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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, September 18, 1986. Interview C-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

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

To your 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 into being. 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 about. 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.