Cliff Finch, the "Workingman's Friend"
When former Congressman John Rarick of Louisiana died recently, Ballot Access News had a piece on him, which morphed into a political junkie's smorgasbord (at this posting, there are 162 comments on that article, which has to be a record for a site of that type).
One of the commenters mentioned that former Mississippi governor Cliff Finch had briefly shown an interest in the American Independent Party's 1980 presidential nomination. Finch, a personal injury lawyer from Batesville, served as governor from 1976 to 1980. Following are excerpts from my remarks about him.
Finch put together a “blackneck/redneck” coalition in his winning 1975 gubernatorial campaign. He ran a “workingman’s campaign,” patterned after Tom Harkin’s 1974 U. S. House race in Iowa. Finch would spend a day performing such jobs as operating a bulldozer, giving haircuts, working on a shrimp boat, bagging groceries, pumping gas, etc. He carried a lunchbox with him, and that was his campaign symbol (he also often wore a hard hat). It was a gimmick that, unfortunately, captured the voters’ imagination. For me, it was surreal.
When the Democrat Jim Eastland retired in 1978, Finch ran for the U. S. Senate and finished second in the Democratic primary. He indirectly attacked Eastland, who endorsed his opponent in the Democratic runoff. Finch said he lost because the people wanted him to complete his term as governor.
In November, Republican congressman Thad Cochran was elected with 45 percent. The Democrat Maurice Dantin of Columbia got 31.8 percent; the independent Charles Evers of Fayette had 22.9 percent; and the independent Henry Kirksey of Jackson received 0.3 percent.
At the end of Finch's administration, there was a story that some of the antique furniture was missing from the governor's mansion. Finch responded, "Me or my family have not stole one thing!"
In 1980, Finch entered nine Democratic presidential primaries. The main thing I remember about his campaign was the overhead shot of him in a heart-shaped bath tub. He drove an 18-wheeler cross country to show his solidarity with working people.
Congressman Trent Lott headed Ronald Reagan’s campaign in Mississippi. I attended a Jackson meeting at which Lott spoke, and he listed the Democratic presidential candidates: “Carter, Kennedy… Finch…” That brought the house down, since Finch was a laughingstock after his disastrous term as governor.
In 1986, Finch was preparing to run again for governor in 1987. He drank 40-50 cups of coffee per day (no joke), and he dropped dead with a heart attack. He was age 59.