Face the State Flashback: the 1958 Democratic Senate Debate

As we prepare for our upcoming senate debates to be seen right here on Channel 3,  I thought we’d show you the first senate debate we ever broadcast, nearly 54 years ago.  

It was June 3, 1958, when three men seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Senator William Purtell went back and forth on the issues.    The New York Times called the debate “polite,” and the Hartford Courant, “calm.”  The ancient black and white film from our archives is a bit grainy, but fascinating to watch.

The three candidates,  William Benton, Chester Bowles, and Thomas Dodd,  all had interwined political careers.  Benton was running for the senate for the third time.    Benton was a former senator who was appointed in 1949 by then Governor Bowles, to fill an open seat vacated by Ray Baldwin’s resignation.    Benton won the seat in a special election in 1950 defeating Prescott Bush, but lost to Purtell in 1952.   Dodd was running for the second time, after a loss to  Bush in 1956. 

If you are trying to do some math with six year terms and the dates and scratching your head,  it was a confusing time with two senate elections in 1952.  Senator Brien McMahon died in June of ’52, and Purtell was appointed to fill that seat, while running for the other senate seat held by Benton.  Bush defeated Abraham Ribicoff in the race for the four years left in McMahon’s term.   Interesting how Bush, Dodd, and Ribicoff all suffered losses before being elected U.S. senator.   Dodd’s drubbing was similar to the Blumenthal McMahon margin in 2010, yet he came back to win next cycle.     No doubt the McMahon campaign is well aware of that historical footnote.

The debate was hosted by Channel 3’s Bruce Kern, and moderated by Mrs. John Lee of the League of Women Voters.     Her first name was never mentioned, and she appears to be the only woman in attendance.   Remember, this was before the time when Mad Men is set.    The topics: the Soviet Union, communism, space, and the economy.   By the way, the youngest people eligible to vote that year are now turning 75!

Tune in this Sunday at 11 for our Face the State flashback and set your calendars for our two senate debates on April 15th, for the Democrats, and April 22nd, for the Republicans.     UPDATE:  here is our flashback segment:


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