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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 governorship with a broad voting coalition and an opponent's missteps

Holshouser continues to evaluate his narrow victory in the gubernatorial race, describing the coalition of union members and African Americans who gave him their votes, as well as missteps by Skipper Bowles, his Democratic opponent. Holshouser's broad support, his opponent, his organization, and his endorsements combined to win him a 40,000-vote edge.

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:
Now another thing that had happened during that year was that there was a very intense primary battle within the Democratic Party.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right.
JACK FLEER:
And did that make a contribution toward your eventual success?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
You know I said earlier that there were all sorts of things that you could say that made the difference. We won by less than 40,000 votes out of a million and a half approximately. Pat's getting out on a separate campaign schedule and getting us some extra exposure made the difference. The fact that the NCAE didn't endorse anybody because they picked the loosing candidate in the primary gave us some help there. We had some key Republicans who were in Winston- Salem/Greensboro area who were involved with AT&T unions, we got some union support that Republicans just hardly ever got from union rank and file except those who were registered Republicans. And we got some black support. Black support went from about 3% to 13% because we went in and asked for it in a lot of places. We talked with them and told them that frankly I knew I wasn't going to get huge amount of black support, but when I got elected I was still going to be governor of all the people and that included them too. And we tried to do that after the election. But I suspect that I had to pick one thing, two things that caused it to be a successful election, one was the overwhelming Nixon move and the other was the fact that the Democrat primary went the way it did. Pat Taylor was Lt. Governor, everybody expected him to win. Jack Fleer and Bowles just did a masterful job with their television campaign encouraging young people to be involved in their campaign in the Spring. DeVries and Lance Tarrance had written a book right before that and they followed that right along. You pick you a media market, you poll in that media market, and that is where you do your advertising. And they followed it and it was just successful as can be. It was a textbook campaign. But in the process I think Skipper got overexposed. As a result he needed strategically to wait and do his television only at the end of the fall, but they started it Labor Day. I know I met a lady in 1974 from South Carolina, Spartanburg, at some meeting some place and she said "You don't know me from Adam but I want you to know I sent you $25.00 during the campaign because I got so tired of seeing your opponent on television." And I think that was one part, a partial result, of that primary. It also clear that the Democratic party never got itself back together after the primary.
JACK FLEER:
Was there anything that you could do to contribute to that inability or did you just let it happen?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well we didn't do it an organized way like we should have. We didn't know as much as we know today. If I had known then what I know now, I would have had every Pat Taylor campaign person on the list to get a phone call from me within a week after the election, of the primary. In some cases we knew who the Taylor leaders were in certain counties and I would always try to see them if I were in that county. I went to see Pat Taylor personally. I didn't expect him to come out and endorse me or anything.
JACK FLEER:
But you had known him from the legislature.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Yes, right. And I think he was a good man, is a good man, would have made a good governor. Although he would not have been able to overcome that intertwining of the things that we have talked about. But I have been told that there was a big meeting between the Bowles' people and the Taylor people in the early summer after the second primary. They said that there was going to be room enough at the table for everybody. But everybody understands the Bowles' people will get the white meat. It just made the Taylor people mad as hell and a lot of people left and just never got on the bandwagon.
JACK FLEER:
And even if they didn't vote for you, the fact that they didn't vote for him?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I think some of them voted for me and I know they sat on their hands where trying to help with the campaign was concerned. You could see that in some counties where Taylor had run really strong and where Bowles ran significantly behind the historical tradition in the fall.
JACK FLEER:
So you had a divided Democratic party and a very strong presidential incumbent, a ticket in North Carolina that in a sense was broad on the Republican side, in addition to these other factors a lot of things had to come together to get those 40,000 or more votes.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right. And looking back I think our main job was not making any mistakes. Giving people a comfort level, by talking about the things about state government that I knew that I thought could be improved and I knew first hand from having been in the legislature. And I think that is what got us the endorsement of the Charlotte Observer and Winston-Salem Journal. Although there may have been a little Machiavellian madness running around in the newspaper. They were so scared of Jesse Helms that they were afraid that if I lost and Jesse won, that the Republican party would just take a gigantic swing to the right forever and that it would not be good for the state. So even there, I temper my appreciation for them by the fact that they were, and some of them said that it was important that this part of the Republican party is so strong.
JACK FLEER:
Do you think that those endorsements are important?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Absolutely. Some people say that if you get the newspaper endorsement that you have done something wrong because they don't think the way that the average guy on the street thinks. But there are a certain number of people in every reading area or viewing area that are going to follow the lead of the paper or the station.