As the election draws closer, I find myself immersed in the politics of the past when Daly was elected state representative, state senator and then a candidate for the U.S. Congress. Daly’s election to the Oregon Legislature in 1892 representing Lake, Crook (including what are now Deshutes and Jefferson counties), and Klamath counties is an indication of how well known he had become since arriving in Oregon just five years earlier. Daly, a lifelong Democrat, won the election with what was described as a “most flattering majority.” Another sign of Daly’s growing political stature was his appointment to the Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU) Board of Regents in 1893. He was appointed by Governor Pennoyer, one of two Populist governors in U.S. history.
Populism was on the rise in 1896, creating an alliance of sorts between democrats and populists, who supported William Jennings Bryan for president against the establishment-supported McKinley. The major issue of the time was the gold standard which was supported by the Republicans while Bryan (and Daly) supported the expansion of monetary policy through the use of bimetallic standard that included silver. In that election, Bryan carried Lake County and most of eastern Oregon but not the solidly Republican Willamette Valley. McKinley carried the state of Oregon and the country.
Bucking the state-wide Republican trend, Daly was elected to the Oregon Senate where he was one of only three Democrats. His long-time friend, Frank Light, used to tease Daly about his friendships with Republicans. Light remembered asking Daly why his best friends in Salem were Republicans. Daly replied, “The Republicans are in the majority and that is the way I get things done.”
As the 19th century drew to a close, Daly was well positioned for even greater political success. After serving in the Oregon House and Senate, he was a leader of the Democratic Party and respected by many of the state’s Republicans. It was not surprising when he was selected to be the Democratic/Fusion candidate for Congress in April of 1900. When Daly was nominated it was not clear whether he was for or against the gold standard. Describing Daly’s May 13th campaign stop in Corvallis, the Oregonian reported that Daly declared himself in support of the Democratic platform and the free coinage of silver. The article went on to report that when Daly was asked if he intends to “take the stump,” he responded, “It would be taking unfair advantage for me to go on the stump when Mr. Tongue [the incumbent] is at Washington attending to the state’s business. If he were in Oregon I should take the stump.”
Though Daly never did actively campaign, he did stop to visit with Democratic leaders in the Willamette Valley on his way back to Lakeview. When he reached Medford, Daly received a telegram from his friend and business partner, Vinton Hall, with the news that a terrible fire had devastated Lakeview on May 22nd. Almost every business and house in town suffered damage from the fire with a total of sixty-four buildings completely destroyed. Daly immediately made plans to abandon his low-profile campaign and return to Lakeview to help rebuild.
Without having really campaigned, it’s not surprising that Daly lost the election by about 3,000 votes. His heart really wasn’t in it – he was deeply involved in the rebuilding of Lakeview and he had just met Pearl Hall…