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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 >>

Gardner's role in the development of the North Carolina Republican Party

Hawke credits James Gardner for having a prominent role in the development of the North Carolina Republican Party during the 1960s. Focusing specifically on Gardner's chairmanship of the party in 1965/1966, Hawke explains how Gardner brought the party out of the major debt it acquired following the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964. Moreover, he outlines some of the organizational tactics Gardner implemented in order to boost party membership.

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

Let me back up because you're doing a historical thing and just talk about the party at the time that I love. Jim Gardner has not, in my opinion, been given the credit for the growth of the party that he really created. Even with Gavin on the scene and Cobb, they were western oriented. They were traditional Republican oriented. You know, Cobb even lived over in the western part of the state. Gardner was the first one who came out of the eastern part of the state, and his race against Harold Cooley was a classic off-year election in that it was grassroots up. It was ID voters and turn them out, and it was also probably the first real good use of T.V. advertising in this part of the state and maybe the first round of negative advertising. Cooley and Gardner had a debate at N.C. State, and we taped the whole thing. Scared to death that Gardner was going to get killed in the debate because he was a business man who didn't have a lot of public speaking experience and so on. Cooley was a thirty-two year veteran congressman, chairman of the Agricultural Committee, a trial lawyer before that, and we thought he was going to chew us up. Gardner just chewed him up and spit him out in little pieces. So we took that tape and we cut it up to turn out thirty second spots, showing Cooley looking really dumb and Gardner looking brilliant. And Cooley screamed foul, that that was misrepresentation and filed suit with the FEA or whatever there was at that time, probably Communications Commission, I don't know. But he filed suit against the T.V. stations, that we were running these misleading ads. In those days they taped these things on film instead of on the nice little cassettes, and we had cut up the only film we had [laughter] , like a bunch of idiots. So we didn't have the whole debate. Our argument was, my gosh, if we could put on the debate, he even looks worse. Where can we get the film? Well, Cooley's mistake was he filed suit against RAL, because we had done the editing out there. We'd rented their room and done the editing there. So he filed suit against RAL. RAL went to NBC or whoever it was that had come down, whoever they were affiliated with then, had also come down and filmed the debate because it was national news, the chairman of the Agriculture Committee and so on. The day before the election, RAL got the tape released from national and showed it free that night on television [laughter] , and the debate made the old man look even worse than we had in the ads.
Wow, I didn't know that.
And we ended up getting 58% of the vote. So it was a great race. Gardner ran in '64 and came close and lost. In '65 the state party, like I said, was on its back. The people didn't come out of the woodwork to vote for Goldwater. We were probably $200,000 in debt. The chairman stepped down and said, "I've had enough. I quit." And Gardner ran for chairman, and most of his political advisors said, "Don't do it. You're taking over a debt." He took over the party and really travelled the state for about a year, pumping life back into everybody. He was a real dynamic, exacting speaker. And he just went all over giving everybody pep talks and stepped out of office with the debt paid off and party back on its feet. Runs for Congress, wins this race. We took a poll at the end of his first year in Congress because the Republican Congressional Committee in Washington wanted to convince him to run for reelection. We ran everybody against him we could come up with from Bob Scott to Jesse Helms to Bill Friday. Every name we could come up with, we ran against him, Nick Galafanakis. And he was wiping out everybody. He was doing what we are criticizing congressmen for doing now - all the frank mail, but it was being paid for by the committee. Everybody that got married got a bride's book and a letter from the congressman. Every school got flags. Everybody got agricultural yearbooks. Tapes to schools about how you write to Congressman. If your picture appeared in the paper, we'd cut it out and put it on a sheet of paper and we'd write across the bottom, "Been reading about you in the paper. Thought you'd like to have this. Congressman Gardner."
Those are old Jonas tactics, aren't they? That's what he did.
Yeah. And we went one step further. We formed a little, in those days you didn't have computers. We had those old NPSP typewriters that typed letters, and they were slow. But we formed a coalition of four other young congressmen, and all pooled our NPSP type things. One congressman gave the room. Everybody gave their machines. Each of us gave a staff member, and we sat up our own mail room. If you wrote in on gun control, we from the office would answer the letter, and then we'd send it upstairs and say, "File it." Anytime something happened on gun control, committee meeting, a vote, anything, you'd get another letter on it. And all we had to do was write one letter, ship it upstairs, and a thousand would go out.
What a network.
It was pre-computerization. The congressmen in that coalition, let me just mention, were George Bush, Jim Gardner, Bill Brock, who was later Secretary of Labor, and another congressman from Texas by the name of Price, I think it was Bob Price. It's just kind of interesting that those guys got together in 1966. Gardner then ran for governor in '68 when, you know, Gavin had made a great race but we'd been blown away in '64. And he should have won in '68. He really made people, for the first time, honestly believe a Republican could get elected. So I just think he did more for the building of the party during that period of time than a lot of people give him credit for. Probably was his own worse enemy, came back in '72 and really lost that primary of his own accord. But here he is now back again all these many years later. I just think that period of the '60s to the early '70s were very key to what happened to us in '72. And Gardner was at the forefront of it. Broyhill was a great congressman. Charles Jonas was a great congressman, but they didn't leave their congressional districts. Gardner, on the other hand, traveled the state. I mean, he went everywhere Republicans wanted to have a meeting. And really, it brought life and blood into the party and an enthusiasm. Jim Broyhill was a great congressman but the last thing in the world you'd say is that he's exciting. He's about as exciting as watching paint dry. [Laughter] And, you know, Gardner brought that excitement and that charisma to it, and I think really made a big difference.