Selling the Boy from the North Country

Download this document.

This draft text of a campaign advertisement for Governor Gaylord Nelson's 1960 reelection campaign seeks to link his childhood growing up with in Wisconsin's North Woods with the liberal politics more prevalent in urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison.

Nelson's campaign portrayed Nelson's political beliefs as natural extensions of core rural traits, such as the love of one's neighbors and of one's natural surroundings. None of the state's previous governors had come out of the Northern Wisconsin, and Nelson capitalized on that fact to position himself as uniquely attune to that region's needs. He claimed this, in turn, made him a better governor to the state as a whole, contending "unless you understand rural people you can't govern in the best interests of everyone in Wisconsin."

This document conceals the more specific political influence on Nelson during his boyhood in Clear Lake: the county's long history of Progressive agitation. While Nelson would have watched his father, a doctor, help people with medicine, as this advertisement says, Dr. Nelson also was an enthusiastic member of the Progressive Party and brought his son along to meetings, rallies, and once to see the famed Senator "Young Bob" La Follette deliver a fiery speech from the rear of a train.

The references in this document to the government and natural resources belonging to "the people" reveal that it was Progressive ideals rather than some essential rural ethic that Nelson took with him when he left Polk County and began his political career in the Wisconsin State Senate.