Lee Atwater

Lee Atwater

Original Name Harvey LeRoy
Decatur, DeKalb County, Georgia, USA
Death 29 Mar 1991 (aged 40)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, USA
Burial Columbia, Richland County, South Carolina, USA
Memorial ID 8286 · View Source
Suggest Edits

American Political Figure. He was chairman of the Republican National Committee and the major leader in the election of President George H. W. Bush in 1988. Born Harvey LeRoy Atwater in Atlanta, Georgia, he was universally known as "Lee" to his childhood friends, a name that stuck with him all his life. He grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, and attended Newberry College, a small Lutheran college in Newberry, South Carolina. While in college, he served as Governor of the school's South Carolina Student Legislature, and quickly demonstrated a liking for politics. Upon graduation, he worked for the South Carolina Republican Party, working on the campaigns of SC Governor Carroll Campbell and Senator Strom Thurmond, where he became known for his sharp campaign strategies and his skilled use of emotional issues. His aggressive techniques were first evident in the 1980 congressional elections, where he served as a consultant to incumbent Republican congressman Floyd Spence, then facing Democratic challenger Tom Turnipseed. It was in this campaign that he developed his reputation as a political tactician, to be feared for his ability to attack opponents and his skills in carrying out those attacks. In the 1980 campaign, he produced television ads that alleged that Turnipseed was a member of the NAACP, and that as a teenager, Turnipseed had been "hooked up to jumper cables," undergoing electroshock therapy for depression. Political opponents quickly dubbed him the "Darth Vader" of Republican tactics. After successfully helping Spence win reelection, Atwater moved to Washington DC, where he became an aide in President Ronald Reagan's administration, working for political director Edward Rollins. During this period, Atwater, who as a teenager had played guitar and sing in a rock band, would play concerts in clubs in the Washington DC area. He would release a record album, "Red, Hot and Blue" for Curb Records, and it is considered a surprisingly good rhythm and blues album from someone who was not a professional musician. Over the next eight years, Atwater became friends with Vice-President Bush, who then chose him to run his 1988 presidential campaign. Atwater planned an aggressive media campaign, which included television ads supporting Bush against his Democratic rival, Governor Michael Dukakis. Atwater's most controversial tactic was the Willie Horton political ad, which related the story of Willie Horton, a convicted black murderer serving a life sentence in Massachusetts, who committed a heinous and vicious rape of a white woman while on weekend furlough, with the ad ending by pointing out that Governor Dukakis supported the weekend furlough program. Atwater was considered a master of political leaks, the push at the polls, and negative inference, and very quickly, Atwater's campaign enabled Bush to overcome a 17-point Democratic lead in the August polls to win the November election with 40 states. After the election, President Bush named Atwater to become Chairman of the Republican National Committee. On March 5, 1990, during a fundraising breakfast in support of Senator Phil Gramm, Atwater suddenly collapsed. Rushed to a hospital, doctors there discovered a grade 3 astrocytoma in his right parietal lobe. This form of brain cancer was quickly attacked using radiation, but the cancer was too advanced. Prior to his death in March 1991, Atwater apologized to several of his previous Democratic opponents for the ruthless campaigns that he had conducted against them, adding that he felt his ruthless attacks were more about power and the search for power than would be considered fair. He was succeeded as chairman of the RNC by Mr. Clayton Yeutter.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson

Family Members




How famous was Lee Atwater?

Current rating:

70 votes

to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 21 Jan 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 8286
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Lee Atwater (27 Feb 1951–29 Mar 1991), Find a Grave Memorial no. 8286, citing Greenlawn Memorial Park, Columbia, Richland County, South Carolina, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .