Cliff Finch campaigned for governor in 1975 on the promise of more and better-paying jobs for Mississippians. To dramatize his concern for the hardships of the state’s working people, Finch spent one day a week during the late stages of his campaign bagging groceries at supermarkets, driving bulldozers, and working at other ordinary jobs, bringing a sack lunch. His campaign tactics were very popular and helped him reach the governor’s office in his first try.
The oldest of five children, Finch was born in Pope, in Panola County, on 4 April 1927. He enlisted in the US Army at age eighteen and served in Italy during World War II. Finch subsequently signed on with a construction company and spent a year doing heavy construction work in Guam before working his way through the University of Mississippi. After graduating from the law school in 1958, he opened a law office in Batesville.
In 1960 Finch entered politics, winning election to the Mississippi House of Representatives. He won the post of district attorney for the 17th Judicial District in 1964 and was reelected four years later. His first statewide campaign was an unsuccessful race for lieutenant governor in 1971.
In 1975 Finch conducted a populist gubernatorial campaign that united working-class black and white voters. In the general election, Finch, a Democrat, narrowly defeated Republican Gil Carmichael and Henry Kirksey, a black independent. In 1977 Finch signed a bill abolishing the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.
In 1978 Sen. James Eastland retired from the US Senate, surrendering the seat he had held since 1941. Although he still had two years remaining on his four-year gubernatorial term, Finch ran for the Senate seat but lost in the Democratic primary. Republican Thad Cochran went on to win the post.
Finch also sought the 1980 Democratic nomination for the US presidency, entering the New Hampshire primary. He garnered little support and withdrew from the campaign soon thereafter to return to his Batesville law practice. He remained a practicing attorney until his death on 22 April 1986.
- Cliff Finch Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1976–80)
- Jere Nash and Andy Taggart, Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976–2006 (2006)