Jeffrey L. Bell, a conservative intellectual who revealed voter appetite for lower taxes when he ousted a more liberal Republican, four-term U.S. Sen. Clifford Case, N.J., in the 1978 primary, and who later became known as an early architect of Reaganomics, died Feb. 10 in Fairfax County, Virginia. He was 74. The cause was cardiac arrest, said his wife, Rosalie O’Connell.

Bell’s political career was bookended by erudite and intriguing, if ultimately unsuccessful, bids for the Senate.

He ran his first campaign at age 34 against Case, who had served on Capitol Hill for nearly as long as Bell had been alive, first in the House of Representatives and since 1955 in the Senate. Bell went on to lose in the general election to former NBA star Bill Bradley, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2000.

At age 70, Bell again received the Republican nomination for Senate in New Jersey. His Democratic opponent was Sen. Cory Booker, the former Newark mayor who had won a special election for the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D.

Bell was remembered not for his losses at the polling booth but rather for the issues he brought to the campaign trail – chiefly, the conviction that Americans needed and deserved vastly lower taxes. He also promoted a monetary policy based on the gold standard, in which the value of money is linked to the value of gold, and supported conservative positions on social issues including abortion, proposing that fetuses receive the due process protections enumerated in the 14th Amendment.

His “populist insight,” observed Robert Merry, editor of the American Conservative, in a commentary after Bell’s death, was “that ordinary people are perfectly capable of making sound decisions on how to run their lives and didn’t need – and generally didn’t want – government bureaucrats and political elites co-opting those decisions.”


Bell was a speechwriter for Richard M. Nixon in 1968, the year Nixon defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey to win the presidency, and for Ronald Reagan in 1976, when Reagan lost the primary to the incumbent Republican, Gerald R. Ford, but laid the groundwork for his landslide victory over Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Outside of politics, Bell served at times as political director of the American Conservative Union, president of the right-leaning Manhattan Institute and policy director at the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank he co-founded.

But he attracted perhaps greatest attention with his 1978 Senate run – by “moving up to New Jersey as a nobody,” Merry wrote, “and turning himself into a very effective, but always a very congenial, political giant-slayer.”

Bell ran chiefly on a platform of lowering taxes, including cutting the personal income tax rate by 30 percent.

“My reading of history is that radical changes take place very quickly. The French Revolution, the New Deal, the major civil rights acts of the 1960s all came quickly after pressure had built up over a long period,” he said during the campaign. “I sense a movement building in this country . . . We are at the end of a long period of frustration.”

Survivors include his wife of 34 years, Rosalie O’Connell of Annandale, Virginia; four children, James Bell of Irving, Texas, Nicholas Bell of Annandale, Damian Bell of Austin and Julia Slingsby of Alexandria, Virginia.

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