Ray C. Bliss, 73, a master of nuts-and-bolts politics who reorganized the Republican Party following the defeat of Sen. Barry Goldwater by Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1964 presidential election, died yesterday at the Akron City Hospital in Akron, Ohio, following an apparent heart attack.
Mr. Bliss, who was stricken at his insurance office, was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1965 to 1969. When he took office, the GOP was reeling form the Johnson landslide. When he left it, Richard M. Nixon had been elected to the White House.
He was chosen to lead his party not because he was a conservative Ohio Republican in the tradition of Robert A. Taft, but because he was an organizer of extraordinary gifts. For Mr. Bliss, a longtime associate of James A. Rhodes, the moderate Republican governor of Ohio, ideology was less important than pragmatic tasks such as fund-raising and polling. Thus, he appealed to moderate GOP leaders, including Gerald Ford, Melvin Laird and Richard Nixon. He worked to moderate the right-wing policies that dominated the party during the Goldwater candidacy and the stewardship of Dean Burch, the Republican national chairman in Goldwater's time.
In the process, Mr. Bliss took two important steps for his party's future candidates. The first was to establish strong local and state organizations. The second was to set up the Republican Coordinating Committe, a series of conferences dominated by former president Dwight D. Eisenhower and other middle-of-the-road figures. The committee cleansed the party of much of its ideological baggage by taking steps such as repudiating support from the John Birch Society.
By his own account, Mr. Bliss' purpose was to make his party a strong and useful instrument for whomever it might choose as its presidential candidate in 1968. By following this evenhanded policy, he alienated those who thought he should have been behind Nixon as early as 1966.
Shortly after Nixon became president, Mr. Bliss was replaced as national chairman by Rogers C. B. Morton.
But there was more to the Bliss chairmanship than the Nixon presidency. From the 1964 elections through the 1966 campaigns and the 1968 elections, the number of Republican governors increased from 17 to 31. GOP strength in the Senate rose from 32 seats to 43. Republican strength in the House of Representatives rose from 140 seats to 192. The party controlled seven state legislatures in 1964; in 1968, it controlled 20.
"In addition," Mr. Bliss said at the time, "we also gained . . . 648 state legislators, 1,420 county offices and nearly 100 mayors."
A retiring man, Mr. Bliss, who continued to serve as a member of the Republican National Committee until last year, harbored no illusions about how this had come to pass.
"No one is more conscious of the fact that nobody does these things alone," he said in an interview last year. "Success in politics, if you are a success, comes because thousands and thousands of people believe in what you're trying to do and support you. Without them, you don't succeed."
On hearing of Mr. Bliss' death, Vice President George Bush, himself a former party chairman, issued a statement in which he said:
"I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of my longtime friend, Ray Bliss. He made an enormous contribution to the two-party system that has served this nation so well for more than two centuries. As 'Mr. Republican,' he will be long remembered and sicerely missed not only by members of his party, but by many Democrats across the country who knew him as a person who represented the highest standards of American politics."
Mr. Bliss, who was born in Akron, graduated from the University of Akron, where he studied political science. He began his political career in 1931 as a volunteer for the Republican candidate for mayor of the city. He worked his way up through the ranks from precinct chairman to the head of the Summit County GOP organization, and finally, to the chairmanship of the Ohio Republican Party in 1949. Numerous other state and national party offices followed.
In 1960, Ohio went for Nixon, prompting John F. Kennedy, who was elected president that year, to remark that he had shaken more hands in Ohio and gotten fewer votes than anywhere else in the country.
In private life, Mr. Bliss was the founder and president of Tower Agencies Inc., an insurance firm. He said he wished to stay active in the business so that he would not have to be dependent on politics for his living.
Survivors include his wife, the former Ellen Palmer.