Howard "Bo" Callaway died last week at age 86 and was remembered for a life of accomplishment as a businessman-soldier and political leader in two states.
His resumé read like a patriotic American success story: a West Point graduate; Korean War veteran; first Republican U.S. representative from Georgia since Reconstruction; U.S. secretary of the Army; state Republican chairman of Colorado; and owner of successful businesses in Georgia and Colorado.
But Callaway also was involved in a bizarre race for governor of Georgia that he lost despite winning the most votes.
In 1966, two years after his historic capture of a House seat, Callaway decided he could be elected Georgia's first Republican governor in a century.
Entering the Democratic primary for governor that year was a young state senator named Jimmy Carter, whose farm in Plains was in Callaway's congressional district.
"It was odd," Callaway recalled to this reporter in 1980. Carter "planned to run against me when he thought I would seek re-election. When I announced for governor instead, he switched to a race for governor. Maybe it was that I was West Point and he was Annapolis. But he was always against me."
Carter placed third in the Democratic primary with 20.9 percent and never got to face Callaway. As expected, the first-place finisher with 29 percent of the vote was the candidate of the Atlanta business establishment, former Gov. Ellis Arnall.
To the surprise of most of the Georgia press, second place with 23.5 percent of the vote went to Lester Maddox, a rabid segregationist who had brandished axe handles to keep blacks out of his Atlanta restaurant and closed it rather than allow it to be integrated.
Two weeks later, that surprise turned to shock. In what Georgia historian James Cook called "the strangest Democratic primary in state history," the winner of the runoff against Arnall was Maddox.
Frightened by the prospect of a "Gov. Maddox," Democrats voted in droves for Callaway, who ran as a Republican in the November general election. Callaway topped the race with 46.5 percent of the vote to 46.2 percent for Maddox.
But 50,000 voters, or 7.3 percent, were unable to bring themselves to vote for either candidate and wrote in Arnall's name.
Under the Georgia Constitution, if no candidate received a majority of the vote, the state Legislature would select the new governor.
Team Callaway insisted their man won the most votes and should be proclaimed governor.
The American Civil Liberties Union got into the controversy, demanding an entirely new election because neither Maddox nor Callaway had received a majority.
"Dick Nixon came down to help our battery of lawyers, and we were braced for a drawn-out court battle," Callaway recalled.
On Nov. 18, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals — including future U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell — ruled that the gerrymandered Georgia Legislature could not elect a governor and struck down the part of the state constitution that required legislators to choose the governor from the top two vote-getters if no one received a majority.
While both Callaway and Maddox applauded the ruling, lame-duck Democratic Gov. Carl Sanders was upset that the courts superseded what he felt was the prerogative of the Legislature.
Sanders instructed the state attorney general to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Dec. 5, by a vote of 5-4, the justices overturned the lower court ruling and upheld the Georgia Legislature's right to select a governor if no candidate received a majority.
On Jan. 10, 1967, a rancorous joint session of the Legislature voted to elect Maddox governor, with 182 votes to 66 for Callaway. Another 11 lawmakers, mostly black, abstained.
While other politicians might have grown discouraged and given up after an election like that, Bo Callaway was cut from a different cloth.
"Whenever a Republican event anywhere needed a 'celebrity' to speak, it was always Bo," Atlanta public relations man Phil Kent told Newsmax. "Until Newt [Gingrich] got elected to Congress in 1978, Bo was all we had."
Politics began to change in Georgia after Callaway's attempt, from solidly Democratic to increasingly Republican.
Two years after Callaway was counted out of the governorship, five Democrats in statewide office switched to the GOP. Republicans captured two U.S. House seats, and in 1970 they held their first-ever contested primary for governor.
In 1979, Callaway's young friend, future House Speaker Gingrich, went to Congress and in 1980 state chairman and Callaway protégé Mack Mattingly became Georgia's first Republican senator since Reconstruction.
In 2002, Georgia finally elected a Republican governor, 36 years after the trail was blazed by Callaway.
Today, Republicans hold both U.S. Senate seats from Georgia as well as every statewide office. Both houses of the Legislature are under GOP control.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has a tough re-election, but polls show him running ahead of likely Democratic foe Jason Carter, grandson of Jimmy Carter, who went on to become Georgia governor and then was elected president in 1976.
Candidates for state office who don't win a majority in November will face their closest opponent in a runoff.
Georgia Republicans agree that this "sea change" would not have been possible without Bo Callaway — who, in losing, came out a winner.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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