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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Wallace's grip on Alabama politics

In 1972, Nettles ran for the United States Senate, but industrialist Red Blount outfunded him. During the statewide campaign, Blount, who had traditionally been a moderate or even a progressive, realigned himself so as to become one of George Wallace's allies. Nettles explores the reasons Blount lost. Just after this passage, Nettles explains how he thinks this loss affected the Republican Party in Alabama.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bert Nettles, July 13, 1974. Interview A-0015. 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

We had had a Republican senator elected in '66 from Birmingham, but he changed after . . . after one session he changed, not his registration but reidentified as a Democrat. So when I went to the legislature, by then it had reverted back. Traditionally there had always been one Republican in the legislature from Winston county, a north hill county up in . . . north of Birmingham, which had threatened or attempted to secede from Alabama during the War Between the States. And then in '72 I ran for US Senate for the Republican nomination. We had a big interparty fight. The young Republicans . . . some of the leadership . . . a lot of the leadership were unhappy with Red Blount and Jim Martin and felt that neither one could win against John Sparkman. We were uncertain that Blount would come back and run. We knew he wanted to. Jim Martin was . . . . I think you could relate Jim Martin very much to Gardiner, in North Carolina. Very popular. Good speaker. Could relate to the people. But very shallow and old style politics. In any event, we wanted a new face and so I said "What the heck" and a group of us got together. I had the backing. Had a poll, interestingly enough, run by the Birmingham Herald. They ran it themselves of the Republican leadership. All the members of the state Republican executive committee and the county chairmen and what not. I edged Blount out, led that poll. And then a month later was trounced in the primary. It was a sad experience. Blount had about 55,000 votes were cast in the Republican primary when Albert Brewer was running against George Wallace neck and neck. And I think it was fantastic that we got out that percentage of the vote. It was well over 5% . . . almost 10%. We'd never had a state wide Republican primary before. I had been the one to take the case to court forcing a Republican primary. But in any event, we played right into the hands, I suppose, of Blount, who had just a fantastic amount of money and spent over half a million dollars in the primary. Of course was already very well known. And people who were comfortable voting in the primary . . . .
JACK BASS:
He spent about $10 per voter then, right?
BERT NETTLES:
Yes.
WALTER DE VRIES:
That's got to be one of the all time records. That's better than Fulbright.
BERT NETTLES:
But, anyway, he won it handsomely and of course when the general election came along he tried to tag John Sparkman as a McGovern type and referred to the Sparkman-McGovern ticket and just . . . . Sparkman has his problems. Old age is one of them. But he's never been a McGovernite. And people just didn't buy it. We tried to tell Red this. A lot of people did. He just got . . . . One of the things about Red Blount . . . . He had been a progressive, well, a moderate to a progressive and I think a man of honor and integrity and had always stood up to George Wallace. But soon as that election came along, he tried to get so close to George Wallace and to identify as a man Wallace would be more comfortable with and tried to picture Sparkman as a man who favored busing and was for anmesty. All of these wild eyed things. And he just . . . . It was a sad thing because he not only lost the election overwhelmingly, he lost his popular support with the news media, with a lot of the people who I think really count.
JACK BASS:
Do you think it would have made any difference if he had run as Red Blount?
BERT NETTLES:
No. Because he couldn't relate to people out in the street. I think the only way a Republican could have won . . . it would have been an uphill battle . . . would have been on an issue, an image or what was Sparkman's chief drawback? His age. And have a young person with a new, fresh image you know, running against him. That's what we're convinced ourselves of. The money never came in.
WALTER DE VRIES:
You think it was Blount's campaign strategy that defeated him rather than the White House or the Committee to Re-elect . . . endorsement of Sparkman.
BERT NETTLES:
It was an endorsement, but I don't think it really mattered that much.
WALTER DE VRIES:
That's just a rationalization?
BERT NETTLES:
It's a rationalization.