THE 1974 GUBERNATORIAL RACE
TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY FOR THE OLD ORDER
Forty years ago this fall, the South Carolina Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that Charles D. “Pug” Ravenel, the Democratic candidate for Governor, could not have his name placed on the General Election ballot because he did not meet the residential requirement of the South Carolina State Constitution. Events that both preceded and followed this historic decision were unique in South Carolina history and, indeed, unique in most respects in American political experience. Many of the details of these events have faded from memory over the last thirty years, but to those of us who were involved, they remain indelibly etched in our minds.
1974 was a tumultuous year politically and socially, not only in South Carolina but also throughout the United States. It was the year in which Richard Nixon resigned; it was the year when the anti-Vietnam War sentiment was just beginning to wane; it was a year in which the Civil Rights Movement was achieving fulfillment. But in spite of all of these unsettling factors there was still optimism in the minds of many people that the world could be made better. There was cynicism and disenchantment with government, but still hope that with the right leadership we could regain the sense of optimism that permeated the early 1960s. Truly the fabric of society had been torn, but many believed that with a little goodwill and hard work, it could be mended.
As 1974 began, it seemed certain that the South Carolina Democratic Party establishment would offer two candidates for Governor — Earle Morris, who had been elected Lieutenant Governor in 1970, and Congressman Bryan Dorn, who had served the Third District since the late 1940s. It was anybody’s guess as to which of these candidates would win. As usual, the state’s financial and political leadership was split between the two, and it looked as if it would be an interesting contest between these two sons of the establishment.
There were rumors about other people who might run — former state senator Nick Zeigler
from Florence who had been the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate against
Strom Thurmond in 1972, and perhaps attorney John Bolt Culbertson from Greenville, perennial candidate Dero Cook from Horry County, and Milton Dukes from Dorchester County. While many respected Senator Zeigler, few gave him much of a chance against Morris and Dorn.
The others would be in the race, if they indeed filed, for entertainment.
But no one seriously expected that Bryan Dorn and Earle Morris would have serious opposition from other candidates, and certainly no one outside of his circle of friends had ever heard of Charles D. “Pug” Ravenel, except for some vague memory of a young guy from Charleston who had gone to Harvard and played quarterback, a fact that most people interpreted as meaning he was not good enough to play at Clemson or Carolina, and too smart for the professors there.
Then there was General William Westmoreland, newly returned from Vietnam and the Pentagon, and widely respected by his fellow South Carolinians. Then-Governor John West gave him a significant position in his Administration and an opportunity to move around the state and
re-acquaint himself with its needs and people. Many thought that he had political ambitions,
but almost no one had any clue as to what his partisan allegiance was.
As for Republicans, they would offer someone, but there was little anticipation that their candidate would pose serious opposition to either Morris or Dorn, one of whom would be the Democratic nominee. Some people thought Harry Dent might try it in spite of his entanglement with the Watergate scandal. Some thought that Congressman Floyd Spence would jump from Congress into the gubernatorial race as his predecessor Albert Watson had done. But that was a side show and not the main event. Then there was Jim Edwards, the dentist from Charleston who was in the State Senate. Maybe he would get the booby prize and be cannon fodder for Morris or Dorn.
Who Wants To Have Lunch?
One day a call came asking if I would have lunch with Pug Ravenel. My response was “Who wants to have lunch?”. John Trask, a friend and active Democrat from Beaufort, called to say
that this Pug Ravenel who had called for lunch a couple of days earlier was his friend and a good guy. Pug was from Charleston, had gone to Harvard, had made lots of money on Wall Street, and had moved back to South Carolina to work here in the investment banking business and to pursue his political ambitions. A few days later, Pug and I met for lunch (strangely I can’t remember where) and I found him to be a particularly bright, charming, assertive person. After we went through the customary niceties and personal trivia, Pug got around to asking me questions about what was really on his mind – could someone with a strong, well-developed platform, great energy and determination, adequate financing, but no political background and reputation, win the Democratic nomination for Governor. While I tried to be polite and not blunt, my answer was essentially “no” — appropriately couched in a lot of “buts” and “howevers.” We parted pleasantly and with promises to stay in touch.
The Plot Thickens
That year the Democratic State Convention was held at the Township Memorial Auditorium
in April, and as was the custom, the new State Executive Committee met immediately upon adjournment of the Convention to set filing fees and take care of other routine business. But on this day there was a bit of non-routine business, that being whether or not the State Democratic Party would accept the filing papers in the race for governor for someone about whom there was a serious question as to his legal eligibility. That person was the same Pug Ravenel with whom
I had had lunch several weeks before.
In the intervening weeks, Pug’s then-wife, Molly, had discovered, almost by chance, a provision in the South Carolina State Constitution about which I had never heard. This provision, in essence, required and continues to require that a person must have been a resident of the State of South Carolina for five years immediately preceding his or her election. What seemed at first to be a simple requirement that would disqualify Pug turned out to be an exceedingly entangled, difficult, perplexing political and legal question.
Although Pug was a native of South Carolina, he had not physically lived here since he was a young man. As a teenager he went to Harvard. After graduating, he worked in a number of different places, was a White House Fellow, and settled in New York where he was quite successful on Wall Street. He and his family moved to South Carolina in 1971, established
a home, and became an active part of the Charleston community. In a simple, commonsense analysis of this situation, it seemed that he could not qualify because, if he should win, he would not have been a resident for five years immediately preceding his election in November of 1974
— 1971 to 1974 is three years. But as we often find, the Devil is in the details.
It was and continues to be well-established in electoral law that a person can physically live in one state but be a legal resident of another, at least for voting purposes. The law and court cases on this question fairly clearly indicate that where one intends to live is his/her legal residence –
whether or not that person physically resides in that place. Many people live for years in another state, another country, and particularly in Washington, but maintain their voting residence in their home states 100 or 1,000 miles away.
In those circumstances when a person’s residence was questioned, the courts and administrative boards resorted to certain objective indicators of intent. Some of these indicators include property ownership, the existence of a specific address, where taxes are paid, the existence of
a bank account in the home state, the frequency of visits to the home state, and similar factors.
But the question posed by Pug’s situation was not a matter of voting. This was a requirement to be Governor. This set of circumstances obviously begged the question as to whether they were the same, and if they were not the same, how did they differ? And if they differed, was the difference sufficiently great as to preclude Pug from being a legally qualified candidate?
Several different thoughts were in the minds of the members of the State Democratic Executive Committee, the most prevalent of which was “Of course he is not a resident, his filing should not be accepted.” Others said “This is a very bright young man and we should not discourage people like him from being involved in the Democratic Party and, therefore, we should find a way to
let him run. It will encourage other young people to participate.” Others said “Yes, we should encourage people like him to participate, and, after all, it’s not going to make any difference because either Bryan or Earle will win.”
As a result of these varying thoughts and acquiescent attitudes, the Ravenel people were able to work out a proposal that the Executive Committee accepted. That proposal, in essence, was that Pug’s filing papers would be accepted on the condition that, within 60 days of the acceptance
of his filing papers, a court of competent jurisdiction would hear and rule on the legality of
Pug’s filing. That seemed to be agreeable to most people, because after all, it wouldn’t make
any difference. Either Earle or Bryan would win the gubernatorial nomination.
Following Pug’s filing, his attorney, Heyward Belser, and others did the appropriate research both into the law and into the probable opinion of various judges. After several weeks, the
action was brought in the Richland County Circuit Court with Judge John Grimball presiding.
To say the least, the case was postured in a most unusual way. One of Pug’s friends had recruited an anonymous, or more properly, an unknown, person from Charleston to be the plaintiff and to initiate the suit against Pug challenging his right to be a Democratic candidate because he did
not meet the residential requirement. Indeed the plaintiff was something of a ghost, because
no one knew why this unknown person would initiate such an action. It was simply done to accommodate one of Pug’s friends, who recruited this person in order to bring a suit in a court
of competent jurisdiction. Following the general approach that the State Executive Committee took, the Democratic Party adopted the posture of only monitoring the proceedings and not being an active, adversarial party, which turned out to be a grave mistake.
During the proceedings the attorney who represented the Democratic Party, Edmond Monteith, told me on a number of occasions that the trial was a sham and that if I wanted him to, he could destroy the arguments being made by the attorneys for Ravenel. Attorneys for the plaintiff were not aggressive because they simply were accomodating the Ravenel Campaign to get this proceeding into court. In very simple terms, it was not an adversarial proceeding and the real issues in this case were not fully aired, which was in large part my mistake.
In any case, Judge Grimball ruled that Pug did in fact meet the residential requirement. His decision adopted much of the theory of cases involving residency for purposes of voting and applied them to the definition of residency to meet the constitutional requirement that a person
be a resident for five years immediately proceeding his or her election.
Pug received great media coverage from the trial. It launched his campaign in a fashion that
few anticipated. He, in a very short period of time, became the darling of the media — for
good reason. He was bright, articulate, young, good looking, and not part of the establishment.
There was another factor about 1974. Under state law, the first primary is held on the second Tuesday in June, but it was put off until the end of July because of delays in the reapportionment of the State Legislature. If the primary had been held at its regular time, there would have been insufficient time for Pug to orchestrate the campaign that he did, gain momentum, and make the run-off. Roughly six weeks were added to the primary campaign schedule that year; they turned out to be essential to Pug in building and developing his momentum.
The First Modern Campaign
To say that the Democratic Party establishment underestimated Pug Ravenel is to cite the obvious. Bryan Dorn and Earle Morris mounted traditional campaigns using a lot of the “good ole boy” networks and techniques that South Carolinians had used for decades. Bryan seemed
to have the better part of it, particularly the money and the organizational skills, but Earle was a popular person and despite shortages in funds and weaknesses in his organization, he pursued the campaign with vigor and humor. Dorn’s campaign people decided that his white suit was not gubernatorial, so they put his white suits (for which he was famous) in the closet and put him in respectable navy blue suits with white shirts. While it was symbolic, some think that this change affected Dorn’s comfort level and affected his effectiveness as a campaigner. Part of Earle’s financial problems were occasioned by some personal circumstances involving a divorce and remarriage. But for whatever reasons, both of the candidates of the establishment seemed to
be limited in their ability to attract people other than those who were already for them.
By way of contrast, Pug Ravenel came out of the blocks with a blinding attack on the establishment, enumerating with great skill and attractiveness the shortcomings of South Carolina State Government, the potential of South Carolina’s people, and his solution for the problems of the Palmetto State. It was a frontal assault on the established order unlike anything seen in decades. It was an attack that was so articulate and attractive, and painted as such an optimistic picture, that Pug quickly became the driving force in the campaign. Few people thought he would win, but they certainly paid attention, and most were impressed — some positively and some negatively.
His courage and willingness to attack the establishment were matched with the beauty and skills of his media campaign. His campaign was truly the very first modern television campaign in South Carolina. His efforts were marked not only by high quality production that played on people’s emotions as well as their minds, but also by the expenditure of sums of money the likes of which South Carolinians had never seen. His was by far the most expensive campaign ever in the history of our gubernatorial primaries.
His media campaign was matched with an organizational effort that attracted young people
by the tens and thousands. He organized a political phalanx and unleashed it on South Carolina. Twenty- and 30-year-old college graduates, who could not be matched by either the Dorn or the Morris campaigns, left nothing undone that energy and dedication could accomplish.
All together, the audacity of the frontal attack on the establishment, the money, the beauty of the television, the enthusiasm, and the energy and dedication of the organization swept the state by storm.
As is the case with many moribund established organizations, the Democratic Party, represented by the Morris and Dorn campaigns, did not understand what was going on until the day of the first primary. Morris came in third and was taken out of the runoff. Bryan Dorn made the runoff, but to his amazement and shock, Pug Ravenel led the ticket. These results created a combination of disdain, electricity, despair, hope, incredulity, and unbounded optimism that
has never before or since permeated South Carolina politics.
The Great Debates
During the two-week campaign period between the first primary and the runoff, Bryan Dorn
and Pug Ravenel debated each other in Rock Hill, Anderson, Walterboro, and the tobacco market in Mullins. Congressman Dorn, as the noted orator, took great pride in patterning himself after his namesake William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, and three-time presidential nominee of the Democratic Party at the turn of the century. Many thought that the debates would prove fatal to all of the electricity, excitement, and promise that Pug had built during the campaign for the first primary. Certainly, Pug Ravenel could not match Bryan Dorn on the stump.
On a warm, summer evening in August in Rock Hill, the first debate between Pug Ravenel
and Bryan Dorn took place. Never before or since have I felt the kind of excitement in a South Carolina political crowd as I felt that night. It was a large audience, in clear contrast with most of the stump meetings during the campaign for the first primary. As the time to begin drew near, Pug was nowhere in sight. Bryan Dorn, with his associates, was ready to go, the minister who was to pray was ready to go, and I, who chaired this and the other three debates, was ready to
go, but no Pug.
Three minutes before the appointed time of seven o’clock a cheer came up from just outside
the circle that the crowd had formed, and everybody’s attention was drawn in that direction. Gradually, we could make out Pug Ravenel entering with his coat thrown over his shoulder,
his shirt sleeves rolled up, shaking hands and being cheered by almost everybody in the crowd. Those of us accustomed to more formal and traditional stump meetings were taken aback. It took Pug about five minutes to get through the cheering crowd and onto the podium. As he reached the podium, the cheers were loud, long, and enthusiastic. It was quite a grand entrance for somebody new to politics.
The anecdotes from those stump meetings would fill endless pages. Each was different and each had its own character and quality. But truly, it was an exciting time in South Carolina politics. As for the relative merits of Dorn and Ravenel in an open debate, one can only say that whatever hopes and aspirations Dorn supporters had for blowing Pug off the stump were dashed on
the first night and never realized on any of the three other occasions.
One vignette deserves repeating to illustrate the point. Dorn consistently attacked Pug for not having served in the military. In Anderson, this point was made repeatedly and with enthusiasm. Bryan asked, “How could anyone understand the way our government works who has never served in the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, or the Air Force? How could anyone take care
of our veterans? How could anyone be sensitive to the needs of the many military installations around South Carolina?” Pug got up from his chair, interrupted Bryan, and simply said “Mendel Rivers.” Mendel, of course, had been the number one champion and defender of the military for years and years and was upon his death, four years earlier, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Mendel had never served a day in uniform, and everybody knew it.
Those two weeks in South Carolina exemplified a phenomenon that has occurred many times in human history — the old gives way, grudgingly, to the new. Try as hard as the old order could, with energy, valor, determination, and certainty of its own virtue, it could not stand before the new technology, science, and art of modern politics. Needless to say, Pug won.
Early Though The Lilac Grows, It Withers Quicker Than The Rose
Following the runoff, there were a few weeks of peace, tranquility, and harmony. Bryan Dorn, true to the code of the gentleman that he did and does represent, toured the state with Pug, urging his supporters to get behind this new, dynamic leader and elect him governor in November. Senator Hollings, Governor John West, and the rest of the political establishment in South Carolina quickly closed ranks, and Pug Ravenel was on his way to a certain, overwhelming victory in November — we thought.
Not long after the runoff an attorney from Newberry County by the name of Gene Griffith, cousin to Congressman Bryan Dorn but a Republican, filed a suit challenging Pug’s eligibility
to be elected governor under the same constitutional provision that was adjudicated in May and June. After Judge Grimball ruled in Pug’s favor, the alleged plaintiff had chosen not to appeal that decision to the State Supreme Court; neither did the State Democratic Party. Gene Griffith filed his suit in behalf of two plaintiffs, Ben Deckle, who was a country and western disc jockey in Lexington County, and Milton Dukes, who ran in the Democratic primary for governor but received very little support. All of these circumstances were very suspicious:
- An attorney who was a former Republican state senator and cousin to Bryan Dorn.
- Two plaintiffs whose economic circumstances would not have afforded involvement in such a suit.
- None of the three willing to explain to the media who was supporting the suit financially.
One thing was certain: this was a real suit, and Gene Griffith was serious about it. There would be no passive plaintiff or acquiescent Democratic Party. Attorneys for both sides succeeded in getting the State Supreme Court to take original jurisdiction, in order to reach a definitive decision sooner.
For several days in early September, a hearing officer conducted a hearing exploring all relevant issues presented by opposing attorneys. Pug presented witness after witness, mostly friends and associates from Harvard and Wall Street, who testified that throughout the twenty years that Pug had been outside of South Carolina, he repeatedly told them in many different ways and under numerous different sets of circumstances that he intended to return to South Carolina, raise his family, and run for public office — specifically, governor. All of these contentions sought to substantiate that Pug was, or at least considered himself to be, a South Carolinian and a resident of South Carolina throughout these two decades.
Gene Griffith, on the other hand, presented evidence that, during most of these twenty years, Pug paid income taxes in other states, voted in other states, had his drivers license issued by other states, and conducted most, if not all, of his personal business in other states. One particularly telling bit of evidence came from Pug’s 1972 South Carolina State Income Tax return, which
Pug had voluntarily made public. Two questions and answers were pertinent:
- Did you pay in-state income tax last year?
Answer: Was not a resident.
After the preliminary hearing was concluded, the Supreme Court set a date for oral arguments. That date was September ____, 1974. It was a dramatic moment. Heyward Belser argued the case for Pug Ravenel, arguing brilliantly the detailed points of law. Harry Lightsey, equally brilliant, presented the case for the South Carolina Democratic Party in which he argued the philosophy of the law. Gene Griffith argued the case for Ben Deckle and Milton Dukes, in which he simply pointed out the pieces of evidence that indicated that Pug lived, worked,
voted, had his domicile, and paid taxes in another state.
After the arguments, we felt confident that the court would rule in favor of Pug Ravenel and the Democratic Party. That very afternoon, in a five to zero decision, the Supreme Court enjoined the State Election Commission from placing the name of Charles D. “Pug” Ravenel on the general election ballot as the nominee of the South Carolina Democratic Party because he did
not meet the residential requirements of the South Carolina State Constitution — a political bombshell that none of us thought would ever happen – because we feared its consequences so much.
No court in any state of the United States had ever ordered the removal of the name of a candidate who had been duly and legally nominated in a primary to be stricken from the general election ballot. This was truly and literally unique in American state politics. The only event similar to this occurred in the 1930’s when, using the same type of residential requirement, the
North Dakota Supreme Court ordered a Mr. Murray to vacate the governor’s chair after the general election, which seems to be even more extreme.
As a matter of interest, it is worth pointing out that even though these residential requirements are not well known, they are quite common in state constitutions. In 1974, they varied
in length from two years to ten years. Five years was about an average.
From the time the suit was initiated, there was immense speculation as to who was behind it, what the motivation was, and what its chances of success were. Most of the speculation, framed in negative terms, came from the Ravenel camp and pointed in the direction of Senator Marion Gressette, Chairman of the State Senate Judiciary Committee, who was an active supporter
of Bryan Dorn and a frequent and persistent critic of Pug Ravenel.
Another target of such speculation was Mrs. Bryan Dorn, because she was such an enthusiastic supporter of her husband and severe critic of Pug. Because Gene Griffith was Bryan Dorn’s cousin, many felt that Mrs. Dorn was the more likely prospect. For what it is worth, I always thought that it was initiated and paid for by some major interest in the Republican Party working through John Bolt Culbertson, an active liberal but maverick Democrat in Greenville County, who frequently played footsie with Strom Thurmond and other Republicans, and who had previously been associated in legal proceedings with Gene Griffith. I couldn’t and can’t prove this. No one has ever proved who was behind it, but it is clear that neither Gene Griffith,
Ben Deckle, nor Milton Dukes paid for it. This is one of the interesting, unresolved mysteries
of the 1974 political year.
Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch
Republicans were having their own ups and downs in 1974. General Westmoreland decided
to run for Governor, but seeing the many candidates on the Democratic side, opted to run as a Republican. Many people thought that he would win the Republican nomination hands down, simply because of his reputation and standing, and that he would be a formidable opponent for any Democrat in the general election.
But there were people in the Republican Party who did not cotton to this “Johnny come lately.” Stepping forward to be their champion was State Senator Dr. James B. Edwards of Charleston. Dr. Edwards had been the Chairman of the Republican Party in Charleston, had been active in
its affairs for years, and was a successful candidate for the State Senate and had served with credibility for two years.
With all of the excitement on the Democratic side, few people paid much attention to the Republican Primary — until Dr. Edwards defeated General Westmoreland. It is fair to say, however, that for all of his integrity, prestige, and stature, General Westmoreland was not an effective campaigner. As a consequence, Dr. Edwards became the Republican nominee to
the surprise of many, many casual observers, but not to the mainline Republicans. Just over 25,000 people voted in the Republican Primary that year and Jim Edwards was their nominee.
What A Mess!
Truth is stranger than fiction. The dominant, mighty Democratic Party, eight weeks before the general election — without a candidate for Governor and with great uncertainty as to how to get one. Under state law, there were three choices:
- Hold a primary. But by any calculation, this was almost impossible in the time available.
- The State Executive Committee could nominate the candidate. This didn’t seem to be a good idea because that procedure had been used in 1954 to nominate the Party’s candidate for the United States Senate when the incumbent United States Senator, Burnette R. Maybank, died. The State Committee nominated Edgar Brown, who lost on a write-in vote in the general election to Strom Thurmond.
- Reconvene the State Convention. This seemed to be the least undesirable option, because it would involve more than 1,000 Democrats from across the state, and had the appearance of broadening the base of the selection process.
After due consideration, with Governor John West and others, I called a meeting of the State Executive Committee and recommended that we reconvene the State Convention and that the Convention nominate a person to be the Party’s candidate in the General Election. Without much disagreement, the State Committee accepted this recommendation. On Monday, September _____, the State Convention reconvened.
While we were trying to figure out what to do next, the Ravenel campaign appealed the decision of the State Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court, which was subsequently denied. Pug and many of his supporters resorted to very intense criticism of the Democratic Party establishment, alleging and asserting that various members of the Party were responsible for the suit — specifically, that Millie Dorn, Marion Gressette, Bob McNair, and others had initiated the suit because Pug had beaten Bryan, and had criticized Senator Gressette and Governor McNair. There were other charges, some plausible and some not. Almost without exception, the working media and most of the editorial writers sided with Pug.
Members of the establishment were even more defensive than during the primary and the runoff campaign. People who had been respected and admired for decades had become suspect and thought to have done all sorts of malicious and nefarious political deeds. At this distance in time it is difficult to describe how tense the atmosphere was. Political leaders known for their courage and willingness to take difficult positions were very reluctant to speak out or defend themselves or others under attack. At no other time in my thirty years in South Carolina politics have I witnessed or experienced this reluctance, even fear, to speak out. One noted exception was Senator Marion Gressette, who never failed to point out how ridiculous the charges were and how he had understood Ravenel’s inadequacies all along.
The Ravenel campaign was repleat with suggestions and actions designed to undo or mitigate
the decision of the State Supreme Court. One of the truly tortured political and legal maneuvers involved was asking Governor West to call a special session of the General Assembly, have
it propose an amendment to the State Constitution eliminating the five-year residential requirement, have this proposed amendment voted on at the general election in November, and immediately after the general election reconvene the General Assembly to ratify the proposed amendment that had been approved by the voters at the general election. This would eliminate this constitutional provision. In the meantime, the Democratic Party would not offer a candidate, but would support an active move to have Pug elected on a write-in ballot. This bizarre scheme was given very careful consideration, which is a clear indication of how strained relationships were and how much pressure the Ravenel campaign, through the media, could bring on elected officials.
After due consideration, Governor West declined to call the General Assembly into a special session, thus putting to rest this strange proposal.
The State Convention – Failure Of Leadership
As the time drew near for the reconvening of the State Convention, the jockeying for votes
from the delegates became intense. Bryan Dorn, who had come in second to Pug, declared his candidacy very quickly. The Ravenel campaign explored various options, including nominating Pug’s brother, Hal. While this seems a little silly now, it was seriously considered in 1974. Brantley Harvey, who had won the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor, mounted
an effort as did State Senator Dick Riley, who had been an active Ravenel supporter. There
was speculation about Congressman Jim Mann, who had become very popular among Democrats because of his role as a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Nixon Impeachment Hearings, and former Governor Bob McNair. Most of these people had some scent of the establishment on them and were, therefore, unacceptable to the Ravenel people. Dick Riley was an exception, and turned out to be a strong candidate in the Convention. Congressman Mann could have gained a great deal of support, but his candidacy would have required the Party to find a replacement for him as the Democratic nominee for Congress.
In the end, the contest in the State Convention turned out to be fairly close between Bryan Dorn and Dick Riley, with the latter receiving most of the support from people in the Convention who were sympathetic to Pug. Keep in mind that the members of this Convention had been elected
in March, before Pug Ravenel was even a question — or known to many of them. Pug was asked repeatedly to endorse someone — anyone — which he declined to do, feeling, I suppose, that to
do so would cast doubt on the legitimacy of his nomination, which he continued to pursue in the courts.
In the intervening years, I have replayed in my mind the events leading up to and during the State Convention on that day. I felt that I had a moral commitment to support Bryan Dorn, or at least do nothing that would impede his attempt to get the nomination. He had for so long been such
a great Democrat, so loyal and faithful in every respect, and had come to Pug’s aid and support after Pug had won the runoff; it would have been a mark of supreme ingratitude to have opposed him. But in my heart of hearts, I knew that he could not win the general election. Pug and his supporters had done so much to discredit him directly, as well as indirectly by criticizing
Mrs. Dorn and suggesting that she was behind the suit. His candidacy was a failed one before the Convention met.
Among all of the options, it was clear that we should have nominated former Governor
Bob McNair. Even with the criticism that had been pointed toward him, and even with some of the political baggage that accompanied him when he left office in January of 1971, he was still respected by hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians, he was a known quantity, he was a person of great stature and a good campaigner.
For several days prior to the Convention, I wrestled with the proposition of organizing and leading an effort to persuade the Convention to nominate Governor McNair. In the end I did not.
I believe that if I had done so, he would have won the nomination and we Democrats would have won the general election. Such a result would have changed South Carolina’s history in general, and specifically slowed the growth of the Republican Party. Immodestly, I think that I was a pretty good state chairman for the nine years that I served — although quite controversial at times. But I shall always regret not having had the guts to do what I knew should have been done at that Convention. My only consolation is that I never had to face Bryan Dorn and explain
to him why I had betrayed him after so many years of friendship.
On With The Show…Sort Of
When Bryan was nominated, there were only five weeks to the election. Jim Edwards and the Republicans were taking advantage of all of our difficulties and making great headway, cutting
into our voters in a fashion that no Republican other than Strom Thurmond could possibly dream of. Pug Ravenel acquitted himself very poorly. After Congressman Dorn had been so gracious for the few weeks after the runoff, Pug refused throughout the general election campaign to endorse Bryan, which was a continuing major problem.
Bryan, with the help of the Democratic Party and a lot of individuals, organized a campaign that was something less than overwhelming. While we spent lots of money and went into more debt than anyone could conceive of, the campaign truly never took hold. Numerous efforts were made to bring Pug around to endorse Bryan, but he never would. Some of his supporters eventually did, but there was pressure from within the Ravenel campaign to keep many of them from doing so.
For a period of time, the Democratic Party paid the salaries of some of the Ravenel campaign people in order to induce them to maintain their organization with the hope that at some point before the general election Pug, or enough of the leaders of the campaign, would support Bryan, and thereby provide the margin of victory. We did all of the things that one customarily does
to prepare for an election — media, get out the vote efforts, response teams for legal problems, etc., etc. Even though hope springs eternal in the human breast, none of the principals of the Dorn campaign thought that he would win.
As the results began to come in, Senator Edwards jumped out to a quick lead — a substantial lead. But as time went on, Dorn’s vote improved and gradually the margin between Edwards and Dorn narrowed. About midnight, I was at WIS television station in Columbia to do an interview and as I was leaving, I looked up on the big board to find that indeed, Dorn had drawn even. Feeling that most of the remaining votes were out in the smaller rural counties and knowing that that was Bryan Dorn’s strength, for a moment I thought that he was going to pull it off. But, alas, I didn’t know that the new punch card voting machines in Lexington County had broken and Lexington’s votes were not in. Anyone acquainted with the voting patterns in Lexington County, even then, did not have to wonder about the result.
Bryan’s headquarters were at the old Wade Hampton Hotel. I went over and we had a conference. We looked at some returns from around the state and decided that it was time to go do the obligatory concession. In those days, this was expected – they way gentlemen behaved. Bryan, John Justice, and I went to what was then the Carolina Inn, where Dr. Edwards had his celebration. You can imagine the pandemonium in the place. Much to my surprise, when we got there, Pug Ravenel was addressing the crowd. Needless to say, that did nothing to endear him to us.
We made our way around the edge of the room trying to be polite and smile at the people whom we knew. Bryan was a consummate gentleman, acknowledging those who were friendly and polite to him and ignoring those who weren’t. As we stepped up on the stage, John Justice looked at me and said “I always did hate like hell to go to the dentist.”
1974 was a very good year for Democrats all across America. And except for the Governor’s race, it was a good year for Democrats in South Carolina. Brantley Harvey was elected Lieutenant Governor, Jim Mann and Mendel Davis were returned to Congress as Democrats,
and we elected three new Democrats to take the place of retiring incumbents — Butler Derrick
in the 3rd District, Ken Holland in the 5th District, and John Jenrette in the 6th District.
But in the governor’s race, we suffered from a combination of bad timing, over-reaching ambition, indecision, failure of leadership, and an established political order whose shortcomings and failures permitted all of this to happen. Someone said to me after it was all over, “Pug’s over-reaching ambition reminds me of Macbeth.” My response was “that’s true in part, but he also had a lot of Hamlet in him, as did many of the rest of us.”
T H E E N D