“Beyond the press and the Ethics Committee, however, there was a court of last resort that had always found in my favor. Always when the going was roughest, the Talmadges had drawn their strength from the ordinary people of Georgia. What I didn’t realize was that those ordinary people were slowly being outnumbered by folks who had recently come to the state because they heard that it was a good place to live. For the most part, they had no idea how it got that way, and the Atlanta Constitution wasn’t about to tell them.”
Editor’s Note: For the first time in his political career, Herman Talmadge confronted tough competition in both the Democratic primary and later the general election for his Senate seat in 1980. A series of personal and political setbacks including his battle with alcoholism and allegations of financial misconduct resulted in a significant drop in his popularity with voters at home. Furthermore, he failed to adapt to the dramatic changes in Georgia’s political landscape including the increasing importance of urban voters and African American voters.
Talmadge relied on the votes of Georgia farmers to win him the election. However, the elimination of the county unit system and the all-white primary meant that Talmadge needed to court the votes of groups he had previously been able to ignore. In 1980 Talmadge’s political career ended in defeat when the Republican candidate for Senate, Mack Mattingly, won decisively in the general election in part because he appealed and spoke to voters in Atlanta as well as the majority of African American voters throughout the state.