Edward J. Gurney, U.S. Senator

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Edward John Gurney

Death: 1996 (81-82)
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward John Gurney and Nellie Pauline Kennedy
Husband of Eleanor Natalie Gurney

Managed by: Private User
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About Edward J. Gurney, U.S. Senator


Edward John Gurney (January 12, 1914 – May 14, 1996) was an American politician from Florida, where he served as a Representative and a United States Senator. He was the first Republican Senator elected from Florida since Reconstruction. He was also only the second member of his party to represent Florida in the United States House of Representatives in the 20th century.


Gurney was born in Portland, Maine. He attended public schools and graduated in 1935 from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and in 1938 from Harvard Law School. He was admitted to the Bar of New York the following year and began practicing law in New York City.

After the United States entered World War II, Gurney enlisted as a private in the United States Army and saw action in the European Theatre of conflict. In 1946, he was discharged as a lieutenant colonel. Gurney entered Duke Law School, and he received a degree in 1948. He then moved to Winter Park in Orange County in central Florida.

In 1952, Gurney was elected city commissioner and served until his election as city attorney for Maitland. He completed his career in local office with service as mayor from 1961 to 1962.

House and Senate service

Gurney was elected to the United States Congress in 1962, 1964, and 1966. In 1968, he was elected to the United States Senate for the seat of retiring Democrat George Smathers. The election coincided with Richard Nixon's victory in the presidential race that year. Gurney's victory can be attributed to the Republican campaign's Southern Strategy. Gurney defeated his opponent, former Governor Leroy Collins, with 55.9 percent of the vote to Collins' 44.1 percent. Many supporters of third-party presidential candidate George C. Wallace, voted for Gurney and hence provided him a coalition of growing Republicans in Florida allied with a declining number of conservative Democrats.

Gurney ran on a record that included votes against civil rights legislation, foreign aid, and that "expensive boondoggle," the War on Poverty.

Future U.S. President George W. Bush worked as a traveling aide for Gurney during that campaign. Bush was placed on inactive duty status from the National Guard so that he could volunteer.

In 1973, Gurney was named to the Senate select committee under Sam J. Ervin of North Carolina, which investigated the Watergate scandal. He was the Nixon administration's strongest supporter on the panel in contrast to the ranking Republican member, Howard Baker of Tennessee.

Dispute with Bill Cramer

In 1970, Congressman William C. "Bill" Cramer of St. Petersburg ran as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Democrat Spessard Holland. Gurney and then Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr., opposed Cramer's nomination and supported an intraparty rival, former U.S. Supreme Court nominee George Harrold Carswell, who stepped down from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to make the race. Cramer easily defeated Carswell for the Senate nomination but then lost in the fall, when a divided GOP worked to the benefit of the Democratic senatorial nominee, then State Senator Lawton Chiles of Lakeland.

Cramer and Gurney had been prospective primary opponents in 1968, until Cramer yieled to Gurney, with the understanding that Gurney would back Cramer for the other Senate seat, which Holland was expected to vacate in 1970. According to Cramer, Gurney "pledged his support to me, and I did to him, and we shook hands."

Cramer's former law partner, Herman Goldner, a former mayor of St. Petersburg who had refused in 1964 to support Barry M. Goldwater against U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, ran against Gurney in the 1968 primary but received few votes. Gurney then carried all but four counties in the race against Collins. Thereafter, Gurney and Cramer criscrossed the state in various party-building ventures. In the fall of 1969, Cramer declared his candidacy for the Senate, and Holland soon announced his expected retirement. President Nixon encouraged Cramer's candidacy: "Bill, the Senate needs you, the country needs you, the people need you -- now, run."

The Cramer-Gurney "gentlemen's agreement" unraveled after April 8, 1970, when the U.S. Senate rejected Judge Carswell, Nixon's second consecutive conservative nominee to the high court. Gurney and Holland, both Carswell supporters, were dismayed when a bipartisan coalition rejected the jurist, fifty-five to forty-five on allegations of "mediocrity and past "racism."

Cramer and Gurney had worked well as colleagues but were not friends. "In looking back on it," said Cramer, "I realize that Gurney was very much his own man and apparently was not comfortable with my being the ranking Republican in the Florida delegation."

Gurney declined to discuss the "gentlemen's agreement" with Cramer but said that he and Cramer had "totally different opinions on this. That is ancient history, and I see no point in reviving things. ... If I told my complete version of the matter, Cramer would not believe me, and I don't want Bill angry at me."

Meanwhile, Governor Kirk tried to isolate Gurney from Cramer by naming Gurney's Orlando law firm the counsel for the Florida Turnpike Authority at a $100,000 annual retainer. Cramer's firm received no state business.

Legal troubles

Gurney soon became embroiled in an influence peddling scandal in 1974, which led him not to seek re-election that year. His party instead nominated Jack Eckerd, the drugstore magnate, who was defeated by the Democrat Richard Stone. Gurney was indicted and tried on seven counts of bribery and related offenses. During the first trial, he was found not guilty of five counts, and the jury could not reach a verdict on two counts. Later, he was retried on those two counts and was also found not guilty.

In 1978, Gurney ran again for Congress but was heavily defeated by Bill Nelson, a Democrat elected in 2000 to the U.S. Senate.

Gurney retired to resume the practice of law in Winter Park, where he subsequently died.

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