North Carolina's transition to a Republican state
Scott tries to explain the rise of the Republican Party in North Carolina in the 1970s. His explanation hinges on the gubernatorial contest between Republican Jim Holshouser and Democrat Skipper Bowles. A divisive Democratic primary hurt the Democrats, and with Richard Nixon in his corner, Holshouser won the governorship. A similar lack of Democratic unity hurt Jim Hunt in his effort to unseat Senator Jesse Helms. These contests, along with the sense that the national Democratic Party no longer speaks to average North Carolinians, have contributed to turning North Carolina toward the GOP.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, September 18, 1986. Interview C-0036. 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
guess, what was happening there that has allowed the Republician party
to pick up strength in that period?
- BOB SCOTT:
I'm not sure that I know all of the factors. I have some
opinions, observations, I guess, more than anything else. First of all I
think if you go back for the period of time, maybe to the
'60's, early '60's,
you'll find a gradual increase in Republician voting strength
in the state. That is to say the margin of victory by the Democratic
nominees was not as great as it had been in previous times. The gap was
narrowing. Now it accelerated during that period of time. I suspect that
Skipper Bowles would have won if two things had not occurred. Number
one, if Nixon had not been so popular at that time. The Republicians in
this state, as they were doing across the country, were on a roll. They
came in on Nixon's coattail. I don't want to say
that totally but that did have an impact.
Another reason that Holshouser won was because the Democratic primary was
so divisive that year. Pat Taylor and Skipper squared off, and my
supporters generally were supporting Pat Taylor. Skipper's
advisers had some rather strong things to say about my administration.
He was running against me more than against the Republicans.
That's the way my folks perceived it. After the primary there
was an effort to get the two factions together but it didn't
work because the Skipper Bowles faction felt so strongly that they
wanted to be totally in charge. They were not willing to bring Pat
Taylor's faction into the fold. As a result of that, together
with the fact that the Skipper Bowles' folks had had so much
to say about my administration, there was a definite coolness. There was
not——our folks frankly just did not get out there
and work for Skipper Bowles. They didn't vote against him,
and they didn't work against him. They just didn't
get out there and hustle for him. That together with the tide of Richard
Nixon's effort to bring Holshouser in, I think brought him
Another factor during that time was the economic growth in the state.
There were a considerable number of people moving in with new industries
from other regions of the country. The north and the midwest,
particularly, were coming in here. That was a small factor. I think too,
the Republicans had been doing a credible job in developing their own
state wide leadership. They hadn't done very much at the
local level. So those were some of the factors.
I remember very well being at a meeting of the state Jaycees in
Greensboro or High Point just a few days before the general election.
Jim Holshouser was the speaker, no, I beg your pardon, I was the
speaker, Jim Holshouser came by to politick. This was on like a Thursday
or Friday before the election the following Tuesday. As luck would have
it Holshouser and I had a few moments there by ourselves where nobody
was standing around, I said, "Jim, how do you feel about the
election?" He said, "Well, I think I might
win." I said, "Well, I think you will too."
He says, "Why do you think so?" No, I asked Holshouser
why he thought he would win. He said, "Well, we had a poll done
in the state a few weeks ago which showed us within striking distance,
and we know the momentum is with us. We did a telephone poll this week
that showed us neck and neck. We've got the momentum on our
side." That answer coincided with what I had picked up from our
own people. I had privately predicted to some folks that he would win.
They had brought Richard Nixon into North Carolina just a few days
before the election. Nixon was very popular at that time. The timing was
beautiful. I think that those are some of the things that brought that
Since then, of course, Jim Hunt came back. Jim was very well organized.
Holshouser was not successful, in my judgment, in really building the
Republican party at the grass roots level. That, together with the fact
that they did not have a Richard Nixon then, they weren't
able to carry that sweep along. I think then one of the reasons that Jim
Martin came along and was successful, partly because again the
popularity of Ronald Reagan, and the fact that Jim
Hunt, by virtue of having been in office for eight years, had built up a
lot of political liabilities in his own party. There was not a
willingness on the part of Governor Hunt or his supporters to open up
the party to include others. 1
1 The major factor in Governor Jim
Hunt's failure to defeat Senator Jesse Helms in 1984 was
his unwillingness to bring other leaders of the Democratic Party
into his circle of leadership. He refused to share power. He refused
to help his long-time friend and ally, Eddie Knox, and Knox later
left the panty and opposed Hunt. Hunt never included me or my key
folks. He was totally self-centered. Many democrats
didn't like the way Jim Hunt refused to include others.
That, together with the popularity of President Regan, who was
running for re-election, made the difference in the Hunt-Helms
race. I just heard that everywhere I went. Consequently, there
was a feeling, well, you know, the heck with it. If they want to run it
then let them sink or swim with it. Those combination of factors, I
think, lead to that, together again with the change in the whole climate
here in the south. The Democratic national ticket was viewed as being
too liberal. The Republican party seemed to be viewed as more nearly
representating the views of the average person in North Carolina and had
a certain amount of attractiveness to them. I suspect that's
true today with many of the young people.