There is a new sort of Humphrey in the United States Senate this year, a "strong conservative" (in his own words) named Gordon Humphrey who has as little in common with his name-sake Hubert as Groucho Marx had with Karl.
Gordon Humphrey, a 38-year-old airline pilot who never held any public or political office before 1977, is the new Republican senator from New Hampshire. He surprised virtually everyone in the state, apparently including most of the people who worked on his campaign, by defeating incumbent Thomas McIntyre by 6,000 votes in November.
In the Senate Humphrey is an oddity remarked on both by his more traditional Republican colleagues and by Democrats. Old-line Republicans tend to raise their eyebrows when the new Humphrey's name comrs up; Democrats seem to talk about him and Roger Jepsen of Iowa (who defeated Dick Clark in November) as examples of a new and -- for them -- ominous breed of politician.
The usual label for the breed is "new right," and Humphrey accepts it. He sees himself as different from the "country club conservatives" of the past because he comes from a working-class background, and because his interests include new issues like abortion that haven't been associated with traditional conservatism.
The fact that Humphrey comes into the Senate with no formal background in politics or government does not seem to bother him at all. "It's fallacious, really, for people to think that you have to work your way up... or have a lot of government background," he said in a recent interview. Humphrey said he thinks it is healthy to elect people to the Senate "who are more in touch with reality than career politicians."
"Until 1970, maybe '69," Humphrey said, he had been a Democrat, even a liberal Democrat. But "disillusionment with the Great Society and all the programs it had spawned" and "government intrusions into our lives right down to the family" pushed him to the right, he explained. His first experience in politics came as chair man of the Conservative Caucus in New Hampshire.
He got that job almost by chance. Invited to an organizational meeting to revive a branch of this new right group in New Hampshire, Humphrey ended up as its chairman.
How had that happened? The invitation came because he was on conservative mailing lists, Humphrey reckons. And why was he picked as chairman? He isn't sure, but recalled that "one of the fellows who saw me at the meeting said he saw fire in my eyes."
Using the Conservative Caucus as a base of operations, Humphrey launched himself into politics, jumping at the chance to run against McIntyre (regarded by conventional politicians as virtually unbeatable) because, he says, he was convinced of McIntyre's vulnerability.
As a senator, Humphrey says, he hopes to "restore a sound and honest dollar" and reestablish "military superiority over those Russian bastards."
"I intend to speak a lot," he said, "to use the office as a pulpit to try to educate the citizenry. I think you can be very effective" in that way.
He got a lot of publicity at home by promising to be "the toughest skinflint in the Senate." He will stick by that promise, he said in the interview, "not because I'm hard hearted but because... I hope I'll be able to bring under control spending and inflation."
To demonstrate that he is not hard-hearted, Humphrey called a press conference last week to call for the admission here of 100,000 more Indochinese "boat people."
"Conservatives have hearts, too," Humphrey said then.
Humphrey's political philosophy combines this concern over government spending and a desire to get ahead of the Russians with dire warnings that the country is headed "toward the shoals" of catastrophe.
Abortion, the new senator said, is a coming issue in American life, and in his view an important one. He was closely allied with the "right-to-life" movement in New Hampshire, and has now hired one of its leaders to run his office in Portsmouth, N.H.
"Right-to-life" advocates worked hard in Humphrey's campaign, during which he regularly invoked his total opposition to abortion."We would have done more with it [that is, with the abortion issue in the campaign] if we had had the funds."
A pro-Humphrey leaflet distributed during the campaign against McIntyre caused a stir in New Hampshire last year. The leaflet accused McIntyre of supporting "experimenting on pre born infants" and supporting abortion generally. "If we truly respect God's gift of life," the leaflet said, "can we do less than vote for Gordon Humphrey for Senator? Seven million dead babies are enough. Humphrey -- the choice we can all live with... unborn babies, too!"
Humphrey attributed this leaflet to an overzealous supporter.
Asked where his ideas came from -- for important books or individuals or ideas that contributed to his view of the world -- Humphrey replied, "I can't think of anything that stands out, to tell you the truth."
About six years ago, he said, he discovered that The Wall Street Journal is "a very interesting newspaper, particularly the editorial page.... Hardly a week goes by that I don't marvel at the clarity of an editorial there. It's been a real education."
Humphrey said he had no political tutors. He hopes to model his Senate career on those of other new conservative members like Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn, both Utah Republicans.
To run his office in Washington Humphrey has hired Don E. Shasteen, formerly administrative assistant to Sen. Carl Curtis (R-Neb.), who retired last year. Shasteen ran for Curtis's seat, but was trounced by Janes Exon, the popular governor of Nebraska. Humphrey has also hired several staff aides who have no Washington experience, and a legislative assistant who formerly worked for Sen. William Scott (R-Va.), who also retired.
By the vagaries of the presidential political calendar, Humphrey could become an important national figure next year. He has effectively won control of the New Hampshire Republican Party by placing his allies in key positions, and New Hampshire's first presidential primary could be influential in diminishing the crtowded field of GOP contenders for 1980.
Humphrey is friendly with Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill.). a declared candidate, but insists he hasn't made a final selection yet.
The country is going his way, Humphrey believes. The presidency could easily fall into conservative hands in 1980, and "we'll have a Republican majority in the Senate by 1984 at the latest," he predicted.