June 5, 1998

Analysis: Carmicael Has Treasured Memory of Goldwater

By Jack Elliott Jr.

Among Gil Carmichael's political letters and memoirs now at Mississippi State is a treasured note from Barry Goldwater.

``In 1972, when I was running against (Sen. James O.) Eastland, Barry endorsed me. I still have that letter. It was a congratulations on my campaign.

``Coming out against East-land was not without risk,'' said the Meridian businessman. ``Eastland was president pro tempore of the (U.S.) Senate, had great power. And Barry was having to be right there with Eastland.

``But it was like him, to stand up for his strong beliefs. That letter is one of the treasures of my life. It came from such a good human being. I have a deep love and fondness for him,'' Carmichael said.

Carmichael managed 38.6 percent of the vote against Eastland and two other candidates in 1972. He went on to run two exceptional campaigns for governor in 1975 and 1979, losing close races to Democrats.

Goldwater's funeral was Wednesday at Arizona State University in suburban Tempe. The five-term Republican senator, whose unsuccessful bid for the White House in 1964 began the philosophical reshaping of the Republican Party, died of natural causes. He was 89.

Carmichael was Lauderdale County GOP chairman when Goldwater ran for president. Many of those who backed him then in the state party became its conservative leaders in subsequent generations.

Goldwater carried six states. In Mississippi, Goldwater beat Lyndon Johnson 356,528 to 52,618.

Not even war hero Dwight David Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 and Richard Nixon in 1960 could win Mississippi. A slate of unpledged Democratic electors carried the state in 1960.

Despite his crushing defeat to Johnson, the Arizona senator's fierce anti-big government call galvanized conservatives, forming the ideological basis for the modern Republican Party.

In the eight presidential elections since 1964, Republicans have carried Mississippi in six - 1972 (Nixon), 1980 and 1984 (Reagan), 1988 and 1992 (Bush) and 1996 (Dole). Only Jimmy Carter (1976) and George Wallace (1968) interrupted the march.

Carmichael said Goldwater's influence in Mississippi made the GOP a force in local elections. He said many Republicans took Goldwater up on his words in 1960 when he told GOP conservatives to grow up, wait and one day they'd take back the party.

By the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the state GOP started conducting their own primaries - unheard of in previous elections. In 1972, the Republicans won two of five congressional seats and were picking up more legislative offices.

In 1978, the GOP won one of two U.S. Senate posts. By 1989, they held both Senate offices and significantly more legislative and local offices.

Presently, Republicans hold both Senate seats, three congressional offices, the governor's office, many more legislative and local offices.

``Goldwater really fired up the emotions of people who were pro-Republican and leaning Republican in the South,'' Carmichael said. ``He really was the conscience of the times. The Vietnam War was so confusing to everybody (but) he was the one who stood up for America.''

The first national political adventure for Ronald Reagan, Gov. Kirk Fordice's hero, was in a televised fund-raising speech for Goldwater.

``In today's climate, he might be labeled arch conservative. I think he was a progressive consciousness for the times,'' Carmichael said.

While many conclude the South turned to Goldwater because of his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, Carmichael said he believes there was more to it.

``I saw him as a true American ... who was speaking to the fundamental pride of being an American: hard work, a sense of duty and taking your chances in life,'' Carmichael said.