Winthrop Rockefeller - The Election of 1966

The Election of 1966

When Rockefeller made his second run in 1966 only 11 percent of Arkansans considered themselves Republicans. But Arkansans had tired of Faubus after six terms as governor and as head of the Democratic "machine." Democrats themselves seemed to be more interested in the reforms that Rockefeller offered in his campaign than "winning another one for the party." An odd coalition of Republicans and Democratic reform voters catapulted Rockefeller into the governor's office, as he defeated a segregationist Democratic former Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, James D. Johnson of Conway, who preferred the appellation "Justice Jim". Ironically, years later, Johnson would switch to the Republican Party.

Former state Republican chairman Osro Cobb reversed himself in 1966 and endorsed Rockefeller. He explains:

Arkansas Republicans were eager to work with Wintrhop Rockefeller on another race for governor if he could be led to run as a true Republican to help build the party in the state. I liked him personally. He showed me many courtesies, and I still thought that he would make a good governor and could be elected on the Republican ticket. ... He had learned a lesson. And he won his next two races for governor.... His service contributed greatly to the enormous benefits of two-party government in Arkansas.

In a surprise, Rockefeller's running-mate for lieutenant governor, Maurice L. Britt, a decorated World War II veteran and a former professional football player, was narrowly elected to the second-ranking post over the Democrat James Pilkington of Hope, Arkansas.

Other Rockefeller running-mates, such as former Democratic State Representative Jerry Thomasson of Arkadelphia, who sought the office of attorney general in 1966 and 1968, and Leona Troxell of Rose Bud in White County, who ran for state treasurer in 1968, were defeated.

Only three Republicans won election to the 100-member Arkansas House of Representatives at the time of Rockefeller's first victory: George E. Nowotny, Jr., of Fort Smith, Danny L. Patrick of Madison County, and James "Jim" Sheets of Siloam Springs in Benton County. Two Republicans sought U.S. House seats on the Rockefeller ticket in 1966, John Paul Hammerschmidt, the outgoing party chairman won in the northwestern Third District, and A. Lynn Lowe, a Texarkana farmer who would serve as party chairman from 1974–1980, lost in the southern Fourth District race to the Democrat David Pryor.

At the time Winthrop became governor, his brother, Nelson Rockefeller, had been the governor of New York since 1959 and remained so throughout Winthrop's four years in office. They are often erroneously cited as the first two brothers to be governors at the same time, but they were actually the third case; the previous instances were Levi and Enoch Lincoln from 1827 to 1829, and John and William Bigler from 1852 to 1855. More recently, George W. and Jeb Bush were both governors from 1999 to 2000.

At the 1968 Republican National Convention, Winthrop Rockefeller received backing from members of the Arkansas delegation as a "favorite son" presidential candidate. He received all of his state's 18 votes; his brother Nelson, then concluding a major presidential bid against Richard M. Nixon, received 277. This was the only time in the 20th century that two brothers' names, Winthrop and Nelson, were placed into nomination at the same time.

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