Upton Sinclair and the EPIC Campaign Part 2: Winning the Nomination

About Upton Sinclair, who during the Great Depression made a big for the governor of California, how he won the nomination and the results.

Upton Sinclair and the EPIC Campaign

By Michael S. Medved

Sinclair published the book himself, and within 2 weeks his 1st edition of 10,000 copies had been sold out. By the end of 1934, more than 250,000 copies of I, Governor had been distributed--making it by far the best-selling book in California history to that time. After reading Sinclair's manifesto, thousands of people across the State began following his organizational blueprint to the letter. EPIC Clubs were organized in over 1,000 different locations across the State, appealing largely to the unemployed, who had time on their hands. A weekly newspaper was printed--The EPIC News--and distributed to nearly a million homes. To run with Sinclair, EPIC candidates were chosen for other State offices and for key seats in the State legislature.

As might be expected, the regular Democrats did not look kindly on these interlopers in their midst. With his sharp, pointed nose, his thick spectacles, his shrill voice, and his prim professorial air, Sinclair did not exactly fit their idea of a political heavyweight. Moreover, he had been associated over the years with dozens of causes, ranging from vegetarianism to mental telepathy, and it was easy to discredit him as a kindly crackpot. With 8 regular Democrats in the race against him, it seemed certain that one of them would win enough votes to beat Sinclair.

But on Primary Day, the EPIC forces won an astounding victory. Not only did Sinclair win the Democratic nomination by a huge margin, but he actually polled more votes than all of his 8 rivals combined. His primary vote was the largest ever received by a Democratic gubernatorial candidate. EPIC's candidate for lieutenant governor, Sheridan Downey, also won the nomination, thus giving rise to the popular description of the new Democratic ticket as "Uppie and Downey." Many EPIC candidates also proved successful in State legislative races; in Southern California, 23 out of 26 EPIC State assembly candidates won nomination.

The leaders of business and industry could no longer afford to ignore Sinclair. The Republican incumbent was so reactionary that many GOP voters had already defected to the 3rd-party "Progressive" candidacy of Raymond L. Haight, and it looked as if the Democrat Sinclair had the best chance for victory. The Chamber of Commerce executives did not look forward to the prospect of watching Mr. Upton Sinclair try his EPIC experiments on their State, so they resolved to do something to stop him.

The result was the most expensive statewide campaign in American history up to that time, and in California, no campaign down to this day has spent more than the estimated $10 million the Republicans spent to beat Sinclair.

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