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Phillips was a circuit court judge and a Democrat. But in 1963, he ran for Governor of Mississippi as a Republican. Phillips was only the third Republican to run for governor since 1877. Phillips ran on the slogan of "K.O. the Kennedys". Phillips lost to Paul B. Johnson, Jr. by over 86,000 votes while winning 38 percent of the vote. Phillips ran again in 1967 and lost to the more conservative Democrat John Bell Williams by almost 182,000 votes while winning 29.7% of the vote.
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