Cliff Finch campaigned for governor in 1975 on the promise of more and better-paying jobs for Mississippi’s working men and women. To dramatize his concern for the hardships of Mississippi’s working people, Finch spent one day a week during the late stages of his campaign sacking groceries at supermarkets, driving bulldozers, or working at other jobs that were associated with the ordinary working man and woman. He took a sack lunch with him on those special work days. His campaign tactics were very popular and he was elected governor in his first try for the office.
Finch, the oldest of five children, was born at Pope in Panola County, Mississippi, on April 4, 1927. When he was eighteen years old, he enlisted in the United States Army. After serving in the Italian campaign during World War II with the 88th Infantry Division, Finch signed on with a construction company and spent a year doing heavy construction work in Guam. Finch then worked his way through the University of Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Mississippi Law School in 1958, he opened a law office in Batesville.
In 1960, Finch entered politics and was elected to the state House of Representatives. He was elected district attorney for the seventeenth judicial district in 1964 and re-elected in 1968. His first statewide campaign was an unsuccessful race for lieutenant governor in 1971.
In 1975, Finch organized a very strong coalition of Black people and working-class White people and conducted a populist campaign for governor. He won the Democratic nomination and in the general election, narrowly defeated Gil Carmichael, the Republican candidate, and Henry Kirksey, an African American independent.
During his administration, Finch succeeded in saving the state’s savings and loan industry from collapse and worked with lawmakers to provide flood relief after spring floods in 1979.
In 1978, Senator James Eastland retired from his U.S. Senate post, a position he had held since 1941. Although he still had two years remaining on his four-year gubernatorial term, Governor Finch ran for the Senate seat in 1978. He was eliminated in the Democratic primary. The Senate post was won in the general election by Republican Thad Cochran, who defeated Maurice Dantin, the Democratic candidate, and Henry Kirksey, an independent.
Shortly before his term expired, Governor Finch entered the presidential election of 1980. He ran in the New Hampshire primary but did not gain much support and withdrew from the campaign soon after that primary.
After leaving office, Governor Finch returned to his law practice in Batesville which he continued until his death on April 22, 1986.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1976-1980), 35.
Cliff Finch Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.