VALDOSTA — Jimmy Carter is the President who has likely visited Valdosta more than any other. A Plains farmer and a one-time Georgia governor, Carter has visited Valdosta on several occasions in many capacities. The late Edith Smith, who worked for The Valdosta Daily Times for more than 45 years, recalled Carter visiting the newspaper’s offices during his run for governor. He has also visited Valdosta in the years following his presidency.
In the 1960s, First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson visited Valdosta as part of a whistle-stop tour of the South to drum up support for her husband, President Lyndon B. Johnson. The First Lady spoke from the back of a train before moving by rail to her next stop. Despite a large Valdosta crowd for her stop and President Johnson winning a landslide victory nationwide, Lowndes County began a new trend in 1964: Giving the majority of its votes to the GOP presidential candidate. Johnson was the first Democratic presidential candidate to not receive a majority of the presidential votes in Lowndes County, a trend which has continued with only two exceptions to this day.
Ronald Reagan visited Lowndes County as a presidential candidate. Former Valdosta Daily Times photographer Robert Winter III has recalled seeing Reagan’s legendary charm and spontaneous wit firsthand. With his camera clicking away, Winter snapped numerous photographs of the future President. Reagan looked at Winter and told the gathered crowd, “This man doesn’t need a motor drive. He is a motor drive.”
In 1960, The Valdosta Daily Times sent Winter to Jacksonville, Fla., to take photographs of John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Less than four years later, Winter would take a photograph at St. John’s Catholic Church of Valdostans mourning JFK’s death on the evening following the President’s assassination.
The Clintons arrived in town during his campaign against President George H.W. Bush. Clinton spoke outside of the Lowndes County Courthouse in front of an estimated Downtown Valdosta crowd of 7,000 people. Clinton derided President George W. Bush during his Valdosta speech, comparing Bush 41’s presidency with a popular movie franchise of the time: “Honey, I Blew Up the Deficit” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Economy.”
That visit could be considered a presidential trifecta since it included Bill Clinton, who won the presidency; Al Gore who was the Democratic nominee in 2000; and Hillary Clinton who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in 2008.
Still, even though Clinton visited Valdosta and won the presidency in 1992, Lowndes County still gave a plurality of its votes to the failed re-election campaign of President George H.W. Bush, who had visited Valdosta many years prior to his presidency.