May 1970: Wallace visits Jasper as heated campaign ends

Posted 5/3/19

This week we're visiting the finale of the most negative political campaign of all-time —  the 1970 gubernatorial race between George Wallace and Albert Brewer.The designation of being the …

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May 1970: Wallace visits Jasper as heated campaign ends


This week we're visiting the finale of the most negative political campaign of all-time —  the 1970 gubernatorial race between George Wallace and Albert Brewer.

The designation of being the nastiest campaign that ever was came in the 2005 book "Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time." 

Since Wallace had a long, eventful political career, let's attempt to nail down the Wallace of 1970.

He had served one term as governor beginning in 1962. His wife, Lurleen, had died in office in 1968 after effectively serving a second term in his place. 

He had been a Democratic presidential primary candidate in 1964 and oversaw a groundbreaking third-party campaign in 1968.

In 1970, he was running against incumbent governor Albert Brewer, who had taken office upon the death of Lurleen Wallace, as well as five other Democratic candidates that included former governor Jim Folsom and former Wallace speechwriter Asa Carter.

Brewer openly courted the votes of African Americans, making him the first gubernatorial candidate since Reconstruction to do so and opening the door for opposition ads with slogans like "Wake Up Alabama! Blacks Vow to Take Over Alabama." 

There was also a blatantly racist smear campaign against Brewer's wife and daughters that was never tied directly to Wallace. Such ads and tactics led to the race topping the aforementioned nasty campaigns list in 2005. 

Wallace came to Jasper on May 2, 1970, three days before the Democratic primary.

The Wallace campaign took out a full-page ad in the April 29 edition of the Daily Mountain Eagle that read "George Wallace Tells It Like It Is...When Governor of Alabama! Told It Like It Was...When He Ran For the Presidency! And Tells It Like It Will Be...When Elected Governor Again. Hear Him Tell It In Person Saturday, May 2."

Among the entertainers slated to appear was Jeannie C. Riley, who had a hit with "Harper Valley PTA" in 1968.

Wallace was late to the rally. A crowd of thousands "waited over two hours for the tardy governor and then burst into a roar when he appeared," the Eagle reported on May 4.

In his opening remarks, Wallace pointed out that he had won Walker County in all of his races, including his failed 1958 gubernatorial bid. 

Wallace was in fine form, attacking "those sissy-britches from the country club who work for some of the larger newspapers."

The Daily Mountain Eagle was immune from such attacks, however. Wallace went so far as to say "You've got a fine newspaper here," which got a standing ovation.

The Eagle was one of five daily newspapers in the state to place itself firmly in the Wallace camp. The official endorsement, which appeared on page 4 of the same May 4 issue, read, "George Corley Wallace, not the prettiest but likely the smartest man in America and this nation's last hope."

Wallace resented the journalists who "look down their noses at the average man in Alabama and call him a redneck and say, 'We've got to change our image, we've got to change our way of living.'"

Such comments were just a sign of the Birmingham News' inferiority complex, according to Wallace. Voters had no intention of changing their way of life, in his opinion.

"They are going to live right on with the movement we started here in Alabama that has made Alabamians proud of the fact that we are today the No. 1 state in the union in political activity and what we do on May 5 is going to have more implications on what Mr. Nixon does than any other state. That is what U.S. News and World Report says. That's what Time says. That's what Newsweek says, and that's what The New York Times says. If it wasn't true, what are they doing down here covering this election in the first place?" Wallace said.

On Election Day, Wallace won Walker County 7,871 to Brewer's 5,769. Statewide, Brewer led Wallace by around 12,000 votes but did not receive enough to prevent a runoff.

In the June 2 runoff, Wallace beat Brewer in Walker County by over 5,000 votes and across the state by over 30,000 votes.

An Eagle editorial from June 3 declared Wallace to be "our kind of man."

"And the voice of Alabama still speaks out — will with more force than ever in this time when it's desperately needed...Despite all plush pressure, we still have our national voice. It's a spokesman for the folks who want to keep on keeping on. We do," the Eagle editors wrote. 

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.