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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 4, 1998. Interview C-0336-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clever courtship of a wide voting coalition

Scott reveals the political acumen he brought to his gubernatorial campaign. He realized that he had a reputation as a liberal Democrat, and began at once to stamp it out, enlisting a fiery speechwriter to craft a speech which he delivered, a uniformed law enforcement officer at his side, in the heart of Ku Klux Klan country. The gambit worked, convincing skeptical North Carolinians that he was the tough law-and-order candidate they could support. Scott courted financial interests, urban voters, and young voters in addition to white conservatives.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 4, 1998. Interview C-0336-1. 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:
Whenever you, after you went to see these various groups, heard about these issues, developed your own ideas about what you thought was important for the state—how did you feel that you would, in fact, be able to win the nomination of the Democratic party? Because you had serious opposition: two persons, one of them with a family legacy of political power and influence. What made you think that you could, in fact, overcome and win the office, or win the nomination?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Once I really seriously began to plan a campaign for governor, and I'm not sure when that really occurred; there wasn't any time when I sat down and said, "Yes, I'm going to run." I have a theory about that: In running for public office, you don't just make it that clear-cut, you just don't wake up one morning and say, "I'm going to run"; you're thinking about running, and you do all the planning—back then, we didn't do many polls, didn't know how to run them, really—but you sort of planned, you kept taking steps further and further towards a decision, kind of like going fishing. You look out, you make all the preparations, you get your fishing gear all ready, you get your place in mind you want to go, and all of those things, and the last thing you do, you wake up in the morning and look out the window and see what the weather's like and decide whether you're going to go or not. And that's kind of the way it is in politics. You think about running, you get closer and closer, and first thing, you're in before you know it.
JACK FLEER:
And no turning back.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
No turning back. You're caught up in the vortex of the whole thing. But the question was what?
JACK FLEER:
How did you think you would, in fact, be able to receive the nomination? Because there was, within the Democratic Party, at least these two factions.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
OK. I knew that I had to, at least in the minds of the public, pretty much shatter the conception that I was a liberal. The pendulum was beginning to swing back to conservatism, law and order. We must stop the blacks from marching in the streets, and all that kind of stuff. Law and order was a big thing. Well, the perception was—I said conception, the perception was that I came from the liberal wing of the Democratic party. There was probably some evidence that I had favored the minorities in certain things, I don't know what they might have been. My father was considered a liberal, and so on. I had to get off of the liberal bit, more into the middle of the road. So one of the first things I did, in terms of public speeches and those kinds of things in the campaign, I accepted an invitation to go to Dunn in Harnett Country, center of the KKK country, to make a speech. I got one of my dad's old speechwriters, Robert Redwine. He was a speechwriter for him when he was in the United States Senate. Robert—or Bob—Redwine could write, he could write a fireball speech. He couldn't write until he was about half-drunk, but if he got about half-drunk, he could turn out a speech, and I asked him to do that. I didn't ask him to get drunk, but I asked him to write a speech. Told him what I was going to do and what I wanted to do. And he wrote a speech that even I couldn't give it. I mean, it was so law and order that I just couldn't bring myself to even do that. So I modified my speech, toned it down, and went down to Dunn, to—I forgot what city group it was, and I got the commander of the highway patrol. No, was he commander? No, he was not commander, but he wanted to be commander. He was one of the officers on the patrol, and he went with me, in uniform, which was something he probably ought not have done, but he went on the excuse that I was lieutenant governor and he was with me. And I gave that speech, and the newspapers just editorialized right and left that I had betrayed my background and my training in the Democratic party, and so on and so forth. But it had the intended effect, that I was not as liberal as perhaps they had thought, and that I was more in the middle of the road. So that was one of the things that I knew I had to do. Number two, I realized that I had to build support in the business community. One of the things that Ben Roney suggested I do was to go down to talk to Snow Holding, who was the president of the First Citizen's Bank and Trust Company. Louis Holding is his name, and of course he still is. I went down to see him at his office, made an appointment. And one of the reasons was that that was a family-held bank. When the three brothers set down for breakfast, they had had not only a meeting of the board of directors, they had a meeting of the stockholders. And their father, who founded the bank, was a good friend of my father. And my father ran in 1949 against the banks, if you will. But Mr. Holding was one of the few that supported my dad, one of the very few banks. Anyway, I went down to see Snow Holding at the bank, and I was ushered in, got me a shoeshine walking through the carpet to his office, sat down, and the secretary brought in a silver tray with coffee and all of that. And Snow came in and we had some cordial chitchat. And I told him that I was thinking about running for governor, and that somebody had told me that I ought to come see him, that his support was awfully important. And he said, "I don't know who told you that, but he told you right." And so we talked on that, and he said, "Well, now, OK, you've told me what you want to do, but let me ask you this: what makes you think I don't want to be governor?" Well, I had not thought about that, and he sort of stumped me for a bit. He said, "I have made a success in the banking business; I've got a home in Smithfield, one here in Raleigh, and one in Charlotte; how many places can I live? How many cars can I drive? How many suits of clothes can I wear? Banking is no longer that much of a challenge to me. I wouldn't mind being governor of North Carolina. Not being governor of North Carolina, that doesn't matter, four years and you're out of office, but what it can be is a stepping stone to the United States Senate. If I go to the United States Senate and play my cards right, then I can get to be chairman of a powerful committee. And that's where the power is." And I thought, "Man, I don't know that I'm making any progress here at all." Anyway, I said, "Well, if you decide to run, I hope you'll let me know ahead of time, because that would be powerful opposition." And that was the way we sort of left it. And I said, "If you don't run, I really would like to have your support." And of course he didn't, and he did give me his support. And he helped me with some other people in the business community, but I didn't get the big ones, really. I just didn't move in those circles, didn't have that contact, and I was still, you know—Mel Broughton and his background were much more business-oriented than I was.
JACK FLEER:
So you broadened your appeal, you made some overtures to the business community.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
I might say too in addition that although the state was in transition, it was beginning the transition—ah, I guess it's always in transition, isn't it? But the political transition was beginning to occur because, you know, Holshouser succeeded me, it was beginning to change at that time. What I tried to do was, working in my organization, I knew that I had to work harder at the urban vote. I had the contact out in the rural areas. So Charlotte was a big challenge to me. Wilmington. Fortunately, I got a good organization among that group. I realized it in Charlotte. But Wilmington was a tough one, Salisbury, Asheville—I did fair, but I just didn't feel like I had what it took to win the popular vote in those cities. Another thing, I realized too that since I was young, relatively speaking, as a candidate—at that time, I think I was the youngest person to run for lieutenant governor in modern times, although it was interesting, isn't it, that Holshouser and Hunt were both younger than I was. So—that's why you have so many ex-governors today, [unclear] —
JACK FLEER:
[Laughter]
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
But what I was going to say is, I wasn't real active in the Jaycees, but I helped start a little chapter over here in Haw River, which gave me entree into the Jaycees, and several of the people who would help me were Jaycees, and I got two or three of the ex-presidents of the state Jaycee organization involved in my campaign, and we organized what we called the Young Voters' Campaign. Basically, these were the Jaycee age group—thirty-five year olds, thirty year olds, right in there—and those people were younger, they were active, you know, they'd get out and work, as Jaycees were prone to do if they took on something. And we got those folks organized—not as an organization, Jaycees, but we kept that manpower and womanpower, and I went to many a home, just to meet with fifteen to twenty people that would come in, in the city. And that wasn't through the regular political organizations; that was almost a separate setup.
JACK FLEER:
Neighborhoods and communities and personal contacts.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Yeah, right. Coffees and teas.
JACK FLEER:
Now, you ended up having, of course, a very tight primary race in the first primary. No one received sufficient votes to be nominated, except that Mel Broughton decided not to call for a runoff. In thinking about running in the general election against Jim Gardner, did the fact that you had not won a majority of the Democratic party serve as an obstacle or a problem?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
It may have, but I wasn't really aware of that and wasn't conscious of it in that sense. I guess Mel, I don't know this, but I suspect Mel Broughton and his advisors felt that since Reginald Hawkins was out of it, probably most of that vote would come to me, and, I don't know, that's what I would have thought at that particular point. Now, I may very well have lost that race in the general election against Jim Gardner, had not Jim Gardner been rather strident, and it was—I don't think he had the confidence of moderate Republicans. Plus the fact, again, I had worked with, back in my farm organization days, in these rural communities, and my father was well thought of by a lot of Republicans. And I got a lot of that vote that normally would have gone to a moderate. It would probably have gone to Jim Holshouser or somebody like that.
JACK FLEER:
Now, when you say strident, you're talking about ideologically conservative?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Yeah. Let's see. Help me with my times, here. Had Jim Gardner already run for Congress yet?
JACK FLEER:
Yes. He had run for Congress. He had served one term.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
That was part of it, I think. His folks thought he should have stayed in Congress instead of coming back and running for governor. And I think that didn't help him any. I don't know that it accrued much benefit—well, anything that didn't help him accrued to my benefit. But you see what I'm saying, there—I think there were just a few combination of factors there that—otherwise, I might not have made that race. The tide was turning in North Carolina.
JACK FLEER:
So it wasn't a stage, as had often been the case in the past, that having won the Democratic nomination, you could be assured that you would win the election?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
No, not at all. Although I must confess—I say confess, I'll state it at this point—I really wasn't much aware of how much the change had occurred. Again, we didn't do a whole lot of polling. You'd do some, but we didn't know what questions to ask and didn't know how to interpret them when we asked them. So there wasn't that much polling going on. Particularly sustained polling that would show trends. Consequently, I don't think that I was aware of how much that trend had progressed. But it was close.
JACK FLEER:
But even the votes which people like Gavin, for example, had received, in prior years, would indicate that the Republicans were certainly gaining strength in the state.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Oh, yeah. It doesn't take a rocket scientist, if you look at the data over a period of a couple of decades. It's quite clear. And as a political scientist I'm sure you are very familiar with that. That's why I enjoy listening to you people who do track these trends in an objective and methodical way. It's enlightening to me and I wish more people would take the time to look at that kind of thing. They'd understand what's going on.