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1963 Mississippi gubernatorial election

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

1963 Mississippi gubernatorial election
Flag of Mississippi (1894-1996).svg

← 1959 November 5, 1963 1967 →
Paul B. Johnson Jr.jpg
No image.svg
Nominee Paul B. Johnson Jr. Rubel Phillips
Party Democratic Republican
Popular vote 225,456 138,515
Percentage 61.94% 38.06%

Mississippi Governor 1963.svg
County Results

Johnson:      50-60%      60-70%      70-80%      80-90%

Phillips:      50-60%      60-70%

Governor before election

Ross Barnett

Elected Governor

Paul B. Johnson Jr.

The 1963 Mississippi gubernatorial election took place on November 5, 1963, in order to elect the Governor of Mississippi. Incumbent Democrat Ross Barnett was term-limited, and could not run for reelection to a second term.

Democratic primary

No candidate received a majority in the Democratic primary, which featured 4 contenders, so a runoff was held between the top two candidates. The runoff election was won by Lieutenant Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr., the son of former governor Paul B. Johnson Sr., who defeated former governor James P. Coleman.

As was common at the time, the Democratic primary had higher turnout than the general election, as it was a given the Democrat would win.


Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial primary, 1963[1]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Paul B. Johnson Jr. 182,540 38.48
Democratic James P. Coleman 156,296 32.95
Democratic Charles L. Sullivan 132,321 27.89
Democratic Robert F. Mason 3,257 0.69
Total votes 474,414 100.00


Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial primary runoff, 1963[2]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Paul B. Johnson Jr. 261,493 57.29
Democratic James P. Coleman 194,958 42.71
Total votes 456,451 100.00

General election


For the first time since 1947 and only the third time since 1877, the Republicans put up a candidate for governor. Rubel Phillips, a former Democratic public service commissioner, switched parties to challenge Johnson.

Both candidates used country musicians in their campaigns. Phillips declared himself a "redneck", and the Republicans sang to the tune of "Reuben, Reuben", the refrain, "Rubel, Rubel, We're all rebels, Fighting for our native land, Against the Kennedy carpetbaggers, Bobby, Jack, and all the clan."[3] The Democrats used a song composed by Houston Davis of Jackson: "Rubel, Rubel, little Rubel, Poor misguided Democrat, when it comes to the final test, The GOP will leave you flat. ..."[4]

Phillips said he spent $500,000 on the first gubernatorial campaign.[5] Democrats claimed that the New York City investment banker Nelson Trimble Levings, who owned a plantation in Mississippi and had opposed Senator Bilbo in the 1946 Democratic primary, was dispatching Rockefeller cash to Phillips, a point the GOP denied.[6]

Johnson carried the backing of the Mississippi Municipal Association, which consisted of most of the state's Democratic mayors. That endorsement prompted Phillips to cancel a scheduled appearance before the group.[7]

Johnson refused to debate Phillips and expressed irritation over the fact that he even had to face a Republican challenger. Carroll Gartin, the former lieutenant governor seeking to regain the position on Johnson's ticket, declared Phillips' candidacy "a great disservice" to the state because "everyone had a chance to run as a Democrat."[8] The Jackson Daily News similarly declared it a "nuisance" to hold a general election after two all-encompassing Democratic primaries.[9]

In Water Valley in Yalobusha County in northern Mississippi, Phillips challenged Johnson's proposal to change election laws, suggesting that his rival would create "a dictatorship ... so Republicans and Independents cannot run for office."[3] Unlike in neighboring Louisiana, which in 1975 abolished one of the three elections in the cycle, the Mississippi legislature never revised the state's election law. Some had argued that such a change might hamper efforts to recruit northern industries into the South.[10]

The gubernatorial contest was a prelude to the 1964 national election in Mississippi. Paul Johnson at first, in an appearance in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, endorsed "free electors" for 1964, a move strongly opposed by Republicans. I. Lee Potter of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the GOP's "Operation Dixie" said, "The South has been that route before. It didn't work, can't work."[11] Ultimately, Governor Paul Johnson endorsed Goldwater over Lyndon B. Johnson, but he was critical of the Republican Party in making the selection. Bidwell Adam called Goldwater "a true Republican where the dollar is involved" but not really "a conservative as to the social revolutions being forced by judicial edicts and bayonets at the hands of ruthless dictatorships."[12] Goldwater's position on the Tennessee Valley Authority, which serves northeastern Mississippi, prompted Phillips to distance himself from the senator on that issue.[13] Formerly known as "the young firebrand from the Gulf Coast," Adam was elected lieutenant governor in 1927 at the age of thirty-three. Wirt Yerger recalled him in later years as "an old-line, redneck Democrat who literally hated Republicans or the thought of any Republican in public office."[14] Still Adam endorsed Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1972.[15]

Bidwell Adam declared that Paul Johnson "towers like the giants of the forest above the man (Phillips) who is grazing in the pastures of filth." He predicted voters would give Phillips "the brass ring of political ingratitude that he so richly deserves" and claimed that Phillips would be "buried in a political boneyard of forgotten men."[16] Phillips later recalled that he and Adam "buried the hatchet and became warm friends" after that campaign when they worked together on the same side in a lawsuit.[17]

The campaign featured an exchange between GOP chairman Yerger and Senator James Eastland, who missed nearly thirty roll call votes while in Mississippi to campaign for Paul Johnson. In 1966, Wirt Yerger resigned as GOP chairman and considered challenging Eastland until U.S. Representative Prentiss Walker of Mize entered the race. Years later, Yerger said that Walker's decision to relinquish his House seat after one term for the vagaries of a Senate race was "very devastating" to the growth of the Mississippi GOP.[18]

In Parchman in Sunflower County, Phillips declared the Mississippi State Penitentiary "a disgrace" and called for a constitutional board "free of politics to exercise responsible leadership" at the institution then known for brutal practices. Phillips recounted the case of inmate Kimble Berry, serving time for manslaughter who was granted leave in 1961 by acting Governor Johnson but showed up in a Cadillac in Massachusetts claiming that he had been authorized to recover burglary loot.[19]


Mississippi gubernatorial election, 1963[20]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Paul B. Johnson Jr. 225,456 61.94
Republican Rubel Phillips 138,515 38.06
Total votes 363,971 100.00
Democratic hold


  1. ^ "MS Governor D Primary 1963". Our Campaigns. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  2. ^ "MS Governor D Primary Runoff 1963". Our Campaigns. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  3. ^ a b The New York Times, October 26, 1963
  4. ^ Jackson Clarion-Ledger, October 24, 1963
  5. ^ "Challenging the Status Quo", p. 202
  6. ^ Jackson Clarion-Ledger, November 4, 1963
  7. ^ Greenville Delta Democrat-Times, September 12, 1963; Biloxi-Gulfport Daily Herald, September 4, 11, 1963; The New York Times, October 26, 1963
  8. ^ Hattiesburg American, October 9, 1963
  9. ^ Jackson Daily News, October 16, 1963
  10. ^ Jackson Clarion-Ledger, October 28, 1967; The New York Times, April 12 and May 10 14, 1964
  11. ^ Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 6, 1963
  12. ^ Jackson Clarion-Ledger, October 28, 1963
  13. ^ The New York Times, November 5, 1963
  14. ^ Challenging the Status Quo", p. 255
  15. ^ Challenging the Status Quo", p. 255
  16. ^ Jackson Clarion-Ledger, October 31, 1963
  17. ^ "Challenging the Status Quo," p. 255
  18. ^ "Challenging the Status Quo", p. 256
  19. ^ Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 24, 1963; Meridian Star, October 11, 1963
  20. ^ "MS Governor 1963". Our Campaigns. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
This page was last edited on 18 March 2021, at 09:48
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