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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., January 31, 1998. Interview C-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Winning the Republican nomination with help from friends and allies

Holshouser remembers his tight primary battle with Jim Gardner. His personal connections with Republicans around the state, and the support of the then-popular Richard Nixon, enabled him to eventually defeat Gardner.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., January 31, 1998. Interview C-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

JACK FLEER:
Of course you ended up in a primary battle, in fact two primary battles with Jim Gardner which were very intense, highly publicized and in a sense might had reflected those divisions that you had talked about whenever you were elected party chair. Did those become an important obstacle?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well a lot of people didn't think we would win the party primary. I mean that first poll we took showed we were down two to one.
JACK FLEER:
Within the Republican party?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Yes and I was personally convinced that if you had taken a poll on primary day it would show we were down 20 points probably. But you knew that less that half of the Republicans were going to come to the polls and you knew where those folks were going to be and where you needed to go get them. I still have a pretty good memory about the primary night of the first primary. We started off slightly ahead and it was very obvious that as the whole evening went along it was going to be very, very close. He pulled ahead late in the evening. By 1:00 it was a dead heat but he was maybe 1000 votes ahead. That was unofficial and you just didn't know where you were going to come out. And it was also obvious by late, late that night that probably those other two guys that were running were going to get enough votes to keep either one of us from getting over 50%. As it turned out that was right. But because everybody sort of expect Gardner to win, it was like we won even though we came in second and so…
JACK FLEER:
The expectation argument, so to speak?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right. So we announced early on the next morning that no matter who won we expected a run off and we looked forward to it or something no matter who came in first. It turned out I think we were about 1300 votes behind and the other two guys had about 2000 votes.
JACK FLEER:
Did it continue to be what I referred to or I referred to earlier as sort of this nascent ideological division or was it something else that you think was at play here?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well I think it was mostly personalities with some overlay of who could get elected. Because while Republicans didn't think we could win, they wanted to have the best chance we could. Gardner had come close. But a lot of people who supported him in 1968 in the primaries against Stickley had gotten a little bit disenchanted by the end of the election when he flirted around with Wallace people so much. 1968 were an awful hard time to run because of the Wallace factor primarily. That is another one of those timing things. I am awfully glad I wasn't a candidate in 1968. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I think probably we won that primary because we were able to persuade enough people that I had known personally, not just by letters or whatever, but I had been in their towns and I helped them organize their campaigns and I helped them recruit candidates. We had come in to speak for them during rallies. They knew what kind of person I was. And they just decided I was a known quantity that they thought would be a good candidate.
JACK FLEER:
Were there any issue differences that you thought were important within the Republican Party that made a difference?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well one of the things that we did here in the Spring campaign was to put out a sort of a tabloid size newspaper, I can't remember what it was called, something like the Victory or something, headline on it, "Nixon Trusted Him So Can You." And part of that idea was to play on the fact that Gardner had started off with Nixon in 1968 and then switched to Reagan and had the reputation by the time the election of having flirted with Wallace. We had a big picture of me shaking hands with Nixon in the Oval Office and played a lot on our ties because I had helped Nixon campaign a good bit in 1968. And talked about the accomplishments in the legislature, introduced the drug abuse legislation that I had worked on really hard. Again on the idea of trying to get it just right, we had waited too late to get it introduced. It never was seriously considered even if it would have been earlier which I doubt. But I think there were people in the West who thought Gardner had the best chance to win but there was a little bit of East/West thing, but there were people in the East who helped me and I think it was still more personalities than philosophy per se.
JACK FLEER:
I have to mention for future listeners to this tape, Richard Nixon was very popular at this stage.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right.
JACK FLEER:
And this is prior to the emergence of any of the Watergate matters related to Mr. Nixon.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
As a matter of fact following the two primaries, we had a Republican executive committee meeting to replace Frank Rouse as the party chairman. He had resigned after the first primary to work with Gardner in the runoff. The day of that meeting was the same day as the Watergate break-in. Another one of those spooky things that you remember.
JACK FLEER:
So that obviously it was to your benefit to say that Nixon trusted you or you hoped it was to your benefit.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right. And you know Nixon wasn't going to take a position personally in state campaigns. Just didn't do it. But he wasn't going to run me off either and we just played it to the hilt the best we could.