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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clarke Reed, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0113. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Evolution of the Republican Party in the South at the state and national level

Reed discusses the evolution of the Republican Party in the South, focusing specifically on his home state of Mississippi. Reed focuses specifically here on contrasting national and state politics, suggesting that Mississippians became Republicans in terms of their choices for national politics more than they did in terms of state politics. Additionally, Reed addresses such issues as the role of personality versus philosophy, and he discusses perceptions of candidates such as Richard Nixon, George Wallace, and Herbert Humphrey. By the time of the interview, in the mid-1970s, Reed argued that being a Republican had become more acceptable in the South as that party became increasingly dominant.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clarke Reed, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0113. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER DEVRIES:
Do the people in this state see national politics completely different than state politics?
CLARKE REED:
Yeah. That's the problem. That's the goal?.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Well, does it also mean they don't see the parties as two distinctive units but rather as a personality thing.
CLARKE REED:
Well, it's always been… politics has always been personality. One party system. You have personality [unclear] . I mean they can serve up the Bilbos, the Barnetts. They come in… a governor comes in, an unknown, and you leave highly unpopular. Anyway, that's what we're going against, you might say. So we're to the point… I don't take a poll of party identification… In the beginning it would probably have been 90% Democrat and 8% independent and 2 or 3 Republican.
WALTER DEVRIES:
— Republican party in Mississippi see itself as basically kind of a philosophical thing. Ideological rather than—
CLARKE REED:
Right, right.
WALTER DEVRIES:
—haven't been able to do anything with it.
CLARKE REED:
Right. Once you've done that, you're here. You're the dominant party. I accept this philosophically. Changes in a republic or especially changes under your old system will come slow. If they don't come slow, they'll be volatile, like a banana republic. I accept this difficult problem with party identification, especially also in an era where parties and politcs per se was down. Every Mississippian thinks he's independent, votes for the man, doesn't care much what party he's in. But there's an increasing number of people that will identify with the Republican party. The polls show it. It looms higher in presidential elections or maybe in a strong election where we've got something going or in certain pockets of the state. This county, Jones County, the coast, and areas where…. That is the goal and the opposition is the personality politics. We're trying to sell the two party system concept. The idea of philosophically different parties to people.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Has it been tough to sell?
CLARKE REED:
Well, no tougher than I anticipated. Although sometimes I get more optimistic—say after the Goldwater race. But I mean in hindsight that was foolish optimism. And going to the race thing, that was the overwhelming, overshadowing issue of all. It's hard to perpetuate reasons through that climate. Now that's no longer there and I think some reason… our salesmanship should be more effective.
WALTER DEVRIES:
But do you see the state continuing to vote Republican at the presidential level and Democratic at the state level?
CLARKE REED:
Definitely Republican at the presidential level. And we hope—more than that, I believe—we'll make increasing gains in the state.
JACK BASS:
In 1968, of course, the state voted overwhelmingly for George Wallace. I think Nixon ran even behind Humphrey. Third.
CLARKE REED:
Got the lowest vote in the nation, yeah.
JACK BASS:
Does that suggest Mississippians tend to vote for the more racially conservative candidate?
CLARKE REED:
Well, at the time of that race the race issue still was red hot, probably hotter than it had been even before. Nixon was an unknown. He was the fellow that was vice president way back and had been a defeated candidate for governor. He was an unknown quantity. Our polls showed, prior to the '68 election—[something about running Muskie before McGovern?]—Muskie ran 20 with Wallace and Nixon up around 30 with Nixon ahead. I believe he would have carried the state in a three way race last time. I think the Wallace vote was independent, as a way station into the Republican party, at least in the national picture.
JACK BASS:
What do you think will happen in '76 if Wallace actively campaigns for the national Democratic ticket, regardless of who is on it?
CLARKE REED:
I think [unclear] would carry, without any work. I think we'll carry easily, let me put it that way.
JACK BASS:
You think the Republicans will carry.
CLARKE REED:
Yes. Any particular nominee I foresee coming out of the party or any nominee I foresee coming out of the Democratic party.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Do you intend to field more candidates in '75 for the legislation and state-wide office?
CLARKE REED:
The plan… leadership… is always to field more. You know, to get them. We haven't been as selective as we might be. We've had some good ones and we've had some bad ones. We've had some very good ones be beaten. We've a long way from the point where being a Republican is… I just hope we arrive at the point where it's equal. [I think in some areas its a help on the local level.]
WALTER DEVRIES:
Is that attitude changing, about Republicans. Somebody told us that ten years ago if you were a Republican—I forget what the term was—but that was about as low as you could get in terms of social status and prestige.
CLARKE REED:
Yeah, well, you have to go back a little farther than that. But that's right. [unclear] There were so few they were oddities. But that part's right. But the beginning in the South of the Republican movement might have been—if it was anything, it was just the opposite. It was very peculiar being a country club crowd. It was the young guys. Someone wrote a book I thought covered it pretty well in one chapter about how it was kind of the thing to do. It was kind of a kick, you know, to get active in Republican politics. Because they'd never beeninvolved in politics prior to that. Most of those people were young idealists or young businessmen. Across deep South, particularly Mississippi and Alabama.
WALTER DEVRIES:
Is it getting easier to recruit candidates?
CLARKE REED:
Oh yeah.