Harry S. Dent Sr.

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Harry Shuler Dent Sr. (February 21, 1930 – October 2, 2007) was an American political strategist considered one of the architects of the Republican Southern Strategy. He was the father of the financial prognosticator, Harry S. Dent, Jr.

Harry Dent
Harry Shuler Dent Sr photo.jpg
Chair of the South Carolina Republican Party
In office
Preceded byDrake Edens
Succeeded byRaymond A. Harris
Personal details
Harry Shuler Dent Sr.

(1930-02-21)February 21, 1930
St. Matthews, South Carolina, U.S.
DiedOctober 2, 2007(2007-10-02) (aged 77)
Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
EducationPresbyterian College (BA)
George Washington University (LLB, LLM)


Dent was born and reared in St. Matthews in Calhoun County in central South Carolina. He graduated cum laude in 1951 from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. He was a lieutenant in the United States Army infantry during the Korean War and was a Washington correspondent for several South Carolina newspapers and radio stations before joining Thurmond's staff. He attended law school at night and received Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws degrees from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

A Southern Baptist deacon, Dent neither drank nor smoked. In 1981, he left his law practice to study the Bible. He and his wife started a lay ministry that helped to erect churches and orphanages in Romania after the fall in 1989 of Nicolae Ceausescu. He was also active in religious organizations within the United States. (Stout, 2007)

Political lifeEdit

From 1965 to 1968, Dent was the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, succeeding Drake Edens and preceding Raymond A. Harris.

Along with Clarke Reed of Mississippi and Howard Callaway of Georgia, Dent is considered one of the architects of the Southern Strategy. The elder Dent worked for Strom Thurmond, Barry M. Goldwater, and Richard M. Nixon during the realignment of the Democratic and Republican parties during the era of the Civil rights movement, and thereafter for Gerald R. Ford, Jr., Ronald W. Reagan, and George Herbert Walker Bush.[1][2]

In the 1950s, Dent joined the staff of then-Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who had run for president as a segregationist Dixiecrat in 1948 against Harry Truman, Thomas Dewey and Henry A. Wallace.

In September 1964, Thurmond became a Republican and campaigned for his new party's presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Goldwater was beaten overwhelmingly by the short-term incumbent, Lyndon B. Johnson. Goldwater campaigned in part on States' rights, and he had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of only six Republican senators to have done so.

Four years later, Thurmond helped Richard Nixon to hold South Carolina but not the other Deep South states. Thurmond reassured southerners that Nixon would hear their concerns on civil rights matters. George Wallace of Alabama won five Deep South states, from Arkansas to Georgia, but Nixon's strength elsewhere in the region was crucial to his narrow popular-vote victory over Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

Dent has been described as having helped to articulate the Southern Strategy. Its detractors called it "racism" cloaked in code words like "law and order." Its advocates called it a legitimate appeal to people sidelined by their compatriots who benefit from affirmative action and government aid programs.

The strategy was credited with Nixon's nomination and election. Dent was rewarded with a post as special counsel and political strategist to the new president. Dent worked in the White House for four years and also worked on the image of his old boss, Senator Thurmond. "We're going to get him on the high ground of fairness on the race question," Dent said in 1971, as Thurmond began hiring the first blacks to his staff and steering federal grants to predominantly African American rural areas. Thurmond's change in attitude came after the defeat in November 1970 of his choice for governor, U.S. Representative Albert Watson of South Carolina's 2nd congressional district, who ran on a conservative platform that his critics called "racist".[3]

Dent was a staunch advocate of the textile industry, which once had a major presence in South Carolina. Textile owner Roger Milliken was a major Republican donor and had been part of the Draft Goldwater Committee in 1963. Dent in the role as the White House liaison with the state Republican parties, said that the Nixon administration was conferring with foreign competitors to devise voluntary restraints on the import of textiles into the United States. Dent said that Nixon would veto any bills with quotas except when the textile industry is involved. Democrats accused Republicans of weakening the textile industry because Nixon refused to use executive orders to curtail clothing imports. Republicans replied that presidential executive orders were unsuited in the matter of textile imports and that Congress alone had the legal authority to restrict such imports.[4]

In 1974, after he had left the Nixon administration, Dent pleaded guilty to aiding an illegal fund-raising operation organized by the White House. He complained bitterly that he had pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor because he was certain that he would not receive a fair trial in the post-Watergate climate in Washington, D.C. A federal judge described Dent as "more of the victim than the perpetrator" and placed him on one month's unsupervised probation.

In October 1976, Dent toured the South on behalf of the Ford-Dole ticket. He rejected the commonly-held view that Jimmy Carter, Ford's opponent and a former governor of Georgia, was the "southern regional candidate". Dent said that after Carter halted the third presidential campaign of George Wallace of Alabama and defeated the "northern intellectuals" in the primaries, he turned to the political left for the fall campaign.[5]

The late Republican strategist Lee Atwater described Dent's work and its impact thus:[6][7]

As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry Dent and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [the new Southern Strategy of Ronald Reagan] doesn't have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he's campaigned on since 1964 and that's fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.


  1. ^ "Harry Dent, an Architect of Nixon 'Southern Strategy', Dies at 77", https://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/02/us/02dent.html
  2. ^ "Harry S. Dent Papers, White House Special Files, 1969-1972".
  3. ^ Billy Hathorn, "The Changing Politics of Race: Congressman Albert William Watson and the South Carolina Republican Party, 1965-1970", South Carolina Historical Magazine Vol. 89 (October 1988), p. 239
  4. ^ "The Changing Politics of Race", p. 236
  5. ^ Alexandria Daily Town Talk, October 27, 1976, p. 5
  6. ^ Lamis, Alexander P. et al. (1990) The Two Party South. Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Herbert, Frank (October 6, 2005) "Impossible, Ridiculous, Repugnant." New York Times.

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