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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Dale Bumpers, June 17, 1974. Interview A-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decision to run for governor and campaign strategy

Bumpers discusses his decision to run for governor and his campaign strategies in 1970. At the time, Bumpers was virtually unknown politically, yet he believed that the crumbling political power structure opened new opportunities for someone like himself to make a difference. Bumpers describes his strategic effort during the campaign to appeal to the pride of Arkansas citizens while assuaging their tendency towards feeling defensive as a rural state. Ultimately, his strategy paid off and he was elected.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Dale Bumpers, June 17, 1974. Interview A-0026. 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

Why did you think you could win in '70? When you were a complete unknown politically.
Didn't you know what the conventional wisdom was in 1970? [Laughter.]
Nooo. You know, you say how did I know I was going to win or why did I think I was going to win. And I'm not sure how strongly I felt that I would win in 1970.
What were you thinking when you entered that race?
I thought it was going to be a wide open race between a lot of candidates some of whose names people were tired of hearing. And I thought it was a golden opportunity to bring a new face and some new thoughts into Arkansas politics. You know this state, the people in this state, have always had a great deal of pride. But they're always rather defensive about us being a rural state. We're always defensive about us being a rural state and about us being a poor state. And, that's one of the reasons, for example, that Arkansas race riots were always . . . that was always the focus of attention. Because this was someplace where we could excel. This was one place where we could compete with any state in the country. We could compete with any school in the country. But on almost every other-socially, culturally and economically-people were defensive. And they didn't like that. You know, it was an uncomfortable feeling. This was sort of a subconscious thought. But I felt that they were looking for leadership who would appeal to their pride and tell them there was nothing to be defensive about. You know, first of all, God endowed this state very richly with a lot of natural resources. With a lot of natural areas. And that whether we liked it or not, sooner or later, we were going to be found by the rest of the nation. And as I say. . . . Those are the things that I talked about. I appealed to people's basic good instincts. And I had no way of knowing I was going to win, of course, but as I say, just from a purely strategic standpoint. . . . We made a little splash when I first started running and then we just started running real hard. But with eight people on the campaign we felt-and this was my own personal thought, this was my own personal strategy-such strategy as we had. It was mostly just shaking hands and meeting a lot of people and spending what little money we had on television. My own strategy was that with eight people in the race, people were not going to try to sort out those names and pick the right candidate until two or three weeks before the election. The ordinary person is not paying that much attention. And as the campaign warmed up and got down to the wire, why, that's when we began to spend what little money we had on television. So that people would have an opportunity to pick us out of the pack. And that's exactly what they did. But I can tell you, it was not all as unique as, you know, as a lot of the local and national press would like to think. It was just giving people alternatives. When you give people alternatives between two bad or two good . . . it's tough for them. But when you give them alternatives, you know, from very bad to very good all the way up the ladder, they'll normally make the right choice. Sometimes, you know, the get fooled. But basically, they'll make the right choice. And they will respond to the right things, given the opportunity. I guess I'm a real pollyanna when it comes to talking like that because I believe that.