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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jack Hawke, June 7, 1990. Interview C-0087. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Development of and divisions within the North Carolina Republican Party, 1964-1972

Hawke addresses developments and divisions in the North Carolina Republican Party during the 1960s and early 1970s. Primarily, Hawke focuses on the impact of Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential bid in bringing new converts to the party. According to Hawke, it was within this context that James Gardner began to rise to prominence within the state party. In addition, Hawke briefly explains how the party barely remained intact during the Watergate scandal and he addresses the extent to which the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan played a role within the party.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jack Hawke, June 7, 1990. Interview C-0087. 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

JONATHAN HOUGHTON:
Did Goldwater bring a lot of former Democrats into the party on a more permanent basis? As you were saying the Republicans in the '60s started to have more meaningful primaries, something that had never typified the state before. So Goldwater, with an ideological intensity, completely repudiating the Democratic New Deal, completely going against the Republican "me too" style of candidacy, was thought to generate a good deal of appeal. In actuality he brought in fewer votes than Nixon had attracted in 1960. But as far as building the party, did he bring in people . . .
JACK HAWKE:
My impression is that he brought in a whole group of young activist Republicans that became committed and involved during that period of time. And that was really the heart that built the party through '72. It was also part of the group that was hit hard by Watergate because they had a vision that a Republican would really make a difference. That we were just that much better than the Democrats. That we really would change the world. That we really would be more honest. That we really would accomplish more. Why do you keep losing and keep getting your brains beat in but coming back year after year, working the way that group did? And a lot of them did, and in '74 when the roof fell in on Watergate, most of those people that I always used to see that we depended on were gone. And it took five or six years for them ever to get their interest back in politics, and that was a period of time when young people were not coming to the Republican Party. We had a period in there which was real hard and no growth really, I'd say. The only thing that held it together was Helms and the Congressional Club. In fact, the party headquarters and the state chairman of the party itself became almost nonexistent in terms - the real power was over in the Congressional Club of everything that happened. But I think that's what Goldwater attracted to the party. What he brought to the party was a whole group of younger, dedicated people who really stuck with it, Gardner being one of them. That's what attracted Gardner to the party. The whole leadership that was in this area when I first became involved really were Goldwaters. Now he didn't bring the vote. One of the reasons Gardner lost in '64 was he put up billboards all over this district that said, "Goldwater needs Gardner in Congress." I was a young, what twenty-one, twenty-two year old Yankee, who nobody would listen to, but I was the only one who was advising him, "Don't do that because you're going to run ahead of Goldwater," which is really what made my friendship in the early years start to bloom with Gardner. That and a couple of other things where I was lucky enough to be right. Those people truly believed that voters were going to come out of the woodwork to vote for Barry Goldwater.
JONATHAN HOUGHTON:
Well, that had been a myth for forty years.
JACK HAWKE:
Absolutely believed it. There was no question. It didn't matter what the polls said. It didn't matter what your door-to-door canvases said. People were going to come out of the woodwork to vote for Barry Goldwater, and it just didn't happen. But it did bring a real activist group into our party, and I think that probably was the start of the philosophical differences. There weren't many Rockefeller people in the state but there were a lot of traditional Republicans in this state, who, I think, probably resented this new group coming in and wanting to take over. They'd been winning elections for years. Up until 1965 the state headquarters was in Charlotte. There was an office and a state headquarters when I went to work for the party in '63. Herman Saxon was chairman. The office was in downtown Charlotte. There was an executive director. So they were that far along. Then when Gardner got elected in '65, he moved it to Raleigh and it's been here ever since. But the whole focus was the western part of the state where we had won, and where we had some Republican strength, really dating all the way back to the Civil War. As they say, the War of Northern Aggression. [Laughter] But I think it was geographical, and it was some of the new kids on the block that were attracted by Goldwater that became philosophical differences, so they said.
JONATHAN HOUGHTON:
Well, at least, if not philosophical, a question of intensity, I think.
JACK HAWKE:
Probably, yes. Your people in the west would support a Republican because he was a Republican. The people that I would say were the Goldwater or eastern, didn't feel that way. They'd been Democrats, and they didn't feel you supported Republican just because he had an "R" after his name. He had to be better, and by better that sometimes meant philosophically more intense.
JONATHAN HOUGHTON:
Some observer noted that a number of the Goldwater converts were members of the John Birch Society and felt they had a divisive influence. Did you note that, or do you think there was any . . .
JACK HAWKE:
I'm, I think, somewhat naive about that. I always wondered how many of them were John Birchers [laughter].
JONATHAN HOUGHTON:
There were never hard numbers and it was a secret organization.
JACK HAWKE:
And I used to think that person's got to be a Bircher but, you know, I never knew it [laughter] for a fact. I don't know whether there was an influence there or not. I think there was an active Birch Society in Rocky Mount, which is where Gardner came from, but I don't think Gardner was ever a part of it. I think there was an active Birch Society in the Raleigh area. But, you know, I don't know of any overlapping there. I'm sure there was. I'm sure there was some Klan involvement too, but again it wasn't overt, and I wasn't aware that's what was going on if it was. And like I said, maybe I was too young and too naive.