year 1946 was to be a watershed in American congressional politics. Comparatively young war veterans were returning home and winning their first big campaigns. Among those elected to the House that year were John F. Kennedy and Mr. Voorhis' opponent, Nixon.
A political novice, a lawyer by education and a Navy lieutenant commander during World War II, Nixon won the backing of a group of local businessmen. These men felt that the seat was "winnable" for the Republicans and that Mr. Voorhis had lost touch with his district.
The campaign was a long, rough, and bruising battle. Nixon portrayed Mr. Voorhis as "soft on communism." An image of Nixon as a young veteran of the Pacific campaigns was contrasted with a portrait of the comparatively young Mr. Voorhis spending the war years in Washington. Added burdens for Mr. Voorhis included his work in Washington, which kept him a continent away from his district, and the fact that 1946 was a "Republican" year.
After his defeat in that election, Mr. Voorhis spent 20 years as the executive director of the Cooperative League of the United States of America, and for many years was secretary of the Group Health Association of America. He also was a consultant to many cooperative organizations.
In a 1974 interview, Mr. Voorhis said that he felt he "let the country down by not getting elected" in 1946. "I'm sorry and repentant about it," he added. He never again sought political office.
Horace Jeremiah Voorhis was born in Ottawa, Kan., on April 6, 1901, to wealthy parents. He was a 1923 graduate of Yale, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and earned a master's degree at Claremont College in California.
He worked for the YMCA in Europe, was a cowboy in Wyoming, a Ford assembly line worker in North Carolina and a railroad freight handler before becoming a teacher in Illinois in the mid-1920s.
In 1928, he began a 10-year stint as headmaster and trustee of the Voorhis School for Boys in San Dimas, Calif. From 1930 to 1935, he was a lecturer at Pomona College.