Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

State and national candidates do not coordinate messages

Holshouser, Jesse Helms, and Richard Nixon were all seeking office in 1972, and Holshouser and Helms intertwined their campaigns as much as possible with that of Nixon, but the campaigns did not coordinate their messages, Holshouser explains. His focus was on ensuring that certain voter blocs made it to the polls and to win over Democrats wary of voting for a Republican.

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:
When you devised this coordinated campaign or at least working together with the presidential and US Senatorial campaigns, what kind of message were you as a candidate or the Republican party trying to put across? What do you think were your major appeals?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well let me simply say that the coordination of those three campaigns didn't have anything to do with what the president was going to be saying, or what Jesse was going to be saying, or what I was going to be saying. The candidates out on the stump were still doing their things? This was just coordinating to make sure that the field men were getting, were making sure that rallies that had to be done here were well prepared, that the candidates got in to the right number of counties and the right number of times and that again, looking at those numbers, where the votes had to come. That is a little bit tricky because Jesse's votes were going to come slightly different than mine. He had to carry some large Piedmont counties. But he was counting on a lot more votes east of Raleigh than I was because those history books just didn't lie about what kind of votes you could expect. We were counting on sizeble number of votes going down US 70 corridor from Raleigh to Morehead City, counting on the coastal thing around Wilmington and Brunswick counties and then here and there we had spots. But I knew if I was going to win it had to be mostly from Raleigh West building up the majority to overcome what we knew would be a minority vote overall east of Raleigh. Our people east of Raleigh just had to do their very best to minimize that shortfall we would have.
JACK FLEER:
So you did not try to coordinate appeals or messages in the candidates' talks. Just looking at your own appeal, what were you trying to do, what were you saying that you thought would bring voters to your side?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
You know it is sort of funny. Sometimes your recollection will play tricks on you because you always remember the things you want to remember I guess. I think, I think we, maybe without thinking about it, talked about things in such a way that people knew that if I got elected that the world wouldn't come to an end or state government wouldn't be turned upside down by incompetence or radicalism. But they didn't know what it would be like, but we wanted them to feel comfortable with their votes, and we wanted them to feel like it was time for a change. That the Democrats had been in too long. No matter what any particular Democrat candidate might be like, he was still ham strong by the fact that the whole structure of the state Democratic party and the state government were so intertwined that it would be hard to untangle for a Democrat. And in a sense, it was really saying elect me because I am a Republican.
JACK FLEER:
Now you said that you wanted to make them comfortable with you and that you wanted to convince them if possible, that it was time for a change. And yet presumably Republican candidates prior to you may well have used a similar kind of appeal and no Republican candidate had ever been successful in the century prior to that time. What made you think that that was going to work this time?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well all you can do is give it your best shot you know and hope that it works. If I had to do it over again even knowing all of things that I know right now I would still go about that same strategy. We didn't know that Nixon was going to get about 70% of the votes. But I told a lot of people that George McGovern was really the best campaign issue I had without even knowing it. And when you are carried in on a landslide, a lot of people get carried in that aren't qualified. We saw that in the 1966, no the 1962, elections. We got some people in the legislative delegation that probably shouldn't have been there. It causes us problems. But I have also been around enough that I have seen an awful lot of really fine people get out and run a really good campaign and just not seen the light of day. It just wasn't the year in which you could do it and time wasn't ready. That happened in 1970. Nixon tightened up on the economic strings and we were in sort of a recession. People still vote their pocketbooks and their kids more than anything else I think and always have. That is the reason you see Clinton's poll still right up there is spite of everything. You didn't know for sure, even in the summer when we didn't have any money or didn't seem to be raising any and the polls showed that we were down something about the same we had been with Gardner about 52 to 26 in August. We spent most of July just hitting every courthouse in eastern North Carolina because we knew that we weren't going to get back to many of them until after the first of September. Didn't want them to not have seen me at all. Plus, there wasn't much else you can do in the summer time. But I felt if you were going to be governor you have got to be governor of all the people and you ought to give everybody a chance at least to get a view or to ask you a question if they can. So starting about the time of the national conventions, we saw the polls start to move about 2% a week. We had spent about $15,000 for a statewide poll back in February. It showed us that we were so far behind that we should not do any more, shouldn't waste any more money on polling. Just ran as hard as you could for the finish line and concentrated on organization. Spent next to no money on advertising. Maybe we had $50,000 in television exposure, which is next to nothing. Had some really mean advertising that just never got viewed by much of anybody. We came out of both of those, all three of those campaigns, with the public feeling like we had run a very clean campaign. But I have always been convinced that part of that is at least because we had some hard hitting ads but nobody ever got to see them.
JACK FLEER:
A modest solace?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
It is just honesty. But you could see the movement starting to close. Remember you had a Democrat convention; no it wasn't in '72, it wasn't Chicago nightmare, it was some place else.
JACK FLEER:
1972 was McGovern convention.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right. He just didn't have much appeal and I still have memories that I can't understand. In Chapel Hill our headquarters was right next to the McGovern headquarters. Every time I came into our headquarters in Chapel Hill just to shake hands and give people encouragement. You'd walk down the street from wherever you parked the car and here are these cars with McGovern stickers and Holshouser's stickers and I have never to this day figured that out.
JACK FLEER:
But you were grateful.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Every little bit helps. Just like my hardware store guy said, once they go into the ballot box they all look the same.