For months, George Wallace had been casting about for a running mate, often in pretty strange waters. He considered "Colonel" Harland Sanders, the fried-chicken king ("It's finger-lickin' good"). He looked over Paul Harvey, a right-wing newscaster, former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, and Orval Faubus, the ex-Governor of Arkansas. He nearly chose A. B. ("Happy") Chandler, the former Governor and Senator from Kentucky, but Chandler proved too moderate on the race issue. Last week, after jokingly warning reporters that "I'm full of surprises," he announced his decision: retired Air Force General Curtis LeMay.
The choice of LeMay, 61, who had been mentioned as a possibility for weeks, was not all that surprising. The only surprise, in fact, was the look on Wallace's face. Beaming with pleasure and pride, the Alabamian introduced his candidate to a Pittsburgh press conference, then stepped aside to let the general speak. Wallace's expression quickly turned to obvious dismay. Within the space of a minute, LeMay had made even Wallace appear, by contrast, the image of the statesmanlike candidate.
It took some doing. The general said that he did not like having to fight in Viet Nam and saw no need to use atomic weapons there at presentalthough he once advocated destroying "every work of man" in North Viet Nam and bombing its citizens "back to the Stone Age" unless Hanoi ended the war. But in his mind an atomic bomb was just another bomb. "We seem to have a phobia about nuclear weapons. I think to most military men that a nuclear weapon is just another weapon in our arsenal," he maintained. "I think there are many occasions when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. However, the public opinion in this country and throughout the world throw up their hands in horror when you mention nuclear weapons, just because of the propaganda that's been fed to them. If I found it necessary, I would use anything that we could dream upincluding nuclear weapons."
Southern Drawl. Wallace's discomfort was understandable. He knew that Barry Goldwater lost countless votes in 1964 because he was considered a bomb rattler. Though he is all bluster and bombast on domestic issues and a 100% hawk on Viet Nam, he has barred nuclear weapons in Viet Nam. At the end of LeMay's press conference, Wallace jumped on reporters for even raising the matter, declaring that "General LeMay hasn't said anything about the use of nuclear weapons."
For all of Wallace's anxietyand the quick, almost gleeful expressions of shock by Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixonit was far from clear, however, that the general would damage the ticket. In some areas, he may strengthen it. A war hero, LeMay will probably appeal to many as a man of courage. As head of the Strategic Air Command for nine years (1948-57) and Air Force Chief of Staff from 1961 to 1965, he can hardly be dismissed as a mere eccentric. As a native of Ohio and a resident of California, he gives Wallace's pitch less of a Southern drawl and more appeal in both big states. As a lifelong Republican, he might induce some Goldwater conservatives to desert Nixon.