Ex-congressman Harding, who took on LDS leader Benson, dies
October 27, 2006
BOISE – Ralph R. Harding, a former two-term Mormon congressman from
Idaho who lost re-election in 1964 after publicly berating a church
leader for supporting the John Birch Society, has died at age 77.
Harding died Oct. 19 at a hospital in the town of Blackfoot,
Hill-Hawker-Sandberg Funeral Home said. The cause of death was not
Longtime friend and former Idaho U.S. Rep. Richard Stallings, chairman
of the state's Democratic Party, said Harding will be remembered as
much for his rapid rise in Idaho politics as for his abrupt defeat in
1964. Harding, a Democrat who served in the Idaho Legislature from
1955 to 1956, ran against 16-year incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Hamer
Budge for Idaho's 2nd Congressional District in 1960 and pulled off a
4,000-vote, or 51.1 percent, upset victory.
"He surprised a lot of people by winning in 1960," said Stallings, who
represented Idaho's 2nd Congressional District from 1985 to 1993.
"Then, in 1964, he was one of the few incumbent Democrats who did not
get re-elected in the L.B.J. (President Lyndon B. Johnson) landslide."
Harding, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
blasted LDS Church Apostle Ezra Taft Benson as "a spokesman for the
radical right" during a September 1963 speech on the U.S. House floor.
Harding criticized Benson, who had served as Republican President
Dwight D. Eisenhower's secretary of agriculture from 1953 to 1961, for
a speaking appearance that same month on behalf of John Birch Society
founder Robert H. Welch. Welch had just published a book alleging that
Eisenhower, commanding general of victorious U.S. forces in Europe
during World War II, was a Communist Party sympathizer.
"Ralph felt this man should have stood up for Eisenhower so he
unleashed an attack from the floor of the Congress on Elder Benson
that made national headlines," said Stallings. "It did not set well
with his Mormon constituency, because even if many people felt Harding
was right, they didn't feel they should have their dirty laundry aired
on the House floor."
Two months later, Harding lost to Republican George V. Hansen.
Harding was born Sept. 9, 1929, in Malad, Idaho. He graduated from
Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, after serving in Korea from
1951 to 1953 in the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of
Harding is survived by his widow, Willa C. Harding.