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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Remembering Past Political Battles

This commentary is from the Mississippi Politics Web site.

Billy Mounger, Wirt Yerger, and Clarke Reed are Mississippi Republican elder statesmen. Mounger and Yerger both live in Jackson, while Reed lives in Greenville.

On Dec. 28, 2006, Sanders wrote:

The 1976 Republican National Convention is the subject of a section of Billy Mounger's book, "Amidst the Fray." Anyone interested in Mississippi politics should read it. Billy does not -- to put it mildly -- pull any punches.

On Dec. 29, 2006, Steve Rankin wrote:

I haven't read Billy Mounger's book yet, but I well remember the Ford-Reagan fight for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. Aided by such Mississippi Republicans as Clarke Reed, Gil Carmichael, and Rep. Thad Cochran, Ford narrowly won.

In the Southern states which held primaries, Ronald Reagan won decisively, as he would have also in Mississippi. But we didn't have a primary that year, and a lot of pressure was put on our 30 delegates. We then had the unit rule; the delegation wound up being 16-14 for Ford, which meant that Ford got all 30 votes. This was a travesty, since grassroots Mississippians were strongly for Reagan.

Gil Carmichael, who had run against Sen. Jim Eastland in 1972 and against Cliff Finch for governor in 1975, did himself a lot of damage with his performance in 1976. After Ford had clinched the nomination at the Kansas City convention, Carmichael popped up on TV, advocating a Ford-Reagan ticket-- as though he thought that would placate Reagan's supporters.

Unlike national party conventions nowadays, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the 1976 GOP convention-- although, from my viewpoint, the wrong man won the presidential nomination. The most dramatic moment came when Ford asked Reagan-- who was sitting in the balcony-- to come to the podium and address the convention. Reagan spoke off the cuff, and I still get chill bumps just thinking about that speech.

On Dec. 30, 2006, Kingfish wrote:

Haven't read Mounger's book but is this one of the reasons he doesn't think too much of Carmichael? Got the idea he wasn't too crazy about him listening to him on the radio one day recently.

On Dec. 30, 2006, Steve Rankin wrote:

I'm sure Mr. Mounger gives all the details in his book, but I'll give you my recollections.

In the '75 governor's race, Carmichael made the issue of a new state constitution the centerpiece of his campaign; that may or may not have been a good idea, but it wasn't a high priority with the average voter. Gil also came out for GUN CONTROL (!!), which probably cost him the election, as he only lost to Cliff Finch by 7 percentage points.

In '76, there was a party position that was supposed to go to Billy Mounger automatically, but Carmichael ran against him for this post. Mounger, who had raised tons of campaign cash for Gil, naturally took great offense. Mounger swore that he would never raise another dime for Gil, and he kept his word.

Carmichael also helped put the shaft to Ronald Reagan in 1976, and Mounger was a big Reagan fan.

In 1979, Mounger and Wirt Yerger recruited Leon Bramlett of Clarksdale to run against Carmichael in Mississippi's first-ever contested Republican primary for governor. The unknown Bramlett ran a six-week campaign and got 47% of the vote. (Almost all of the candidates for county offices were running in the Democratic primary, and thousands of voters went to the polls expecting to be able to vote in the Carmichael-Bramlett race and also vote for their county officials. There were a lot of mad folks that day-- but that's another story.)

In the '79 general election, Carmichael was pulverized by William Winter, 61% to 39%. In his final campaign, Gil ran as an independent for lieutenant governor in 1983 and was beaten even worse by Brad Dye.

On Dec. 30, 2006, Sanders wrote:

Steve, you don't need to read Mounger's book. You remember it all, chapter and verse. What you recount is exactly concordant with Mounger's memoir. The only person who possibly comes off worse than Gil Carmichael is Clarke Reed. Billy doesn't mince words.

On Dec. 30, 2006, Steve Rankin wrote:

Sanders: I'm definitely going to read the book.

When Reagan designated Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker as his putative running mate, Clarke Reed used that as an excuse to endorse President Ford. So did John Connally, the ex-Texas governor and ex-Treasury secretary.

In 1980, as I recall, Haley Barbour had a regional campaign position with John Connally, whom Sen. Thad Cochran also backed for the GOP nomination. Connally had Sen. Strom Thurmond campaigning with him in the South Carolina primary, where Reagan and GHW Bush both finished ahead of Connally, who wound up with a grand total of ONE DELEGATE for the whole campaign.

Getting back to 1976: another of Carmichael's pro-Ford allies was Doug Shanks, who had been elected Jackson city commissioner in 1973 at age 26, and who is now head baseball coach at MVSU. Shanks, who also got crossed up with Billy Mounger, made losing races for Jackson mayor in 1977 and 1981; he beat city Commissioner Fred Johnson in the '81 GOP primary for mayor.

BTW: You know that Julia Reed is Clarke's daughter, don't you? She sometimes appears on TV shows, including Chris Matthews's show.

On Jan. 2, 2007, Steve Rankin wrote:

I made it sound as though Ronald Reagan won all of the Southern Republican primaries in 1976. In fact, he lost to President Ford in Florida, 53% to 47%. This came on the heels of Ford's 51-49 win in the first primary in New Hampshire.

Reagan also stumbled in the Tennessee primary when he suggested that the privatization of the Tennessee Valley Authority should be considered.

Reagan didn't get his first 1976 win until the March 23 North Carolina primary, where he beat Ford by six percentage points. (I almost ran off the road when I heard this news on the car radio.)
Reagan then went on to make the nomination fight a close contest.

Reagan next got a landslide win in the Texas primary, where he took two-thirds of the vote and all of the delegates. Texas has an open primary, and Reagan attracted a lot of votes from independents and conservative Democrats. He followed with victories in Alabama and Georgia, which also have open primaries.

I said that John Connally ran third in the 1980 South Carolina Republican primary. Actually, Connally was a distant second to Reagan, who got 55%. George H. W. Bush finished third. (The two Texans, Connally and Bush, hated each other's guts.)

After that, Reagan had a cakewalk to the 1980 Republican nomination. In the other Southern primaries, he got these percentages: 89% in Mississippi; 75% in Louisiana; 74% in Tennessee; 73% in Georgia; 70% in Alabama; 67% in North Carolina; 56% in Florida; and 51% in Texas, Bush's home state. (SC, MS, TN, GA, AL, and TX all have open presidential primaries.)

In the general election, Reagan carried 44 states against President Jimmy Carter.

On January 5, 2007, Steve Rankin wrote:

I'm going to comment on Bill Minor's Jan. 5 Clarion-Ledger column here, as it ties in with the theme of this thread.

I'll never forget when Ford, then vice-president, flew into Jackson in early August, 1974 as President Nixon faced impeachment in the Watergate scandal. On a hot Saturday afternoon in front of the War Memorial building, Ford spoke to a very sparse crowd.

But you did forget the correct date, Mr. Minor. I was also part of that "very sparse crowd," and I bookmarked the date in my memory: it was May 25, 1974, two and 1/2 months before Ford became president. He said that he believed that problems were best solved by governments that were closest to the people.

About a month earlier, President Nixon, who was still popular in Mississippi, had addressed an overflow crowd at the Mississippi Coliseum. Sens. Jim Eastland and John Stennis were also there. I was part of the crowd that listened on the loudspeakers that were set up outside the Coliseum.

In his introduction, Gov. Bill Waller said, "Mr. President, Mississippians are obedient to the law!" Several of the black people who were standing near me laughed sarcastically.

Earlier in the column, Minor mentions Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker, whom Ronald Reagan named as his running mate in 1976. Minor calls Schweiker a "liberal"-- as Minor's good friend, Sidney Salter, also did in his Dec. 31 column.

As political scientists Earl Black and Merle Black note in The Vital South, Schweiker was in fact a moderate Republican. He was pro-life on abortion and favored school prayer and a strong national defense.

For people like Clarke Reed to use the Schweiker selection as an excuse to abandon Reagan and endorse Ford was the height of hypocrisy. After all, it was Ford who made former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who was anathema to conservatives, his vice president. Rockefeller, a big-spending liberal, had run a nasty campaign against Sen. Barry Goldwater for the 1964 GOP presidential nomination. Rockefeller then refused to support Goldwater against President Lyndon Johnson.


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