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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 15 and 24, 1975. Interview A-0331-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Building a political coalition and turning enemies into allies

Talmadge reacts to his reputation for having built political coalitions between diverse types of people. Overall, Talmadge concurs with this assessment of his leadership style. He explains how he inherited his father's followers in 1947 (described earlier as roughly one third of Georgia's population), which he steadily built into a solid majority by the 1950s when he chose to run for the Senate. Talmadge takes great pride in his ability to turn former political enemies into allies and boasts about his high approval rating amongst Georgia's populace.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 15 and 24, 1975. Interview A-0331-1. 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

Reese Cleghorn did do one piece on you which I think was in the Atlanta Magazine, if I'm not mistaken, in which he said that you had achieved a personal coalition in your followings between such disparate people as say, Dr. King and the Grand Dragon. He was crediting you with an awful lot, but do you think that you did eventually in your career begin to . . .
I don't think that there is any doubt. Of course, as I stated in my previous conversation with you, after my father died, because I was Eugene Talmadge's son, I inherited the support of roughly one third of the state. I inherited also roughly the opposition of one third of the state. There was a middle ground of about a third that was neither pro nor con. I got the majority of that vote when I was elected governor in 1948. I retained about that same majority when I was reelected in 1950. when I came to the Senate in 1956, I think that at that time I had won over the majority of my former enemies. I carried every county in the state in that election and approximately 80% of the vote. Since that time, I have never received less than 72% plus. Since I have been in the Senate, I have received campaign funds and contributions from virtually ever one of my former cheif political enemies. And since Governor Arnall, as I recall, was my first contributor when I sought reelection to the Senate in 1962. Last year, one of my contributors was former governor, M.E. Thompson whom I had defeated three times, twice for governor and once for the United States Senate. So, I think that I have been extremely fortunate in holding the base that I inherited that was my father's loyal supporters and building on that. I think now, according to the polls that I see, that over 80% of the people in Georgia think that I am doing a good job in the Senate. In fact, I had some polls made in anticipation of my last race and the pollster stated that that was the highest rating that he had ever made on any candidate at any time for any public office. About 86% of the people of Georgia gave me either excellent or good.
Now, you spend a good deal of time going back to Georgia.
Oh yes, I think that I make more speeches in my homes state than probably any member of the United States Senate. I average at least a hundred a year. For instance, we are taking a recess during the month-of August and I have thirteen engagements in the state during that period of time. I usually schedule all my addresses in Georgia either on weekends or known recess periods. I average getting about the state and making a hundred speeches a year and I think that is as many as any Senator makes in his home state. I don't accept many engagements outside the state, maybe half a dozen or a dozen a year. I have to turn down about 90% of all the invitations that I get within the state. I accept as many as my Senatorial duties permit. They are very diverse groups, all types and kinds in character, citizens within the state, business people, working people, black people, white people, college groups, high school groups and so on.