JFK Had A Janitor Run Against Him, To Confuse Voters

A janitor with the exact same name as his opponent.
JFK Had A Janitor Run Against Him, To Confuse Voters

When John F. Kennedy ran for Congress in Massachusetts in 1946, he didn't have any political experience. On the other hand, his opponent, Joe Russo (no relation to the Marvel director of the same name) was a city councilman. 

JFK did have his rich family on his side, but Russo tried to make his connections and wealth out as points against him. "Congress seat for sale," he wrote in an anti-Kennedy ad. "No experience necessary. Applicant must live in New York or Florida. Only millionaires need apply." This wasn't really fair—John had lived in New York and Florida, but he was born and went to college in Massachusetts, and the only reason he'd been away recently was he'd served in World War II.

The Kennedy campaign figured that many voters might support Russo, especially Italian voters. In fact, even if they'd never heard of either candidate, Italian voters might look at the ballot and pick the guy with the Italian name. If another Italian candidate happened to run, though, the two might split the Italian vote and give John a better chance. 

They thought about drafting such a candidate. But then they went one step beyond that: They didn't find just any Italian but another man actually named Joe Russo. This second Joe Russo was a janitor, with no desire to win, but the reps they sent (who janitor Joe assumed were from the mob) paid him to run. The plan was that the two Joes would now not just split the Italian vote but split the segment of the electorate who supported Joe Russo specifically. 

Sure enough, JFK won the election, setting him on the course for the presidency. He got 22,183 votes. Meanwhile, the two Joe Russos got ... fewer than 7,000 votes combined. The trick pulled about 800 votes from the councilman to the janitor, but it had been totally unnecessary. 

For more dirty political tricks, check out: 

Boris Yeltsin Wins the Election With a Brazilian Soap Opera

1852: Mr. Faints-A-Lot Versus Mr. Unwilling-To-Murder-A-Former-President

The Candidate Who Almost Won An Election By Murdering His Opponent

Top image: Kennedy Library

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