John C. West Exhibit
South Carolina Political Collections
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1970 Campaign

"Elect a Good Man Governor"

The 1970 Gubernatorial Campaign

The hotly contested 1970 gubernatorial general election featured candidates with clear and important differences in their visions of South Carolina and its future. West was opposed by Albert Watson, the first Republican elected to Congress from South Carolina since Reconstruction.

Albert Watson campaign flyer
S.C. Gubernatorial contest, 1970.
Watson campaign flyer

In 1960, Second District Congressman Albert Watson, a Democrat, endorsed Barry Goldwater for president and led the Democrats for Goldwater organization in South Carolina. The following year he was stripped of his seniority by the House Democratic caucus, resigned, and was reelected as a Republican in a special election. Republicans felt Watson had a real opportunity to win the governorship and party leaders such as Strom Thurmond campaigned energetically for his election.

While most of the issues debated during the campaign have faded from memory, many still remember what became known as the Lamar Riot. The courts had ruled that Darlington County schools be desegregated using busing to achieve some level of racial balance. In a speech in Lamar, S.C., Watson told his audience that he supported their opposition to busing. Shortly thereafter, whites attacked two school buses carrying black children and several children were injured. Twenty-eight men were charged with rioting, and many South Carolinians felt that Watson's speech had been incendiary and linked the Watson campaign with the incident.

Desegregation of the public schools was a topic of heated debate in the 1960s and remained a focus of the 1970 gubernatorial campaign.
In this cartoon drawn by Walt Lardner for The State newspaper, Watson, sporting the chip of desegregation on his shoulder, challenges West with the caption: "Go ahead, knock it off."

Campaign cartoon
From the Walt Lardner collection, South Carolina Political Collections.

Shortly after he won the Democratic primary, West asked key supporters to list their impressions of his and Watson's strengths and weaknesses. Ike McLeese captured the situation particularly well, writing, "We have the most eminently qualified candidate ever to offer for Governor of this state, who brings with him unexcelled experience and a keen insight into the workings of the state bureaucracy. This is a semi-marketable commodity. We are weakened by the fact that our candidate is not Hollywood pretty, nor is he an aggressive flesh pumper."

West won the election with 53.2% of the major party vote. Reflecting on the campaign, journalist Jack Bass wrote, "West drew support among Nixon voters, reacting to Watson's redneck appeal and the threat he posed to stability, and from Wallace voters, many of them traditional Democrats reacting against the Nixon administration's economic and school policies." West went on to become one of the most popular governors in South Carolina history.

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