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“Can’t Afford to Lose Tennessee”

President Johnson Talks with Frank Ahlgren

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With the Tennessee Republican primary set to take place tomorrow as part of Super Tuesday, Republican candidates have stepped up their efforts to woo voters in the state. The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported that:

 

“The three leading Republican candidates ramped up their efforts in Tennessee last week with TV and radio ads, phone banks, direct mail, a swarm of surrogate campaigners -- Gov. Bill Haslam leading the way for Romney -- plus some personal campaigning.”

 

And in their Super Tuesday Preview, Politico pointed to Tennessee's importance:

 

"A Romney win in Tennessee would be second only to Ohio in symbolic importance. He was down 4 percentage points to Santorum in an ARG poll released over the weekend, but closing. Victory in Tennessee would demonstrate that the former Massachusetts governor can win in a culturally Southern state."

 

Listen to this telephone conversation (embedded above) from 1964 as President Lyndon Johnson declares that he “can’t afford to lose Tennessee.”

On October 9, 1964, President Johnson calls Frank Ahlgren, the editor of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, and stresses the importance of winning the state. He asks Ahlgren for his ideas on how to carry Tennessee and talks about coming down for rally. Tennessee was more politically moderate than the rest of the Deep South and tended to vote Republican in presidential contests. It supported Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 and Richard Nixon in 1960.

Johnson refers to U.S. Representative Joseph Elvins who is with him in Nashville and suggested getting Ahlgren’s ideas. Ahlgren states that he is worried about Senator Albert Gore, Sr., and Ross Bass, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and says that he thinks they are in trouble and need a visit from President Johnson to win their elections. At the end of the call, Johnson pulls out some football metaphors to let Ahlgren know how important it is to win Tennessee.

President Johnson won Tennessee with 55 percent of the vote, the only Democratic presidential candidate to win the state between 1952 and 1976.

This conversation is part of the Presidential Recordings Program at the Miller Center.

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