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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, May 14, 1976. Interview A-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Use of defensive campaigns

Sanford provides an example of how candidates defend against their opponent's negative campaign tactics. Kerr Scott, he argues, exemplified the utility of an aggressively counter-defensive strategy. Interestingly, Sanford reveals that the toughest political battles are not against another political party, but against themselves.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, May 14, 1976. Interview A-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

TERRY SANFORD:
But certainly what I learned, and one of the most exciting little political activities was the leaflet in the Kerr Scott campaign. You might go back and read the News and Observer for that three or four-day period, because even today with everything else that's happened in politics, it remains one of the most interesting little episodes. We had been geared for the race issue in the Kerr Scott camapign somehow. Now, you had the Sweat decision and the Brown decision. The Sweat decision came first, and that came in the beginning of the second primary in the Graham election, and the Brown decision came right toward the end. We were geared for that kind of thing. Well, we weren't going to stop that, but we were geared for dirty politics. Ben Roney had traveled all over the east for campaigning, but he also had alerted a great many of our friends—"The first leaflet you see, don't assume we know it's out. Call us." So about Wednesday, we got a call. Now, it could have been Tuesday, it could have been Thursday. But it was before Saturday's election. We got a call that there's a package of leaflets left at Cahoon's service station down here for so and so, and it was left by the state purchasing director. And it is an endorsement of Kerr Scott, printed out of the Winston-Salem paper with a picture of a black that he'd appointed to the state school board, thanking him for being the great friend of the blacks. Well, that was a phony thing from start to finish. But what we did to offset it had to save the election. We only won by 25,000 votes. That thing could have just swept enough of eastern North Carolina to have turned it around. So what do you do with that? First of all, we cut loose everybody we could to find out how it happened in Winston, who put the ad in in the first place, pinned it neatly and directly on Mayor Kurfoos, who was stupid enough to go in there with the money and put the ad in.
BRENT GLASS:
Himself?
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh yes, himself personally. Of course the paper didn't want to admit it, but we forced them to admit it. We threatened suit even. But they weren't long in realizing that they had played hell in taking a phony ad. Here it was supposed to be by the Citizens Black Committee of Winston-Salem or something like that, and there Kurfoos could personally do anything. Well, that of course helped our case.
BRENT GLASS:
How long did it take you to track that down? I mean, you have three days to work.
TERRY SANFORD:
About three hours. Then that same night, we sent a man from Durham who was in the labor union and who had some financial problems and needed some help on a note or something—I didn't know about those details—but I asked my man in Durham, "Who have you got that we can send to the Lennon headquarters to get some leaflets?" So we sent this boy over there. And this is so interesting because some people might consider it was a little bit shifty, but I didn't. I thought it was fair game, and I thought it was brilliantly executed, if I do say so. We sent this fellow over to Abie Upchurch, who was the campaign director—I don't think he was the manager but he was running it, I think, maybe as publicity director, but whatever it was, he was running it. And so he gave our boy his card with the name of the printer on the back of it and sent him down to get a package of the leaflets, and told him, "Don't put them out anywhere except on the porches of textile mill villages and in rural mailboxes. And that's the only place to put them." This fellow got his package and the card with Abie's scribbling on it, and the next morning we had pictures of that in the News and Observer. We held the presses. That's how, by that time, the contact we had with the News and Observer, Jonathan held a press at least an hour until we could put that together. This was Thursday night. This had to go into Friday . . .
BRENT GLASS:
When did you find that out, that this fellow had been, this fellow from Durham had been . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh no. I just called my friend and I said, "Get somebody to go to Abie and ask him for some of "them leaflets."
BRENT GLASS:
Oh, ok.
TERRY SANFORD:
So see, now what we did, we were so afraid then, we didn't want that part of the story told quite then. We didn't want to divert attention. So we put him up in a hotel suite with Duke Parris, who was from Alamance County and one of Kerr Scott's drivers and workers, later clerk of the court over there. We put Duke in there to entertain him; I always said Duke was his jailer, but we didn't want the press to talk to him. We'd gotten this material, we'd given the statement, and we really had to center in now in two days on exactly what we wanted to do. So we kept this old boy up there and . . .
BRENT GLASS:
Who was this fellow?
TERRY SANFORD:
I can't remember his name.
BRENT GLASS:
This fellow from the labor union in Durham.
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, we later did him some favors in a decent kind of a way and helped him get . . . he was out of a job, among other things. All he did was go get the package.
BRENT GLASS:
Right.
TERRY SANFORD:
You know, the package with the Abie Upchurch cards spoke for itself. Then we . . .
BRENT GLASS:
Any instructions?
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh yes. It was just so clear that there wasn't any denying it. Then we wired every Lennon county manager, that we would prosecute them if they distributed it. We took an airplane in every area where they had been distributed, and leafletted it with the charge that these people were going to jail. We had the Lennon campaign people calling me: "I'm not going to distribute them. I tell you I've got them, but you can be sure that I'm going to burn them." And they damn well did in most places. Then we wired the FBI and of course released all this to the press, insisted on prosecution. We wired the postal authorities, and why was this a violation of the postal . . . ? Oh, in the mail boxes, and insisted on an investigation. The FBI made the mistake of wiring me back that they were investigating it. So Saturday morning, the day of the election, the headline in eastern North Carolina, and I don't know about the other papers: "FBI Investigating Lennon Headquarters," is the headline on election day. Now on Friday afternoon, Phil Ellis, noted radio commentator who later died, went on the air with a paid political broadcast in the form of a news story. Of course, it had the disclaimers before and after but it was very realistic. It told the whole story in thirty minutes how Abie had done this and how they had violated the law, playing on the racial things, and how the FBI was investigating them, and the postal authorities were investigating them, and all the campaign managers in the county that distributed them were going to be prosecuted. We put that prairie fire out. We might have gotten our hands a little burned doing it, but we damn well put it out in two days time. But everything broke just right. We got a confession from Kurfoos, and the following Sunday morning when they were still counting votes and it was just like that, he went to his Sunday school class and publicly apologized (laughter) .