Little Bob Clement, a born-again Christian, was at the pulpit of the Walnut Grove Baptist Church. His voice bellowed out in a raspy hill twang, syrupy like corn molasses. His right arm extended skywarded: his left hand punched at the air with the acdence of his words.
"I believe very strongly that the black vote is not for sale," he said. "I believe what people want is hope and opportunity. And not selling out for greed and selfishness."
It was the Sunday before primary day, and Clement was participating in one of the traditional rituals of Tennessee politics - visiting the black churches of Memphis.
His voice was familiar. If you shut your eyes, you could, they said, imagine the speaker was his father, Frank G. Clement, three-term governor and keynote speaker at the 1956 Democratic Party's best orators, could bring tears to an audience like this.
But he died in an auto accident nine years ago, and now his 34-year-old son is running for governor hand-in-hand with his ghost. "Bob Clement is a chip off the old block. You know a tree by the fruit it bears," the Rev. James Smith said in introducing him.
Smith, who heads the state's largest union local - Local 1733 of the American Federation of State. County and Municipal Employee - is Clement's most prominent supporter in the crucial black wards of Memphis, considered decisive in a close election.
What Smith offered this day in Clement's behalf was the past. Frank Clement, the preacher said, had appointed the state's first black judge. Benjamin Hooks (now executive director of the NAACP), and had given black students their first free textbooks.
"When [George] Wallace of Alabama and [Ross] Barnett of Mississippi stood at the schoolhouse doors and wouldn't let blacks in, Frank G. walked hand-in-hand with little black girls and little black boys to integrate schools of Tennessee," he said.
Despite the recitation of history, Bob Clement is not favored to win the black vote in Memphis. His chief opponent in today's Democratic primary, Jake Butcher, a millionaire banker from Knoxville, narrowly lost the 1974 nomination to Gov. Ray Blanton. Because Butcher was endorsed by the city's most popular black Democratic politician, Rep. Harold E. Ford, he is expected to carry the black wards.
Butcher, attacked over his banking interests and lavish spending, has assembled one of the most professionally organized and expensive campaigns in state history. He plans to spend $1.9 million in the primary, compared with about $1.3 million for Clement. A third candidate, Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton, plans to spend $650,000.
Butcher is running as a businessman who will put an end to political patronage and bring new industry to the state. But, he admits, "the only real issue in this race has been my success in business. I don't think any candidate for office has ever been investigated anymore than I have. But it's backfiring. People identify with success."
Clement, Butcher says, began the race with a healthy lead, which has dwindled. Butcher says a poll conducted for him two weeks ago by Patrick Caddell showed him with 38 percent of the vote, Clement 32 percent, Fulton 14 percent, and the rest of those polled as undecided.
"We put out crop early. We fertilized and cultivated it." Butcher told a rally in Jackson, Tenn, Monday night. "We had some hailstorms for a while. But now the wheat that was bent over has straightened up and we're going to have a big harvest Thursday."
When Butcher made the mistake of calling Clement "Little Bob" - a nicknamed favored by editorial cartoonists - Clement skillfully turned it to his advantage. "He has finally admitted that Bob Clement - Little Bob Clement - represents the little people," he said. "And he's absolutely right. Little Bob Clement and his little people have some messages for the big bankers and the big spenders and the big shots."
Clement's heritage and Butcher's money have been the targets of Fulton, the Nashville mayor and former congressman. "The governorship of Tennessee is not to be bought or inherited," he has declared as he moves around the state.
But Fulton does not appear to be attracting wide support. His campaigning has been restricted by his duties as mayor. In addition, his reputation was blemished by a simmering dispute with Nashville public employes.
The Democratic winner will likely face Lamar Alexandria, the Republican Party's 1974 gubernatorial nominee. Alexander has waged a low-keyed campaign against conservative state Rep. Harold Sterling of Memphis by walking 1,022 miles across the state. Although he finished the walk almost a month ago, he continues to wear his walking uniform of a plaid shirt and khaki pants, apparently trying to soften his image as lawyer for a big bank.
Alexander made it clear this week that, if he wins, he intends to make the controversial Democratic administration of Blanton the key issue this fall.
Democratic leaders, he said, urged party members four years ago to vote "a straight ticket and we'll take care of all your problems." "So they voted for Ray Blanton and now they know better. They've been embarrassed for the last four years," he said.