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Book rates George Wallace’s ’70 campaign as the nastiest

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Political campaigns didn't get any dirtier than George C. Wallace's 1970 race for governor, a back-alley brawl that featured unabashed racism, altered photos, betrayal of friendships and personal attacks on family members.

As if it wasn't infamous enough, writer Kerwin C. Swint gave it the top spot in his new book, "Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time."

"It was the last openly racist campaign in America," said Swint, who put the campaign ahead of even the notorious Andrew Jackson-John Quincy Adams presidential race of 1828 that focused on the legality of Jackson's marriage.

Swint, a political scientist at Georgia's Kennesaw State University, said the 1970 Alabama campaign finished No. 1 in his book because it was more recent and combined the most dastardly tactics. "It's very much deserving," said former Gov. Albert Brewer, a former Decatur resident who was the loser in the race.

For Wallace, the 1970 race was a fight for his political life because if he had lost to Brewer, his former ally, then Wallace wouldn't have had a political stage to mount his campaign for president in 1972. The fight became even more intense when Brewer led Wallace in the Democratic primary — putting the two in a runoff for the nomination, which was tantamount to election at the time.

Veteran Alabama black political leader Joe Reed, who was one of the targets of Wallace's wrath in 1970, called it "the most racist campaign in the history of the state. Before that, people talked about maintaining segregation. But this was a personal attack."

Before the 1970 race, Wallace and Brewer had been political allies and friends. Wallace's political machine had backed Brewer for lieutenant governor in 1966, and Brewer had ascended to the governor's office when Wallace's wife, Gov. Lurleen Wallace, died of cancer in 1968.

Wallace, fresh off his third-party race for president in 1968, reportedly told Brewer that he wouldn't run against him for governor in 1970, but then changed his mind, creating a deep split among Alabama Democrats, who controlled state politics.

"It was a family fight, and family fights are always dirty," said Bob Ingram, who was Brewer's state finance director.

Going into the governor's race, Wallace was an ardent segregationist with a strong blue-collar appeal. Brewer was more moderate on race and was aligned with a white-collar crowd.

Portrayed as a sissy

Wallace portrayed Brewer as a sissy, who had formed a "strange bedfellows" coalition with black leaders to win their endorsements. Wallace would urge voters to pull back the bedsheet and see whom Brewer was in bed with.

That message was reinforced by ads urging white voters to turn out against Brewer's "bloc vote" from blacks. Another ad showed a white girl surrounded by seven black boys under the headline "Wake Up Alabama! Blacks Vow to Take Over Alabama."

Anti-Brewer material put out by anonymous groups targeted Brewer's family, accusing Brewer's wife of being an alcoholic and his two daughters of getting pregnant by blacks.

Brewer, now 77, said there was no way to counter the attacks. "You don't want to go on TV and say, 'I'm not a drunk,' " he said.

Karen Cartee, author of "Negative Political Advertising: Coming of Age," said some of the dirtiest tactics have never been tied directly to Wallace and may have been developed by his supporters without his knowledge. But she said Brewer was not the first Wallace opponent to feel such attacks.

"When the Wallace people got desperate, they got dirty," said Cartee, who teaches advertising at The University of Alabama.

George Wallace Jr., who was in high school when the campaign started, agreed with Ingram that the race was dirty. "It was an intense campaign. That's fact," he said, but he questions the high rating in Swint's book.

He also said he and his sisters got hit with plenty of false rumors, too, but he is confident that neither his father nor Brewer ever approved of those tactics.

"You have people in campaigns who do things unbeknownst to you," said Wallace, a veteran of Alabama politics who has served as state treasurer and is now on the Public Service Commission.

Questionable acts

Wallace noted that there were questionable acts on Brewer's side, too.

He recalled that the Watergate hearings would later show that President Nixon's organization quietly pumped $400,000 into Brewer's campaign in an effort to extinguish Wallace's political career and keep him from running for president in 1972.

Ingram said he picked up $100,000 of that money from a man at a hotel in New York, but he didn't know until the Watergate probe that the man was an attorney for Nixon.

Wallace, who won the runoff and the governor's office — then was crippled by a would-be assassin in the 1972 presidential race — eventually made his peace with the black leaders he targeted in 1970.

He was elected to a fourth term as governor in 1982 with strong black support. But Wallace and Brewer never made up before Wallace died in 1998.

"I never heard from him," Brewer said.

Added Ingram: "Scars from that one haven't healed to this day."

Top 25 mudslinging campaigns

The campaigns selected by author Kerwin C. Swint for “Mudslingers: The Top 25 Negative Political Campaigns of All Time”:

1. George Wallace vs. Albert Brewer, governor of Alabama, 1970

2. Andrew Jackson vs. John Quincy Adams, president, 1828

3. Grover Cleveland vs. James G. Blaine, president, 1884

4. Abraham Lincoln vs. George McClellan, president 1864

5. Thomas Jefferson vs. John Adams, president, 1800

6. Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greeley, president, 1872

7. Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas, U.S. Senate in California, 1950

8. George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis, president, 1988

9. Harold Washington vs. Bernard Epton, mayor of Chicago, 1983

10. Richard Nixon vs. George McGovern, president, 1972

11. Clayton Williams vs. Ann Richards, governor of Texas, 1990

12. Charles Robb vs. Oliver North, U.S. Senate in Virginia, 1994

13. John Tower vs. Robert Krueger, U.S. Senate in Texas, 1978

14. Robert Torricelli vs. Richard Zimmer, U.S. Senate in New Jersey, 1996

15. Rudy Giuliani vs. David Dinkins, mayor of New York, 1993

16. Rutherford Hayes vs. Samuel Tilden, president, 1876

17. Frank Lautenberg vs. Pete Dawkins, U.S. Senate in New Jersey, 1988

18. Richard Daley vs. Robert Merriam, mayor of Chicago, 1955

19. Edwin Edwards vs. David Duke, governor of Louisiana, 1991

20. Claude Pepper vs. George Smathers, U.S. Senate in Florida, 1950

21. Jesse Helms vs. Harvey Gantt, U.S. Senate in North Carolina, 1990

22. Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater, president, 1964

23. Alphonse D’Amato vs. Charles Schumer, U.S. Senate in New York, 1998

24. Upton Sinclair vs. Frank Merriam, governor of California, 1934

25. George W. Bush vs. John Kerry, president, 2004

The Associated Press

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