The Gubernatorial Election of 1946
In 1946, conservative hopes of capturing the gubernatorial chair seemed bright. For the first time in decades, the liberal-progressive wing of the party was badly fractured. The death of Bibb Graves in 1942 had left a vacuum among liberal ranks, one that his chief lieutenant and apparent heir, Lt. Governor Handy Ellis, seemed unlikely to fill.
The close race of James A. Simpson against Lister Hill in 1944 had buoyed conservative hopes for 1946. With the war over, with Roosevelt and the New Deal increasingly a memory rather than a political rallying cry, the time to reassert conservative control of the state's life, to regain the advantage that had lain with men like Graves and Hill since the early 1930's, seemed at hand.
The hopes of conservatives must have soared when they viewed the disarray that prevailed in liberal ranks. Though Handy Ellis had inherited most of Bibb Graves' organized support, the progressive wing of the party was divided and badly enfeebled. Ellis, like Graves, had been identified with the Klan in the 1920's, but he had repudiated it and labored long and hard in the liberal vineyards of the 1930's. Ellis tried to hold together Graves' coalition of oldsters, educators, organized labor, and local officials. Even outgoing-Governor Sparks lent his support to Ellis' candidacy, but Ellis was hampered by his age and by a lack of the personal magnetism that Graves had possessed. 1 His efforts to hold together the Graves coalition were also undermined by vigorous challenges to his leadership of the liberal forces. Two young and attractive men of the liberal persuasion, Gordon Persons and James E. Folsom, vied with Ellis for liberal support.
Persons was a consumer-oriented member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utility rates. Earlier in his career, he had been associated with the Rural Electrification Agency, and he hoped to join support from rural voters with that of urban labor. 2 He was young,