Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

How to Win a Seat in the U.S. Senate: Carl Bailey to Bill Fulbright, October 20,1943

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

How to Win a Seat in the U.S. Senate: Carl Bailey to Bill Fulbright, October 20,1943

Article excerpt

Near the midway point of the twentieth century, the political scientist V. O. Key famously characterized Arkansas as possessing "the one-party system in its most undefiled and undiluted form." He did not simply mean that one party-the Democrats in this case-won almost every election to the general assembly, constitutional offices, and Congress. For that happened across much of the South. What made .Arkansas's system so "undefiled and undiluted" was the absence of potent factions within the Democratic Party that could assume at least some of the responsibilities usually associated with competitive parties-fundraising, writing platforms, recruiting candidates, creating campaign literature, scheduling public rallies and private campaign events, mobilizing voters, and monitoring ballot counting. This lack of factionalism, Key insisted, grew mostly out of the fact that there were no pressing issues that animated .Arkansas's electoral politics. The comparatively small number of African Americans allowed the state to avoid the "hysteria on the race question" that drove politics in other parts of the region, the poll tax and other mechanisms limited poor and working-class voting, and the dependence of the state's economy on agriculture muted the urban-rural split increasingly seen elsewhere across the Solid South. Instead, .Arkansas's politicians shared what Key saw as a conservative consensus that not much was amiss in the state. Few ventured further than regarding "plain, simple, clean government as their state's most pressing need." Though political rivalries certainly did exist, they revolved mostly around "personalities and emotions" rather than "philosophies or issues."1

The absence of party structures-both formal and informal-made it imperative that those Arkansans seeking elective office put together their own campaign organizations to raise funds, coordinate supporters, boost the candidate, run advertisements, get out the vote on election day, and monitor the count. These organizations were mostly transient, functioning for the sole purpose of getting the candidate elected in that particular year, and the best way to do that was to convince local and county political leaders who controlled blocs of votes that the candidate was the "best qualified" to advance the conservative consensus.2 Thus, statewide candidates found it necessary to form relationships with local potentates who could deliver votes in each of Arkansas's seventy-five counties. This was truly a monumental task, especially for those running for the first time.

The ad hoc and decentralized nature of mid-century campaign organizations not only gave .Arkansas's electoral politics a fluid and informal quality but also meant that there are few archival sources that allow scholars to reconstruct how candidates created their campaign organizations and got elected. There are bits here and there, but little that provides the big picture. That is why a letter written in October and November 1943 by former governor Carl E. Bailey to Congressman J. William (Bill) Fulbright, who was planning a run for a U.S. Senate seat the following year, is so significant. Bailey offered Fulbright a how-to guide for winning the support of county and local leaders across the state and putting together a campaign organization. Intended to help Fulbright plan a tour of the state to line up support before the formal campaign began, the letter provides a detailed map of a complicated political landscape. The letter, running ten typed pages and written over a three-week period, is the type of inside baseball that historians rarely get to see. Transcribed below, the original is located in the Bailey Family Papers at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's Center for Arkansas History and Culture, part of the Arkansas Studies Institute.3

At the time he wrote Fulbright, Bailey was the state's most experienced statewide campaigner. In the previous decade, he had won three statewide elections-attorney general (1934) and governor (1936 and 1938)-and lost two others-United States Senate (1937) and governor (1940). …

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