Harold Hughes: A Comeback Unlike Any Other



When in politics we speak of comebacks, it is usually a matter of having lost an election and won for the same or better position. For Harold Hughes (1922-1996), the word comeback took a different meaning altogether. In 1952, he was a 30-year old married truck driver who felt stuck in his life. Hughes was an alcoholic, a college dropout, had suffered personal tragedy, and had a jail record. One night, he hit rock bottom. Hughes climbed into his bathtub and put a shotgun in his mouth. Before he decided to pull the trigger, he cried out, “Oh God, I’m a failure, a drunk, a liar, and a cheat. I’m lost and hopeless and want to die. Forgive me for doing this” (Strachan, 51). Instead of pulling the trigger, however, Hughes suddenly felt what he described as a wave of peace and forgiveness. He believed that night that God had intervened and from that moment forward, Harold Hughes set out to fix his life. He eventually quit drinking altogether, rose up in his company, and ten years after his suicide attempt, he was elected Governor of Iowa as a Democrat.

His tenure was a liberal one, successfully pushing for increasing unemployment compensation, higher taxes on income and inheritance, and the abolition of capital punishment. On the conservative side of things, however, he successfully pushed for a line-item veto. In 1968, Hughes ran for the Senate and narrowly prevailed. He was a Great Society liberal but always had a special policy emphasis on the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. Hughes staunchly opposed the Nixon Administration’s policy on Vietnam and urged an immediate pullout conditional on return of prisoners of war. In 1972, he considered running for president, but ultimately chose to drop out as he strongly disliked the small talk and political glad-handing required. The following year, Hughes opted to end his time in the Senate at one term, believing his calling was best fulfilled on a personal, rather than a political approach. He devoted the remainder of his life to helping spread the word and deeds of Jesus Christ and to helping others to overcome alcohol and drug addiction.

Harold Hughes’ experience was a truly American one: a tale of redemption and second chances leading to success. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, this story is inspirational and should tell you that even in your darkest hour in a world full of pain and suffering that you should never give up on yourself.


Strachan, O. (2015). The Colson way: Loving your neighbor and living with faith in a hostile world. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books.


Lloyd Bentsen: The Last Moderate on a Presidential Ticket


In 1988, Ronald Reagan was in his last year of office and his Vice President, George Bush, was running as his successor. For his VP, he selected Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, appeasing social conservatives. At the Vice-Presidential debate, Quayle responded to a question about what he would do should he become president, and in the process stated that his experience (four years in the House, eight in the Senate) was comparable to John F. Kennedy’s (six years in the House, eight in the Senate). However, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic VP candidate, pounced: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” (Bierman, 2016). This moment was easily the high mark of the ill-fated Dukakis-Bentsen ticket, which lost by eight points and won a mere ten states. Many Americans came away thinking that Bentsen ought to have been the Democratic nominee. This race constituted numerous lasts in politics. This was the last election in which Democrats lost in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, and Vermont. This was also the last election in which either of the major tickets had a legitimate moderate.

Lloyd Bentsen (1921-2006) began his career in federal politics young, winning Texas’s 15th Congressional District in 1948, a seat that had once been held by Speaker of the House and then FDR’s first Vice President John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner. He developed a reputation as a political moderate and notably was one of only two Texans to vote for a federal anti-poll tax bill in 1949. This put him in a good position to be a representative of “New South” Democrats in the future. However, Bentsen voted with his Southern colleagues on other civil rights measures during his House tenure. He also developed a friendship with Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who saw leadership potential in the young man. However, in 1954 Bentsen opted not to run for reelection to concentrate his efforts on building up a career in the private sector.

In 1970, Bentsen decided the time was right to make a political comeback and his target was Senator Ralph Yarborough. Yarborough was a staunch liberal who supported civil rights and had come to oppose the Vietnam War and was thus vulnerable. Bentsen hammered away at the incumbent’s opposition to the Vietnam War, his liberal positions, and his campaign ads connected him with rioting at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Yarborough in turn accused Bentsen of being a “war profiteer” for his investments in the defense industry, but this proved ineffective and he lost renomination in what was widely regarded as an upset. Republican Congressman George Bush was hoping to run against Yarborough, but Bentsen proved too difficult to beat and prevailed by seven points. Liberals in the state were not pleased about him, but he proved in his Senate career to hold both liberal and conservative positions. For instance, Bentsen regularly voted with organized labor but was also one of the Senate’s leading supporters of the deregulation of natural gas prices. He also opposed abortion restrictions while supporting the death penalty. A Republican colleague stated, “Whatever his philos­ophy, it’s so well disguised that no one reacts automatically by thinking, ‘If it’s Bentsen, it’s gotta be good—or bad.’ The result is that he gets a hearing” (Texas Monthly). His lifetime score on Mike’s Conservative Index is a 43%*, placing him in the moderate range of American politicians.

Bentsen was highly ambitious and attempted a presidential run in 1976. In 1984, he was considered for VP, but lost out to Geraldine Ferraro. In 1988, Michael Dukakis chose him in the hopes that he would balance out the ticket and win the state of Texas. The latter proved to be wishful thinking, as Dukakis became known nationwide for his staunch liberalism and didn’t appear presidential during the campaign. From 1987 to 1993, Bentsen chaired the Senate Finance Committee and in this position, he was an advocate for Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA). Perhaps his foremost accomplishment as a senator was his pension protection legislation, a highly sought-after goal for union workers. At first, Bentsen thought of running for president in 1992, but he was dissuaded by the popularity of Bush during the Iraq War, the authorization for which he had voted against. However, his chairmanship combined with his good showing in the 1988 election put him in a good position for a federal appointment and in 1993, his time for the Executive Branch finally came when President Bill Clinton nominated him Secretary of the Treasury. Bentsen was instrumental in convincing Republican senators to support NAFTA and proved a strong advocate for the Clinton Administration’s budget bill, which passed by only one vote in both Houses of the Democratic Congress and contributed to a reduction of $500 billion in the deficit. He retired on December 22, 1994.

Lloyd Bentsen was a last in multiple ways: the last political moderate on a presidential ticket and the last Democrat the voters of Texas have elected to the Senate as of 2019. Were he still alive and serving today, Bentsen would certainly be one of the Democratic Party’s most conservative officeholders and had the Democrats nominated him in 1988, they would have stood a far better chance at defeating Bush, a man Bentsen had bested before.

*- Mike’s Conservative Index is a work in progress and I will write more on it in the future. I have so far used a selection of ideologically revealing votes to determine conservative scores for legislators from the 51st Congress (1889-91) to the 104th Congress (1995-97). I consider a lifetime score between 36% and 64% to be moderate.


Bierman, N. (2016, October 4). ‘Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy’ almost didn’t happen. How it became the biggest VP debate moment in history. Los Angeles Times.

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Slaughter, G. (2010, November 30). Bentsen, Lloyd Millard, Jr. Handbook of Texas Online.

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The Unveiling of Lloyd Bentsen. (1974, December). Texas Monthly.

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Liberty Lobby: A Sinister and Cryptic Interest Group

In response to the Eisenhower Administration’s unwillingness to shift politics to the right, many conservative organizations formed. These included the publication National Review in 1955 as well as Americans for Constitutional Action and the John Birch Society in 1958. Another one formed was Liberty Lobby in response to a call for a new anti-communist group in 1957. Although the organization had people on its “Board of Policy”, there was one very clear leader of the group, and it wasn’t the organization’s official chair, Curtis B. Dall. Rather, the true head of the organization was the publicly quiet, unassuming treasurer Willis Carto.

Willis Carto, the mastermind of Liberty Lobby.

Willis Carto (1926-2015) was a busy man throughout his lifetime and formed many, many organizations with him in undisputed control of their operations. Liberty Lobby was the one that lasted the longest under his control and it had numerous figures on its Board of Policy, which by a read-through can give some major hints as to the purpose of the organization:

Curtis B. Dall, Chairman – A former son-in-law of FDR who reached the conclusion that he was being taken advantage of by bankers and wrote a book on the subject called “FDR: My Exploited Father-in-Law” in 1967. He believed that the Rothschild banking family was financing socialism and communism and claimed that Zionism was dedicated to “political and financial world domination”. Dall was also chair of the Constitution Party from 1960 to 1964.

Judge Thomas Pickens Brady – An Associate Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, he wrote a treatise on the intellectual and moral inferiority of blacks in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) called Black Monday and carried great influence in the state’s white citizens councils. Brady also called for the abolition of the NAACP and the admission of a state for blacks.

Taylor Caldwell – Novelist, wrote articles for the John Birch Society publication American Opinion and was one of the founders of the Conservative Party of New York.

Charles M. Cooke – Admiral, was an advisor to Chiang Kai-Shek before China’s fall to Communism.

Billy James Hargis – Minister, leader of the Christian Crusade organization. He was a staunch segregationist as well as an opponent of sex education and communism. Hargis was also a member of the John Birch Society. He lost influence among Christians after multiple allegations arose that he slept with his students at the American Christian College, male and female.

Charles S. Freeman – Vice-Admiral, was chairman of the Holy Land Christian Committee in New York, an anti-Semitic organization that was presumably for the purposes of aiding Arab refugees.

Dr. Kenneth Goff – A former communist and albino by birth, Goff became a Christian Identity Minister and in 1944 was chairman of the Christian Youth for America. He was also a Holocaust denier who made the following ridiculous claims in his 1954 book Hitler and the Twentieth Century Hoax:

  1. The Holocaust was a hoax.
  2. Hitler was a communist agent.
  3. Threw shade that Hitler was Jewish.
  4. Hitler is alive and will return to advance communism.

He also believed in the fluoridation conspiracy and that hippies and civil rights were part of a communist plot.

Joseph P. Kamp – Head of the Constitutional Educational League, an anti-communist organization. He ran into trouble with Congress for refusing to produce mailing lists for the House Lobby Investigating Committee, but he prevailed in court.

W.D. Malone – From what information I have been able to gather on him, Malone was an Alabama segregationist with ties to the state’s political leaders.

Verne P. Kaub -A Wisconsin journalist who claimed there was socialist and communist propaganda in American school curriculum.

Tyler Kent –  Kent was a diplomat posted to Britain in 1939 despite being suspected of engaging in espionage for the USSR. The following year he stole thousands of documents that he gave to a pro-German group for which his diplomatic immunity was revoked and he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. After the war he was a publisher of a Florida newspaper that was staunchly segregationist and had ties to the KKK. Kent believed that JFK was a communist and that he had been assassinated for straying from the party line.

R. Carter Pittman – Former Vice Chair of the Georgia Democratic Committee, a self-styled “constitutional scholar” who was rabidly opposed to desegregation.

Karl Prussion – A former communist who had been a member from 1933 to 1947, when he turned to the FBI. He gave inconsistent accounts about his time in the party and in 1961, he published his account of party meetings through a series of records titled “Inside A Communist Cell”. He attempted suicide in 1965, claiming communists were trying to kill him.

Richard Cotton – Wrote the publication “Conservative Viewpoint”, which was racist and anti-Semitic, having a conspiratorial emphasis. He was initially on the board of Liberty Lobby, but left due to conflicts with Carto.

Lucille Cardin Crain – Educator and conservative activist. She wrote a pamphlet in 1948, “Packaged Thinking for Women”, which criticized women’s movements as mouthpieces for left-wing propaganda.

Lt. General Pedro del Valle – The first Latino general in the United States Army, del Valle was in his later years an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who believed in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Major Arch E. Roberts – Assisted General Edwin Walker in distributing the ACA-Index of 1957-59 to soldiers to inform them of how best to vote.

Louis Francis – A former California Republican Assemblyman who represented San Mateo from 1957-1962.

Lt. General George E. Stratemeyer – Served in World Wars I, II, and the Korean War. He praised John Beaty’s book Iron Curtain Over America, which was a massive anti-Semitic diatribe that included Holocaust denial.

Dr. Charles Callan Tansill – Dr. Tansill was an academic who was staunchly non-interventionist prior to World War II and became an apologist for Hitler and Mussolini, trying to minimize their extensive crimes against humanity. Tansill was also a strong supporter of racial segregation and joined the John Birch Society.

During the 1960s, Liberty Lobby was able to pose as a conservative, patriotic interest group and attracted support from conservative representatives likely unaware of the real intent of the organization. Their January 1967 Board of Policy conference attracted conservative Congressmen George Hansen (R-Idaho), James McClure (R-Idaho), John Rarick (D-La.), James B. Utt (R-Calif.), and California Republican State Senator John G. Schmitz to speak on topics regarding limited federal government. The organization had also been praised for its lobbying activities by figures such as Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and James Eastland (D-Miss.), the latter stating that “Carto is a great patriot doing a great service to all Americans” (Lee, 159). But Carto, it turns out, was an adherent of the writings of Francis Parker Yockey.

Carto’s Influence: Yockey

Yockey was a lawyer by profession and had served on the prosecutorial team for Nazi war criminals. However, his heart was not in his work, and he would later denounce the trials. In 1948, he wrote a book titled Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics. This was his self-styled “sequel” to Oswald Spengler’s highly influential The Decline of the West (1918, 1923), a pessimistic work that held that western culture would ultimately decline culturally and then in actuality and that a Caesar would be required to restore the culture. Yockey wanted to put Spengler’s words into action, advocating for a preservation of western culture through totalitarian means, and even went as far as to favor an alliance between the far left and far right to achieve such a purpose. He considered Adolf Hitler the “hero” of the 20th century and the Jews the villains. Although Yockey’s theme was of authoritarianism to counter cultural decline mirrored Spengler’s, it was contrary to Spengler in the sense that he viewed Nazi race theories with contempt. Yockey also pushed for alliances with Communist anti-Zionist governments and believed that Stalinism had value for purging Jews from Communism. He assisted Czech Communists in intelligence missions and sympathized with fascist and Nazi causes around the world. For a time, he worked for Gamal Nasser in his anti-Zionist propaganda department, which was headed by former Nazi propagandist Johann von Leers. Yockey would eventually be arrested in San Francisco in 1960 and commit suicide in custody. Unlike Yockey, however, Carto never reached out to communists but did reach out to Lyndon LaRouche leftists. Carto also had a different conception of race than him, as the former took a biological view while the latter took a spiritual view. Carto’s views on race went so far as for him to advocate the repatriation of blacks to Africa while it seems doubtful that Yockey would have taken up such a cause. However, both shared an affinity for Hitler and an antagonism to Jews.

Exposing Liberty Lobby and Downfall

The influence of his organization severely declined on Capitol Hill after a disgruntled former employee went to the press with documents indicating the true purpose of the organization. In 1969 journalists Joseph Trento and Joseph Spear published an expose, “How Nazi Nut Power Has Invaded Capitol Hill” in True magazine and in 1971 National Review published another one on Carto, which charged the organization with being a neofascist front and channeling funds to Lyndon LaRouche’s National Caucus of Labor Committees. In 1981, journalist Jack Anderson of the Washington Post published a comprehensive expose of the organization as a neo-Nazi front. In 1985, a long-running feud between Liberty Lobby and National Review concluded with a libel judgment against the former. The true intent of Liberty Lobby was to serve as an organizational springboard for white supremacist and neo-Nazi causes and to serve as the political engine when Carto felt the time was right for these groups to rise to power in the United States. Through its publication, The Spotlight, Liberty Lobby pushed rightist conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic and white supremacist undertones. Carto was also very committed to Holocaust denial and founded two organizations that had this as their central goal: Institute for Historical Review and The Barnes Review. Carto’s downfall came through his own practices. His management style was authoritarian and he insisted on complete control of operations, which led to conflicts that resulted in the breakdown of his control. In 1981, his white supremacist publication he had taken over in 1966, American Mercury, folded. In 1994, he lost control of IHR and white supremacist publishing firm Noontide Press, founding The Barnes Review in their place. Carto’s influence declined further, and in 2001 Liberty Lobby went bankrupt and The Spotlight folded with it. Carto pushed on with American Free Press, but he had lost relevance in what was already a tiny group of Americans. He died in 2015, concluding a long life dedicated to the spread of racial and religious bigotry.

Willis Carto was ultimately the most prolific post-World War II spreader of anti-Semitic and white supremacist propaganda in the United States and Liberty Lobby was his crowning and longest lasting organizational achievement.


Lee, M.A. (2000). The beast reawakens. New York, NY: Routledge.

John Paul Stevens, RIP


A mere four days ago, Justice John Paul Stevens, who served on the Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, passed away at the age of 99. His nomination was prompted by the retirement of Justice William O. Douglas but also by the political atmosphere of the nation. President Gerald Ford wanted to pick someone who would be easily confirmed and had no ties with the Nixon Administration. Although nominated by Ford with the presumptive belief that he would be a justice that at least leaned right given his appeals court rulings, by the end of his career he would prove to be a staunchly liberal justice, adopting an “experience and justice” approach that emphasized values. At the start of his career, he voted to restore the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) and he became known as the court’s leading critic of affirmative action with his vote in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), which struck down the use of racial quotas for public university admissions. However, he changed his mind on both issues later cases, and considered his vote on Gregg to be his one regret. Stevens also voted repeatedly to uphold abortion rights, siding with the majority to strengthen Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). Perhaps his most significant opinion was in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council (1984), a decision which gave government agencies far more power to interpret vague federal statutes and was a factor in the further growth of the “administrative state”. Stevens’ most notable dissents were for the Supreme Court decisions District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) (gun prohibition violates 2nd Amendment), Texas v. Johnson (1989) (flag burning is protected speech under 1st Amendment), and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) (prohibition of independent political spending by corporations and unions violates First Amendment). The former he considered the single worst decision the Supreme Court came to during his tenure, as he interpreted United States v. Miller (1939), which ruled that a prohibition of the possession of a 12-gauge shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches long was constitutional, as a good precedent for the constitutionality of any laws prohibiting civilian possession of firearms. His legal reasoning often involved looking at what he viewed as public needs as opposed to strict constitutional interpretations. For instance, on Citizens United, he wrote in his dissent about the need to prevent corruption and counter corporate interests. In an article he wrote on Heller, Stevens cited mass shootings as evidence for a need for strict gun laws. He also in retirement came out in favor of outright repealing the 2nd Amendment.

In many ways, Stevens took a deferential view to the power of the federal government which often meant a more restrictive view on rights, save for abortion, criminal defense, and civil rights. In 2000, Stevens strongly dissented from the verdict of Bush v. Gore, a case that ended the contested presidential election and produced a 5-4 result that seemed to mirror the ideological preferences of the justices rather than bear consistency with any of their legal philosophies. He wrote the majority opinion in Kelo v. City of New London (2005), which upheld the City of New London’s use of eminent domain powers for commercial development. This decision triggered an increase in the number of states prohibiting the use of eminent domain on behalf of commercial development except for blight from eight to forty-five. Stevens took a very expansive view of the powers of the federal government as well as the use of the Commerce Clause, which led him to uphold every case in which the federal government used the clause as justification and authored the majority opinion in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), which held the government could criminalize production and use of cannabis at home even when states permit it for medicinal purposes under the Commerce Clause. The following year, Stevens wrote one of his most notable majority opinions in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006), which ruled the establishment of military commissions for Guantanamo detainees to be illegal.

Stevens was one of a long list of disappointments for conservatives in the Supreme Court: Potter Stewart proved a swing vote, Charles Whittaker proved unable to articulate a coherent judicial philosophy until after his time on the court, Harry Blackmun grew much more liberal overtime, and David Souter, whose nomination had been the subject of conservative advocacy and liberal opposition, proved everyone wrong about him. The Democrats had not had an unpleasant ideological surprise for their justices since Kennedy’s pick of Byron White, who dissented in Miranda v. Arizona (1967) and in Roe v. Wade (1973). However, Stevens still thought himself a conservative and viewed the Court as having shifted right as opposed to him shifting left, quite similar to Ronald Reagan’s line of “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me”. His thought in this regard was based in his view of stare decisis, that the Court should defer to precedent. His tenure on the court as well as that of David Souter’s motivated Republicans to become more ideologically cautious on who they would choose to vote for on the higher court. For instance, in 2005 Republicans indicated that they would not accept Bush’s initial pick of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court as they feared she was underqualified and unpredictable, resulting in the nomination and confirmation of Samuel Alito, a federal judge with a proven conservative record. Yours truly certainly disagreed with much of Stevens’ decisions, particularly his deference to federal power and his reversals on the death penalty and affirmative action. However, there was one Republican we know of who wasn’t disappointed in him: Gerald Ford offered a positive appraisal of his tenure on the court in 2005, stating “For I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination thirty years ago of John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court” (Sorkin, 2010). Ford regarded his role as that of healing the nation from the impact of the Watergate scandal, and he regarded Stevens as a fundamental part of his approach. This brings me to a positive about Stevens, he did represent a different era of civility that has been drowned out by trends in public opinion and in our media.


McDonald, B.P. (2019, July 20). The Flaws of the Great Justice Stevens. The New York Times.

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Sorkin, A. (2010, April 12). Gerald Ford’s Justice. The New Yorker.

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Congressman Benjamin G. Harris: Friend of the Confederates


Benjamin G. Harris

At the onset of the Civil War, numerous members of the House and Senate were expelled for their allegiance to the Confederacy, including Missouri’s two senators, Waldo Johnson and Trusten Polk. Additionally, not all was necessarily well with the border states that stayed: many Missourians identified with and fought for the Confederacy and parts of Maryland were hotbeds of Confederate sympathy, especially Baltimore and the southern part of the state. In 1862, Maryland’s 5th Congressional district, located in the southern portion of the state that had a lot of slave owners, elected Benjamin Gwinn Harris (1805-1895).

Although he initially opposed secession he turned in favor of it and advocated the constitutionality of both slavery and secession. Harris, who was a slave owner himself, voted against the abolition of slavery and he openly prayed for a Confederate victory on the floor of Congress, which resulted in his censure. The following year, he was prosecuted by a military tribunal on the charge of harboring two paroled Confederate soldiers and was sentenced to three years in prison, but the sentence was overturned by President Johnson. After the Civil War, he opposed his state’s new constitution since it didn’t compensate Maryland’s former slave owners for emancipation, granted suffrage to blacks, and permitted non-whites to testify in court. The notion that non-whites could testify in court against whites struck Harris as “antithetical to ‘Biblical law’” (Kastenberg, 158). Part of the reason he opted against running for reelection in 1866 was to focus his efforts on disenfranchising black voters, and he succeeded in preventing Maryland from voting to ratify the 14th Amendment (the state would not do so until 1959). In 1868, Harris considered a presidential run but his time had passed, and he staunchly refused to support any presidential candidate who had been an abolitionist. In 1885, he was overjoyed that Democrat Grover Cleveland won the presidential election and attended his inauguration. He would continue to stand for policies that were in place before the Civil War, and in 1892, at the age of 86, he forwarded a petition to Vice President Levi P. Morton to compensate former slave owners in Maryland. The petition went to the Senate, but senators were uninterested. Harris would die in 1895 with few of his political aims achieved.


Kastenberg, J.E. (2016). A Confederate in Congress: the Civil War treason trial of Benjamin Gwinn Harris. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc.

How The South Became Republican, Part VI: Louisiana and Arkansas

I chose to cover these states last as they are the last holdouts to vote consistently Republican. For instance, Louisiana was not represented by a single Republican in Congress from 1891 to 1973 and this was the case for Arkansas from 1875 to 1967.


Image result for Dave Treen built the Louisiana GOP

Dave Treen, the first Republican from the state in Congress since 1891 and the first GOP governor since Reconstruction.

During Reconstruction, black political power remained for a bit longer than some of the other Southern states: in 1876 the state narrowly voted for Rutherford B. Hayes in a hotly contested election. The political power of blacks dwindled afterwards and this was accelerated by the adoption of the state’s 1879 constitution, which imposed significant limits on voting rights of freedmen. In 1898, another constitution was adopted that cemented Jim Crow laws in the state. The state was utterly dominated by Democrats, with the most notable of them being the populist Huey P. Long. Unlike many other Southern states, Hoover didn’t do well in Louisiana in 1928, having his third worst performance. The primary factions in the state at the time were pro and anti-Long Democrats. While in the 1930s, the state’s Congressional delegation was quite loyal to FDR, during the 1940s more conservative Democrats were getting elected to Congress. The state was one of the more rebellious ones to the national party in the South and in 1948, its voters voted for Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond by a plurality while Republican Thomas E. Dewey won 17% of the vote. Like elsewhere in the South, the performance of the Republican ticket massively improved in 1952, with Eisenhower winning 47% of the vote. In the next election, he would win the state with 53.28% of the vote, making it the first Deep South state to vote for a Republican president since Reconstruction. Despite this victory, the state GOP was growing quite slowly, making its most significant advances in the northern portion of the state. Democrat John F. Kennedy won a majority of the vote in the state and Nixon only won 28.59% of the vote, with the remainder going to “unpledged electors”. However, in 1964, Republican Barry Goldwater won the state with 56.81% of the vote, which is reflective of the racial backlash to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The state would remain true to form in this sense in 1968, when they voted for American Independent George Wallace.

The state’s first Republican member of Congress since Reconstruction, Dave Treen, was elected in 1972. That same year, Nixon would win reelection in the state with 65.32% of the vote, winning all parishes save for West Feliciana. Carter won the state by almost six points, but lost by 5.4% in 1980. By this time, the state had elected its first Republican governor in Dave Treen, but he wasn’t popular enough to win reelection against the corrupt powerhouse known as Edwin Edwards. The GOP won in the state twice more, but in 1992 Bill Clinton managed to win by a plurality in a three-way race. In 1996, he made it a majority with 52% of the vote. His victory can be attributed to the state’s large black vote as well as 33% of the white vote, many of whom were “Blue Dog” Democrats. The state has only grown more Republican since then, with Republicans consistently pulling off 57-58% of the vote since 2008. The state was the last among the South to elect a Republican to the Senate since Reconstruction when David Vitter was elected in 2004. As per usual with the Deep South, Republicans didn’t get a majority of the House delegation to Congress until 1994 and didn’t win majorities in both chambers until the 2010 election. Although the state is right now quite Republican with the only Democrat from the state in Congress from New Orleans and both senators being Republicans, the state has proven that a Democrat can still be elected on a statewide level, with John Bel Edwards winning the 2015 gubernatorial election.


Image result for John Paul Hammerschmidt first Republican

John Paul Hammerschmidt, the first Republican elected to Congress since Reconstruction.

As a state, Arkansas has taken some fascinating turns. Although Arkansas is not always regarded as Deep South regionally, its voting behavior was and is quite characteristic of one. The state was the very last among the South to vote Republican since Reconstruction, with a full one hundred years in between. The state produced some significant national leaders in Senate Majority Leader and New Dealer Joseph Robinson, internationalist Senator J. William Fulbright (as in Fulbright scholarship), and last but most important, President Bill Clinton. Despite Democratic pushes to civil rights and having a governor famous for resisting desegregation in Orval Faubus, the state didn’t bolt in 1948 or in 1964, in the latter case it was the only one in the Deep South not to do so. The state’s voters moved more towards the GOP on the presidential level after World War II, with all candidates between 1952 and 1964 winning more than 40% of the vote. The greatest growth in the Republican Party vote was in the northwestern portion of the state. In 1966, the GOP had a breakthrough when the voters elected Winthrop Rockefeller governor and John Paul Hammerschmidt to Congress in the northwestern 3rd district. Rockefeller proved to be a liberal Republican and was often at odds with the Democratic legislature while Hammerschmidt was a fairly reliable conservative and stands as one of only two people to ever defeat Bill Clinton, who he narrowly defeated in the 1974 election. Rockefeller died in 1973, but Hammerschmidt served until 1993 and helped build the state’s GOP.

In 1968, the state finally bolted when it voted for George Wallace with national Democrat Hubert Humphrey coming in third. In 1972, Nixon won reelection in the state with 68.8% of the vote and all of the state’s counties. By contrast, Gerald Ford got utterly trashed in the state in 1976, winning less than 35% of the vote. In 1980, Ronald Reagan barely edged Carter in the state and this victory may have been attributed to a riot by Cuban refugees temporarily housed in Fort Chaffe, Arkansas. In 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton won the presidency as well as the vote of his home state. In 1996, Arkansas voted for him again, but also voted in the state’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, Tim Hutchinson. In 2000, Bush won the state and it has only grown more Republican since. Arkansas is now the most Republican state that was formerly of the Confederacy and the only one that has no Democrats representing it on a federal level. As recently as 2010, the state had two Democratic senators and three of four of its representatives were Democrats. It was indeed the Obama Administration that finally pushed the state firmly into the Republican column. In 2012, both Arkansas legislatures were won by the Republicans, the first time this had happened since Reconstruction. In 2016, the state voted for Trump by over 60%. The state that had once been the most stubbornly Democratic in the South and had been won twice by Bill Clinton is now the most Republican in the region.

One of the reasons for the state’s utter dominance by Republicans now is that the rural-urban divide has become increasingly stark in national politics, and Arkansas is quite the rural state. The comparative lack of suburbanization compared to other states in the South both slowed the state’s Republican turn in the past and boosts it in the present. A similar case to Arkansas is West Virginia, a heavily rural state with a long run of Democratic dominance that has become so red that Republican presidential candidates won all counties in the state in 2012 and 2016, with Donald Trump having his best performance there of any state. Additionally, a factor at play here is that it is the most racially homogenous of the Southern states and has the second lowest percent of blacks (who vote roughly 90% Democrat, take or give a few points) for the region at 15%. There is thus less counterbalance for the increasing number of rural white voters who vote Republican than in other Southern states.


How The South Became Republican Part V: Mississippi and Georgia



Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, the first Republicans to represent Mississippi in the Senate since Reconstruction.

Mississippi had a particularly tumultuous time of Reconstruction. For the whites of the state it was jarring to say the least that the first black person ever elected to the Senate, Hiram Revels, was from their state. However, this state of affairs could only be maintained with troops, and when they left and more former Confederates had their voting rights restored, they proceeded to solidify power and disenfranchise black voters and use methods legal and illegal to enforce white supremacy. The last Republican of the 19th century left Congress in 1885. Mississippi did produce a number of progressives in the time of Democratic dominance, including Governor and Senator James K. Vardaman, a racist demagogue who appealed to the poor Hill whites of the state. In 1928, the state was second only to South Carolina in its continuing loyalty to the Democratic nominee. But like South Carolina, a 1928 voter would be shocked to know how the state would vote in 1964.

Even into the 1930s, Mississippi’s politics were progressive in character: Senator Pat Harrison could be counted as one of FDR’s strongest supporters and he was joined in the chamber in 1935 by Theodore Bilbo, a racist demagogue who also was also a staunch New Dealer. However, the first signs of dissatisfaction with the direction of the Democratic Party became evident with the Fair Labor Standards Act, which all but one in the House delegation opposed, as it undercut a way the state could be competitive in interstate commerce: low prices. In the early 1940s, Mississippi’s politicians became substantively more conservative. Two cases of particular note are Congressmen John Rankin and Dan McGehee. Rankin, a racist and anti-Semitic demagogue who had served in the House since 1921, had voted early and often against the Republican economic policies of the 1920s, sponsored the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, and was populistic in his thinking. McGehee, who was elected in 1934, was initially a staunch supporter of the New Deal. In the latter’s first term in the 74th Congress, he scored a 16% rating on my conservative index, but in his last in the 79th Congress, he scored a 90%. This stunning ideological change came about before Truman’s civil rights announcement. Rankin’s score in the same period of time had shifted from a 17% to an 87%. The change in the state’s ideology was also reflected by the rise of Senator James Eastland, who I have covered before. He unified the interests of the Delta and Hill areas of the state, which had typically been at odds on labor issues. Truman’s civil rights support in 1948 shifted the state easily to Thurmond, but unlike Alabama, Truman remained on the ballot. Thurmond took 87% of the vote, which foreshadowed a future election. In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower won almost 40% of the vote, but Republicans still had quite a way to go before making significant headway in the state. In 1960, the state defied the national Democratic Party and voted for “unpledged electors”, who voted for Senator Harry Byrd, a conservative Democrat from Virginia who had instituted “massive resistance” to desegregation in his state which meant the closing down of public schools to avoid it.

In 1962, Ole Miss was desegregated with the use of federal troops when James Meredith, a black man, wanted to attend and this resulted in riots from some local whites. However, it was primarily the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that decided the state’s vote. That year, Republican Barry Goldwater won a whopping 87% of the vote and all of the state’s counties, his best performance. That year, Republican Prentiss Walker defeated incumbent conservative Democratic Congressman William Winstead. The result on the Congressional level was partly thanks to the efforts of GOP state chair Wirt Yerger, who had at the age of 26 resurrected the party in 1956 on a platform of conservatism. Although many in the state’s Republican Party were segregationists, the party punted on the issue in its platform, holding it to be a matter to be addressed by the states. Any political force that wanted to be relevant in the state had to oppose federal action on civil rights, as they did in the other states of the former Confederacy.

After building up an uncompromisingly conservative record in the House, Walker decided to run for the Senate in 1966 against Eastland. Both campaigned as segregationists, but Eastland had the most convincing record. Additionally, newly enfranchised black voters didn’t really impact the election as they split their votes. 1964 was kind of a false start for the state’s Republican Party as it produced merely a temporary boost. In 1968, the state predictably went for Wallace and had a 100% Democratic delegation. In 1972, however, all counties in the state voted for Nixon and two Republicans were elected to Congress: Thad Cochran and Trent Lott. Cochran and Lott were the real starting politicians for the state’s Republican Party and they were regularly reelected. Cochran played better with black voters than Lott as he had no connection with segregationist Democrats while Lott had been segregationist Congressman William Colmer’s chief of staff. For two presidential election cycles after Mississippi was a swing state: in 1976 its voters narrowly went for Carter thanks to the support of Senators Eastland and Stennis and two years later it elected its first Republican to the Senate since Reconstruction: Thad Cochran. In 1980 the state narrowly went for Reagan and it has been in the GOP column since for presidential elections, but its Congressional delegation and state legislators took longer to shift.

From 1989 to 1995, the state had two GOP senators but all five members of its House delegation were Democrats. Some of the Democrats, such as Jamie Whitten and Sonny Montgomery, were longtime politicians who were widely expected to be succeeded by Republicans when they retired. The state attained the most national prominence it had since John Sharp Williams led the House Democratic Party in the early 20th century when Trent Lott served as Minority Whip in the House in the 1980s and then as Senate Majority Leader from 1996 to 2001 and Minority Leader from 2001-2002. The state didn’t have a majority GOP delegation until 1997, when Montgomery left office. However, even as late as 2010, the House delegation stood at 3-1 Democrat. The midterms that year changed this state of affairs and Mississippi has been at 3-1 Republican since, with the sole Democrat representing being Bennie Thompson, who represents a Voting Rights Act district. On the state level, it wasn’t until 1991 that the state elected its first Republican governor in Kirk Fordice and the state has been governed by a Republican for all but four years since. Until the 1992 election the GOP in the State Assembly never exceeded the single digits and it wasn’t until 2007 that the party won a majority in the State Senate. The State Assembly would not become majority GOP until the 2011 election.

Mississippi seems to be a very Republican state now, but there may still be room for Democrats to have an impact. The 2019 gubernatorial election is looking highly competitive, so possibly the voters of this state will act as the voters in the Northeast do: elect governors as state managers who can keep the ruling party in check as opposed to national ideologues.



Newt Gingrich, who was fundamental in building up the GOP on a state and national scale, as Speaker of the House.

Georgia is one of two Southern states that never voted Republican during Reconstruction, and its voters maintained some of the strongest Democratic loyalties. Sherman’s March to the Sea had had its impact. Until the 1960s, the last time Republicans were elected to Congress from the state was in 1872. The state was staunchly loyal to FDR, as after all he had Warm Springs, Georgia as his second home. However, not everyone in the state was a fan of FDR’s domestic policies. The state’s governor, Eugene Talmadge, was known as a foe of the New Deal and Democratic federal officeholders were becoming more conservative. Senator Walter George became more antagonistic to FDR on domestic policy after he tried to primary him out of office. Even though Georgia voters loved the president, they didn’t think it proper for him to interfere in their primaries. Other people who were often difficult for FDR to deal with on domestic policy were Congressmen Hugh Peterson, Malcolm Tarver, John Gibson, and especially Eugene Cox. Cox was a good friend of Minority Leader Joseph W. Martin (R-Mass.) and as a member of the Rules Committee played a significant part in the Conservative Coalition, even launching an abortive investigation into the Roosevelt Administration’s FCC. Although like the rest of Deep South states, segregation was the law of the land, Strom Thurmond’s candidacy in 1948 didn’t have the impact here that it did on other Deep South states. Governor Melvin Thompson was a staunch Truman supporter and the victor of the gubernatorial primary, Herman Talmadge, was not keen on alienating state politicians who backed Truman. Thus, the national Democratic Party won the state with ease.

Although the Republican share of the vote grew in the 1950s, Georgia was slower than many others given its long Democratic affiliation. Also helping the state stay with Democrats was the influence of Conservative Coalition leader Senator Richard Russell. Why, after all, would the voters of Georgia, who had long associated the Republican Party negatively with multiracial Reconstruction governments and federal occupation, vote for the GOP when the Democrats were providing an outlet for conservatism? Yet, in 1960 Georgia was JFK’s second best performance and the politicians of the state got the message: those who previously had more conservative records such as Congressmen Phil Landrum and John Flynt voted to accommodate the Kennedy Administration’s agenda, which was mostly liberal. Landrum himself was the primary sponsor of his successor’s anti-poverty legislation, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Georgia voters were conflicted between their ancestral party loyalties and their growing conservatism.

In 1964, despite the state refusing to buck Truman in 1948, it voted for Goldwater and elected its first Republican to Congress since Reconstruction in Howard “Bo” Callaway. In 1966, he ran for governor and although he won a plurality of the state’s vote, by law a plurality was to be decided by the Georgia legislature, which had pledged to support the Democratic candidate. Democrat Lester Maddox, who had closed his restaurant rather than serve black customers, was thus elected. However, that year also produced two new Republican members of Congress, Ben Blackburn and Fletcher Thompson. Although there was some growth of the GOP and of conservatism in the state, Democrats still were the power and the 1974 election resulted in the state returning to being entirely Democratic in its delegation. Even people who were as hardline conservative as you could be identified as Democrat, as was evident with Congressman Larry McDonald, who despite being the most conservative member of Congress in his time didn’t switch to Republican. The trend of Democratic loyalty extended especially to Jimmy Carter, the state’s governor. In 1976, Carter carried every county in the state (Nixon had done the same in ’72) and had his best electoral performance save for D.C. In 1978, a particularly influential Republican was elected to Congress from this state in Newt Gingrich, who was fundamental in building up the state party. In 1980, the state overwhelmingly voted to reelect Carter, but Reagan won the other Deep South states and the state’s voters elected Mack Mattingly, the first Republican senator since Reconstruction. In the meantime, Gingrich’s influence grew as one of Reagan’s staunchest advocates and as an arch foe of the Democratic House leadership. In 1992, the Democrats won the state one last time in a presidential election, but by a plurality and the state’s Republican delegation grew.

For the GOP, 1994 would be a watershed year in the state and the nation, as they won control of both houses of Congress and the majority of the state’s House delegation. Newt Gingrich was afterwards elected Speaker of the House, and under his leadership the Republicans worked to pass “Contract with America” legislation. The most significant outcome of this development was welfare reform. Democrats still were able to hold power for a long time: the first Republican governor the state elected since Reconstruction was Sonny Perdue in 2002. That year the GOP also won their first majority in the State Senate since Reconstruction and in 2004 won their first majority in the State House ever. The Republicans have held the governorship and majorities in both state houses since. The state also hasn’t had a Democratic senator since the retirement of Zell Miller in 2005.

Despite the Republican Party currently being dominant in Georgia, Democrats have recently been looking at it as a state they could win in the future. Trump’s margin of victory was 5% in 2016, which was the worst margin of victory for the party in the state in twenty years. In 2018, Republican Brian Kemp only won the governor’s race by 1.4% of the vote and the Democrats won a suburban House seat that had been Republican since Newt Gingrich won it in 1978. Under the current president, the GOP may have to fight harder for Georgia in 2020 than they have in over twenty years as it is the most likely to break of any of the Deep South states.

How The South Became Republican Part IV: South Carolina & Alabama

This post starts the Deep South portion of this series. These states are distinguishable from the Peripheral South as they were slower to vote Republican, their reasons for becoming disaffected from national Democrats were more racial, and all of them voted for at least one of the following tickets: Thurmond/Wright in 1948, Goldwater/Miller in 1964, and Wallace/LeMay in 1968. The 1948 campaign was explicitly a reaction to the civil rights movement, the 1964 vote was against Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Wallace campaign was for voters who didn’t support the civil rights stances of Nixon or Humphrey. The whole area returned to the Democratic fold to vote for Carter in 1976 as they were following tradition. Although Reagan won the electoral vote of the region, he lost the popular vote by over 100,000 as Georgia voted for Carter by 14 points while the other states narrowly voted for Reagan. The region became reliably Republican on the presidential level by 1984, as subsequent elections gave Republican candidates a majority of the popular vote.

South Carolina


Strom Thurmond, the senator who switched to Republican and started the transition of the state to the GOP.

In 1928, if you were to tell a South Carolina voter that in 36 years their state would not only vote for the Republican candidate for president but also have a Republican senator, they would think you were a lunatic. And why wouldn’t said voter think this? After all, that year 91% of the state’s voters supported Democrat Al Smith, his best performance in the nation. The state last voted Republican in 1876 and the state regularly backed Democratic candidates by over 90% if not over 95% of the vote. The state’s last Republican senator left office in 1879 and the last Republican member of the House from the state was black and had left office in 1897. The state also had two race-baiting demagogues in Democratic Senators Coleman Blease and “Cotton Ed” Smith at the time. If you lived in South Carolina at the time, odds are you didn’t know anyone who voted Republican, and whatever people voted Republican were the very small number of blacks who managed to vote in spite of Jim Crow laws. However, there was another factor behind this Democratic vote: the absence of a secret ballot. The result of this was potential and actual intimidation of anyone who strayed from the Democratic line. However, there are three consistencies of life: death, taxes, and change.

This change would not come in immediate elections: in the next one FDR would win with 98% of the vote and would overwhelmingly win reelection in the state thrice. However, the pivotal year for the state was 1948 and the issue was race. That year, President Harry S. Truman announced his support for a civil rights program that included anti-poll tax and anti-lynching legislation, army desegregation, and a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee. That year, Truman won only 24% of the vote in the state, a 63-point decline from FDR’s 1944 victory. 72% of the vote went to Governor Strom Thurmond, who was running on the State’s Rights Party platform and pledged to maintain segregation. Although Truman only managed to accomplish the start of army desegregation, the politics of South Carolina had changed for good. In 1948, Republican Thomas E. Dewey only won less than 4% of the state’s vote, but the situation was different in 1952 as Dwight Eisenhower had won two influential supporters in the state: James F. Byrnes, who had previously been a staunch ally of FDR, and Strom Thurmond. Although the two men were not Republicans yet, Byrnes formed the organization “Independents for Eisenhower” and at that time the state had finally instituted the secret ballot. The results were astonishing: although Democrat Adlai Stevenson won the state, Eisenhower won 49% of the state’s vote, by far the best performance for a Republican since Rutherford B. Hayes’s victory in 1876.

A clear division arose in the state between the northern and southern portions of the state. The northern was working class and poor and tended to vote Democrat while the southern portion was wealthier and tended to vote Republican. However, in 1956 Eisenhower’s percent of the vote declined to 29.5% due to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the existence of the independent slate of “unpledged electors” who supported States’ Rights Party candidate T. Coleman Andrews. Stevenson won the state by a plurality. In 1960, the state voted for JFK, but he won by less than 3% of the vote. The election that would turn the state Republican for presidential elections was 1964.

In 1964, the GOP nominated staunch conservative Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona for president, and that year he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of six Senate Republicans to do so. This, combined with Strom Thurmond’s strong support and switch to the Republican Party, was enough for Goldwater to win the state with 59% of the vote. The following year, Congressman Albert W. Watson of the 2nd district switched to the Republican Party after being stripped of his seniority for publicly supporting Goldwater. The state stands out among Deep South states for being the only one to vote for Republican Richard Nixon in 1968. While the rest of the Deep South voted for American Independent George Wallace, Senator Strom Thurmond gave his strong support to Nixon, which was instrumental to him winning the state. However, as regularly occurred with southern states, the results didn’t translate to the state and local level yet. In 1970, Watson, a protégé of Thurmond’s, ran a segregationist campaign for governor while the Democrat, John C. West, pursued a campaign of racial moderation. West’s victory in the election sent a message to Southern politicians that race-baiting was no longer a winning strategy and Thurmond understood it. In 1971, he was the first Southern senator to hire a black staffer, Thomas Moss, to coordinate the direction of federal money to black institutions and communities. This strategy of accommodation to the state’s black population prevented any strong political challenges to him and he comfortably won reelection until he retired from the Senate at the age of 100. Thurmond proved a successful self-interested political pragmatist. The one exception to South Carolina’s Republican trend was 1976, as Jimmy Carter was a Southern Democrat and proved more influential for the voters of the state than Thurmond and he won by 13% of the vote. Carter maintained a level of popularity in the state that resulted in Reagan winning the state by only 1.5% in 1980. However, the 1984 election cemented South Carolina as a Republican state, with Reagan winning reelection there by over 63% o the vote.

On the state level, the GOP has held the governorship for all but 12 years since 1975 but it wasn’t until 1994 that the State House flipped to Republican and 2002 that the State Senate did the same. Thurmond had proved influential on national politics, but not state. The gradual progression of the Democrats further to the left and the GOP further to the right gave South Carolina voters less and less reasons to back Democrats. The GOP currently holds an 80-44 majority in the former and a 27-19 majority in the latter. Both Senate seats have been held by Republicans since 2005 and the congressional delegation currently stands 5-2 GOP.



James D. Martin, the first major Republican statewide candidate since Reconstruction.

Like other Deep South states, Alabama briefly went Republican during Reconstruction as freedmen were voting while many ex-Confederates were denied suffrage. In 1876, the state turned back to the Democrats and then elected John Tyler Morgan to the Senate. Morgan was a former slaveowner and Confederate officer and with Edmund Pettus he would be instrumental in making Alabama a Jim Crow state. However, the state had a hiccup along the way.

In 1892, three parties won electoral votes. While Democrat Grover Cleveland prevailed nationally and in Alabama, Populist James B. Weaver had a stronger than expected performance in the Deep South and won numerous counties, and Alabama was the Deep South state in which the party had most traction. The 1894 midterms, which were catastrophic for the Democrats due to an economic depression, produced a House delegation after contested elections were settled of 5 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 2 Populists. The popularity of the Populist Party and the prospect of a Republican-Populist coalition gaining power freaked out the Democratic establishment and served as additional justification for Jim Crow restrictions. The last Republican of the period, William F. Aldrich, left Congress in 1901, the same year the state adopted its Jim Crow constitution. The Democratic Party had a solid run of control of the state for the next 61 years but with one hiccup in between. In 1928, Herbert Hoover came close to winning Alabama, losing by less than three points. He was assisted by the endorsement by Senator Tom Heflin, who objected to Al Smith as he was Catholic and opposed Prohibition. This endorsement would cost Heflin renomination in 1930 and the state would go back to voting solidly Democratic, as all but staunchly Republican Winston County would vote for FDR four times. Both of Alabama’s senators in the 1930s were staunch New Dealers and one of them, Hugo Black, was rewarded for his support by being nominated and confirmed as a justice of the Supreme Court. Although the politics of Alabama were undergoing a shift right starting in the 1940s, there was still a substantial progressive wing in the state’s party, which included Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman as well as Congressmen Carl Elliott, Albert Rains, Kenneth Roberts, and Robert Jones. However, what unified the state’s conservative and progressive wings was support for Jim Crow and this was going to be tested.

In 1948, President Truman’s embrace of civil rights resulted in the state outright not placing him on the ballot that year, with Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond standing as the Democratic nominee. Like Roosevelt, he won all but Winston County. In 1952, although Eisenhower lost the state he won 35% of the vote and improved by 4 points in 1956. It certainly didn’t hurt the Democrats that the 1952 VP nominee was Alabama Senator John Sparkman. Although more voters were willing to vote Republican, the majority of the state’s voters were not yet willing to break with tradition. In 1960, the state’s electors split their votes: six voted for conservative Democrat Senator Harry F. Byrd and five voted for John F. Kennedy. The continuing national push for civil rights would result in the rise of a politician who became the national face of segregation: George C. Wallace.

No discussion of the politics of Alabama is complete without Wallace and although he had initially taken a moderate tone on race in the 1958 gubernatorial primary, this had cost him the nomination. In 1962, Wallace tried again, but this time adopting a hardline stance on segregation and won. At his inaugural address on January 14, 1963, he pledged “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever”. That same election also demonstrated that Alabama would not necessarily be a guarantee for Democrats in the future in its Senate race.

Lister Hill had been a fixture in federal politics since 1923, first as a representative and then as a senator. He had a long reputation of being a progressive, supporting the New Deal and the Fair Deal, but the politics of Alabama were beginning to turn against larger government programs in general in addition to its traditional opposition to civil rights. In 1962, Republican James D. Martin challenged incumbent Democrat Lister Hill, focusing on opposition to “big government”, denouncing the use of federal troops by the Kennedy Administration to desegregate Ole Miss University, and tying him to John F. Kennedy whenever possible. Although Hill won reelection, Martin got 49% of the vote. This was a stunning result considering that Hill had been unchallenged in his last race, and he chose to retire in 1968 rather than face another potentially tough campaign. Fellow Senator John Sparkman shifted his record somewhat rightward to accommodate the Wallace trend of the state.

George Wallace initially thought he’d challenge John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination in 1964, but by this time he would be facing Lyndon B. Johnson and the memory of JFK and he decided to bow out. Since Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and LBJ signed the measure into law, this was enough to necessitate a political earthquake in the state: it voted 69.5% for the Republican, the first time it had done so since 1872. The remainder of the state’s vote went to “unpledged electors” and LBJ wasn’t even placed on the ballot. The 1964 election also resulted in a flip of House seats from 8-0 Democrat to 5-3 Republican, wiping out all Alabama Democratic progressives in the House save for Robert E. Jones, and he shifted his record somewhat rightward in the remainder of his time in the House to accommodate the trends of the state. Of the five new Republicans, three managed to be continually reelected: Jack Edwards of Mobile, Bill Dickinson of Montgomery, and John Buchanan of Birmingham. James D. Martin had been part of this group, but he had been too ambitious in trying to run against Lurleen Wallace for governor in 1966 and his political career subsequently stalled.  In 1968, neither Democrat Humphrey nor Republican Nixon backed segregation so Wallace ran for president as the American Independent Party candidate. He won five of six Deep South states, and in Alabama he had his best performance with 65.9% of the vote as a “native son” candidate, winning all but three counties. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” had not won him the Deep South, but he pulled off over 72% of the vote in the next election since his opposition was George McGovern, a staunchly liberal Democrat who was thought of as the candidate of “acid, amnesty, and abortion”. However, Nixon benefited from the absence of the American Independent Party as a major force: Wallace was forced to bow out of the Democratic primary after an assassination attempt rendered him paralyzed from the waist down. The AIP’s candidate was instead John G. Schmitz, an extreme rightist Republican from Orange County. Had Wallace carried some influence on the outcome of the Democratic primary, Nixon may not have done nearly so well in the state.

Nixon’s win didn’t translate into an immediate shift of the state to Republicans as Democrats still held all statewide offices, 5 of 8 House seats, and both Senate seats. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the mid-1970s had resulted in the black vote becoming a significant factor in the state, and they mostly voted Democrat which helped continue Democratic dominance on the state and local level. The Democrats of the state were George Wallace supporters and this showed in 1976, when the state voted by 12 points for Jimmy Carter, who was endorsed by Wallace. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the state by a little over a point and Republican war hero Jeremiah Denton was elected to the Senate, the first to be elected since Reconstruction. The state had a hard time of letting go of its Democratic affiliation despite its now permanent support for Republican presidential candidates: in 1982 the GOP’s share of the House delegation went down to two and Denton narrowly lost reelection in 1986. However, that same year the first Republican governor of Alabama since Reconstruction, Guy Hunt, was elected, succeeding the retiring Wallace. The Democrats have only held the governorship for six years since. What brought the state to the GOP in the end was the liberal presidency of Bill Clinton that produced the 1994 midterms and Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America”. The results of the election resulted in Senator Richard Shelby switching from Democrat to Republican and after the 1996 elections the GOP held both Senate seats and 5-2 in the House delegation. In 2010, the GOP finally won both chambers in the State Assembly and has only gained seats since. The state’s House delegation today stands at 6-1 while the state has a Democrat and a Republican senator. However, this Senate arrangement is unlikely to last past the 2020 election, as the GOP had an abnormally weak candidate in Judge Roy Moore in the 2017 special election.

Alabama’s transition from Democrat to Republican as a state took 35 years, 1962 to 1997, as tradition died hard with enough white voters in the state combined with black voters favoring Democrats. The presence of George Wallace as a force in Alabama politics until 1987 also contributed to the party’s continued dominance on the state level. On the state level, the voters still thought of many Democrats as conservative enough to earn their votes until 2010.

How The South Became Republican Part III: Florida & Texas

Today’s entries will be about Florida and Texas, the states that easily underwent the most cultural change in the last 100 years.


William Cato Cramer.jpg

Congressman Bill Cramer (R-Fla.), 1955-71, the primary actor in the rebuilding of the Florida GOP.

In 1928, Herbert Hoover won Florida, a tremendous accomplishment given that the state had not elected a Republican since 1876 and had not even sent a Republican to Congress since 1882. This had been due to Jim Crow laws which resulted in most blacks not being able to vote. Hoover’s victory can be attributed to Democrat Al Smith’s opposition to Prohibition and his Catholicism. FDR, however, managed to win all counties in the state each time he ran. Even during the Roosevelt Administration change was occurring in the South: in 1937 the state abolished the poll tax at the urging of Senator Claude Pepper, which resulted in an increase in voter turnout. What pushed Republicanism further in the state was post-war suburbanization, in which many white Republicans from the North and Midwest moved in. In 1948, Harry S. Truman won the state but by a plurality, with the combined vote of Republican Dewey and Dixiecrat Thurmond, with Dewey winning 11 counties. In 1952, the state swung Republican, with Dwight Eisenhower winning by 10 points. In 1954, the voters of the 1st district based in St. Petersburg elected Republican Bill Cramer, a charismatic and energetic campaigner who was instrumental in the revival of the state’s GOP. The Republicans won the state in the next two presidential elections but narrowly lost in 1964. You might be noticing a pattern by now: the states in which Republicans started to win in the 1950s but lost in the Goldwater race were ones in which the trend towards the GOP was based in suburbanization and the migration of Republican voters far more than opposition to civil rights laws. Florida’s rural panhandle region, on the other hand, was more Deep South in its behavior and it was not won by Eisenhower or Nixon in 1960 but won by Goldwater in 1964 and Wallace in 1968. The region didn’t start to become solidly Republican until the 1980s. In 1966, Claude Kirk was the first Republican to be elected governor since Reconstruction. 1968 was an excellent year for the GOP in the state overall as Nixon won it and Congressman Edward Gurney was the first Republican elected senator since Reconstruction. These events were triggered by the combination of dissatisfaction with the Johnson Administration on the Great Society, urban riots, civil rights, and the Vietnam War. International events would also start to benefit the Republican Party in this state.

On January 1, 1959, corrupt Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was ousted in a revolt that resulted in a Communist dictatorship. Many who had supported ousting Batista were unaware of the ideological intent of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Rather, they were interested in reforming a country that had become a haven for the Mafia and had many industries run by U.S. firms and in ousting a dictator who had killed anywhere from hundreds to 20,000 Cubans. However, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire, and ultimately 1.2 million Cubans left for the United States between 1959 and 1993. These Cubans hated the Castro regime and wanted to do whatever they could to politically oppose it, which included maintaining a trade embargo against Cuba. They saw the Republican Party as the best political vehicle in the U.S. to express their anti-communism and to this day they remain the only Latino group that is predominately Republican. In 2004, Florida Republican Mel Martinez was the first Cuban-American elected to the Senate, and he was succeeded in office by fellow Cuban-American Republican Marco Rubio.

Despite these favorable developments for the GOP on a national scale, much work still had to be done on the state level as interparty fighting plagued their effectiveness, as the Kirk faction of the party feuded with the Cramer faction, which contributed to latter’s defeat in the 1970 Senate election. By 1976, Democrats had both Senate seats again and the state voted for Carter by five points. Florida was now what it is known as today: a swing state. In fact, since 1928, Florida hasn’t voted for the winner only twice, when the state voted for Nixon in 1960 and Bush in 1992. However, trends have been shifting slightly to the GOP. In 1981, only four of fifteen House seats were Republican and the GOP wasn’t able to get a majority of the seats until the 1988 election, which also gained Florida their first two-term Republican Senator, Connie Mack III. On the state level, since Reconstruction the GOP didn’t gain a majority in the Senate until 1995 and the House until 1997. As of 2019, 14 of 27 House seats and both Senate seats are occupied by Republicans. They are even stronger on the state level, as the party as held the governorship for 20 straight years and currently holds 27 of 40 Senate seats and 73 of 120 House seats. Although the GOP currently has a minor advantage, Florida is still a swing state.



John G. Tower (R-Tex.), 1961-85, the first Republican Senator since Reconstruction.

Texas has a long history as a Democratic state, as it voted that way since its admission into the union and didn’t once vote Republican for president…until 1928. The reasons for Hoover’s win in Texas were the same as in the other Southern states he won. Despite its 1928 vote, the state maintained a solid connection to the Democrats, whether they be progressive or conservative: from 1875 to 1960, only five Republicans were elected to the House and zero to the Senate. However, the politics that arose from the New Deal began the state’s shift and even in early 1940s it was becoming clear that the state was growing more and more conservative. The chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Texas Congressman Martin Dies Jr., was consistently alleging the presence of communists in the federal government and had become a foe of the Roosevelt Administration. In 1941, Governor Pappy O’Daniel won a special election as senator, and he was up until that point by far the most rightist person to ever serve from the state. He and Dies were part of the political faction of Democrats called the “Texas Regulars” who tried to deny FDR a fourth term. In 1948, the state voted to elect Harry S. Truman president with 66% of the vote, his strongest showing in the country. However, the people voted for him partly because he stated that he wouldn’t try to exert federal control over the state’s offshore oil deposits.

After Truman won the 1948 election, he turned around and had his Attorney General, Texan Tom Clark, sue the state over its title on its offshore oil deposits. This enraged Texas voters and politicians alike, with Governor Allan Shivers and his supporters, known as “Shivercrats”, openly backing Republican Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 election. Ike had promised to sign legislation to restore the title of offshore oil deposits to the states while Democrat Adlai Stevenson backed federal control. That year, Eisenhower won Texas with 53% of the vote, a remarkable contrast to Thomas E. Dewey’s 24% in 1948. The following year, all members of the Texas delegation to Congress voted to restore control of the states and Eisenhower kept his promise. He improved on his victory in 1956 by two points, but the GOP still had a lot of work to do in the state: its only representative was Bruce Alger of Dallas, a doctrinaire, inflexible conservative who was despised by Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and the rest of the Texas delegation. However, the Texas GOP would find its champion in a young conservative intellectual, John G. Tower.

In 1960, Tower undertook the unenviable task of challenging Senator Lyndon B. Johnson for his seat. He campaigned hard and although he lost the election as expected, he managed to get 41% of the vote. Since Johnson was elected Vice President, Tower had a second chance at a run, and the following year he won the seat by one point due to infighting between the liberal and conservative wings of the Democratic Party, becoming the first Republican Senator elected from the state since Reconstruction. Liberal Democrats chose to vote for Tower instead of aging conservative Democrat William A. Blakley as they refused to vote for a conservative representing their party. This dynamic got Tower reelected in 1966 but he won twice more without it. The state of Texas was notably the only Southern state to vote for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and this was thanks to Lyndon B. Johnson’s continued influence. Nixon performed well in the state’s panhandle while Wallace won East Texas, which was Deep South in character and would not start voting Republican until the 1980s. Texas was more of a peripheral South state in its behavior as it didn’t bolt for Thurmond in 1948 or Wallace in 1968, so its changes, like in the states of Virginia and Florida, were best explained by suburbanization as well as the popularization of air conditioning, which enabled more people from the North and Midwest to move there. One the most notable transplants to the state was George H.W. Bush, who had been born and raised in Massachusetts. In 1976, the state voted one last time for a Democrat in Jimmy Carter. Notably, he carried 74 counties that never again voted Democrat. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the state by 14 points.

On the state level, Republicans were slow to dominance: they didn’t win their first gubernatorial race since Reconstruction until Bill Clements’ 1978 victory, didn’t hold both Senate seats until 1993, didn’t win a majority in the Texas State Senate until 1996, and didn’t win a majority in the Texas House of Representatives until the 2002 midterms. At the time, the Texas delegation to Congress was 17-15 Democrat despite 55% of the state’s voters having voted for Republican members of Congress. Governor Rick Perry and U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay aimed to change that in 2003, when they urged the Texas State House to pass legislation to redraw districts, which resulted in a highly favorable map for the Republicans. The 2004 election flipped the Texas House delegation from 17-15 Democrat to 21-11 Republican. Although the Democrats challenged the redistricting in the Supreme Court, they upheld all but the newly configured 23rd district, which was found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The state remains Republican dominated and they have held the governorship since 1995 but there have been some signs that its Republican affiliation is declining: notably the GOP lost two congressional seats that had long been Republican (including George Bush’s Houston suburbs district) and came within five points of defeat in six districts. Additionally, Senator Ted Cruz came within three points of losing reelection. There is also the factor of the increasing Latino vote, which although in Texas it is more conservative than in other places save for Florida is contributing to Democratic gains in the region. Possibly counterbalancing this trend are conservative voters from states such as California moving in to capitalize on Texas’s prosperity. Whether this midterm factors significantly in longer trends for the state has yet to be seen.