Mighty Peculiar Elections: The New South Gubernatorial Campaigns of 1970 and the Changing Politics of Race

Article excerpt

Mighty Peculiar Elections: The New South Gubernatorial Campaigns of 1970 and the Changing Politics of Race. By Randy Sanders. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002. Pp. xii, 219. Preface, conclusion, notes, bibliography, index. $55.00.)

Practitioners of Arkansas politics as well as scholars of modern Arkansas history all recognize the summer and fall of 1970 as a turning point for the state. Progressive Dale Bumpers' rise from obscurity to a place in the Democratic runoff for governor in which he defeated the architect of the Old Guard, Orval Faubus, followed by a November political demolition of Republican incumbent Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, had numerous consequences that went beyond that year. The telegenic Bumpers' use of modern political consultants and short advertising spots showed the rise of the television era in Arkansas politics. His primary victory evidenced the rejection of the traditionalism of Faubusism and a rise of moderation within the Democratic party that would propel the party to victory upon victory in gubernatorial races in what Diane D. Blair has termed the "Big Three" era of Bumpers, David Pryor, and Bill Clinton. And the exit of progressive voters from the Republican party meant that the GOP would have to shift to the right if it were to ultimately return to competitiveness in the state's politics. Randy Sanders' book is an important reminder to those whose analysis tends towards an isolationist view of the state. What occurred in Arkansas in 1970 was part of a larger trend in the transformation of the South and its politics.

Clearly the distinctive personalities, political histories, and demographics of Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia helped shape the political dramas that played out in those states in 1970, but Sanders argues that many commonalities were present in each state's election of a "New South" Democratic governor in that year. Bumpers, Florida's Reubin Askew, South Carolina's John West, and Georgia's Jimmy Carter all emphasized "new populist" sensitivities and modernizer issues, obfuscated their views on the key racial issue of the year (busing), and used television to emphasize their attractive personalities and their links to the rural roots of their states. Finally, each of the four-starting with his inaugural address-emphasized that the departure from the racial politics of the past shown in their campaign was not simply a vote-getting gambit but a new vision of governance, most famously in Carter's January 1971 statement: "I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over."

At the core of Sanders' book are chapters on each of the states' 1970 elections. …