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Politics of the Past: Before the soundbite, there was the bean feed

Editor’s note: This summer and fall, Capitol Report is dipping into the Minnesota Historical Society’s political archives and scooping out documents and artifacts exploring the state’s rich record of voting reforms, colorful politicians, contested elections, curious facial hair and more. 

What does it take to capture a voter’s attention?

Before demographic microtargeting and 10-second soundbites, effective politicians courted constituents by hosting communal meals, handing out jobs, mailing fliers and freebies, and otherwise seeking the public’s good favor and heightened recognition.

This election season, we looked back at campaigns past to offer a few old-fashioned, idiosyncratic tips for connecting with citizens:

Bring on the beans

(Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

(Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

On more than one occasion, John F. Kennedy visited the Twin Cities to partake in a DFL Bean Feed. In 1962, at the State Fairgrounds, he shared these noble words: “It is worth coming 1,500 miles from Boston to this city for a bean suppah.” What else can be said about the state’s rich tradition of courting civic engagement by combining heated political rhetoric with heated portions of beans?

Nikon D610 capture from original

(Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

The DFL Bean Feed tradition continued into the 1968 presidential election, when Hubert Humphrey’s running mate, Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine, was the featured speaker.

 

Associate yourself with an adorable baby animal

(Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

(Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

A raiser of purebred Shropshire sheep, J.B. Conley introduced himself to voters from behind a fluffy, Minnesota State Fair-bred lamb in this flier. “Can truly say that the farmers’ interests are my interests,” he wrote, taking a no-nonsense, conversational tone. “If I meet your requirements, vote for me.” The Verndale farmer’s ovine overture evidently persuaded the people of Wadena County, who elected Conley to a term in the state House in 1920.

 

Give the people something practical

(Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

(Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

As a young senator, Hubert Humphrey knew how to keep his face prominently displayed in his constituents’ homes. This giveaway, cut from hefty paper stock and distributed during the 1952 holiday season, could be used not only as a calendar but also as an ink blotter. A note below the calendar somewhat clunkily fuses a personal appeal to voters with an electoral one: “Remember your family birthdays and anniversaries / Be a good American — vote on Election Day!”

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