Against Long Odds: Citizens Who Challenge Congressional Incumbents

By James L. Merriner; Thomas P. Senter | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

In 1968, a young African American activist named Maynard H. Jackson Jr. ran in the Georgia Democratic primary against Senator Herman E. Talmadge, then a southern institution on a par with Strom Thurmond. This was during the first cresting of the black power movement, and the state's Democratic leadership was dismayed by Talmadge's seeming indifference to his challenger. With a drawl that could be poured over pancakes, the senator explained: "I don't mind a boy runnin' ag'in' me to get ex-pos-yuh . . . but he better never run ag'in' me again."

Jackson, a gifted, silver-tongued politician, would joke in stump speeches later that he "had 207,000 votes counted" in 1968-- "counted" implying that the white courthouse machines had robbed him of votes, which they probably did. Jackson went on to become a four-term mayor of Atlanta, the first African American mayor of a major southern city, but he never challenged Talmadge again. Indeed, he resisted his supporters' suggestions that he run for senator, governor, or even president as a Democratic or third-party insurgent, and now practices law in the private sector. Once again, the national electoral system had roughly shoved aside a highly talented citizen-politician.

Only the rare incumbent today would greet any challenger with the equanimity of a Herman Talmadge. More than thirty years after the

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