The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

January 8, 2014

How we got here in state politics

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 — Just in time for the new year, a new book puts modern North Carolina politics in perspective.

“The Making of a Southern Democracy: North Carolina Politics from Kerr Scott to Pat McCrory,” by East Carolina University Professor Tom Eamon covers North Carolina and its politics from 1948 through last year’s election.

These 65-plus years have been transformative for our state in many ways: social, economic, educationally, and politically. It is the politics that Eamon seeks to explain. But the social and economic changes drove many of the political changes. So did national political changes.

By bringing all these factors together while covering every major North Carolina election contest, Eamon makes a good start in explaining how and why North Carolina politics has changed so dramatically.

The book's underlying theme is that elections matter.  For instance, the 1948 victory of Kerr Scott in the Democratic gubernatorial primary gave progressive forces in North Carolina a dramatic boost. It led to the appointment of Frank Porter Graham to the United States Senate, which itself led to another election that mattered: the 1950 defeat of Graham by the more conservative Willis Smith. These two elections drew battle lines and traditions that still influence the state.

The 1960 victory of Terry Sanford over the segregationist I. Beverly Lake in the Democratic gubernatorial primary assured the state’s measured response to the ongoing civil rights revolution.

The multifaceted election results in 1972 brought about real change. In the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat, Nick Galifianakis defeated the more conservative incumbent B. Everett Jordan. Then Galifianakis lost the general election to an even more conservative and new Republican, Jesse Helms. Many disappointed conservative Democrats followed Helms’s lead and joined the Republicans.

That year also featured the new sophisticated election tactics used by Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles to defeat Pat Taylor in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Eamon writes, “The Bowles campaign proved to be a watershed for North Carolina politics. In the spring of 1972, old-style campaigns were still the rule…. From that time forth, North Carolina’s campaigns blended survey research with emerging technology. The Bowles operatives used focus groups, opinion polls homing in on the cutting-edge issues, and slick television commercials.”

Even these new tactics could not keep Bowles from losing to Republican Jim Holshouser in the Nixon landslide that also sent Jesse Helms to the Senate.

The 1984 Helms-Hunt U.S. Senate campaign, according to Eamon, “marked the beginning of a new era in American politics.”

He writes, “The Helms ads proved to be among the most effective in American campaign history. Before the campaign was over, Hunt had faced more negative radio and television ads than any other North Carolina candidate to date.”

That same year in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, which Eamon labels as “fratricide,” six serious candidates, including three who were very close to Hunt, battled for the nomination. The runoff between Rufus Edmisten and Eddie Knox was bitter and led to Knox's support for Helms in the U.S. Senate race and contributed to Helms’ victory over Jim Hunt.

Eamon explains the important gains North Carolina Republicans made in legislative races in 1994 and 2010. In each case, the Democrats paid high prices for their party’s victory in presidential elections two years earlier, Clinton in 1992 and Obama in 2008. In both cases negative reaction to the new presidents drove North Carolina voters to express their displeasure by voting Republican in the legislative races. In 2010 the results gave Republicans complete control of the legislature and the redistricting process.

 If you care about North Carolina politics, put reading this book at the top of your list of New Year’s resolutions.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at

Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • Do White Castle prices tell us anything about the minimum wage?

    NEW YORK - Economists love hamburgers. Specifically fast-food burgers. This is partly because all right-thinking human beings love ground meat on a bun, but it's also because the sandwich makes a handy yardstick for international financial comparisons. The ingredients and labor involved in preparing a Big Mac are pretty much the same no matter where you are in the world, so by looking at how many hours of toiling it takes a worker to earn enough to purchase one, you can get a sense of how wages really stack up across countries. The Economist famously created the Big Mac index in 1986 to see which currencies were overvalued. It started as a joke. Now, as the magazine proudly notes, it's a subject of academic study.

    April 22, 2014

  • Can Hillary Clinton rock the cradle and the world?

    WASHINGTON - What's most interesting to contemplate is the effect becoming a grandmother will have on Hillary's ambition. It's one of life's unfairnesses that a woman's peak career years often coincide with her peak childbearing years.

    April 22, 2014

  • Doug Creamer All in the Family

    We had a family get-together at my brother’s house on Easter Sunday. It’s hard to get our family together because we are spread out, especially when you consider nieces and nephews. My parents and siblings all made the gathering this year. Some of my nieces and nephews are far away, but they all remember gathering at my brother’s house for the holidays. Easter is known for the Jell-O eggs and the famous Easter egg hunt.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 19, 2014

  • The case for separate beds

    WASHINGTON - The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 19, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Obama's equal pay exaggeration leads us all into danger

    The president's claims of national shame over gender-based pay inequity spring from distorted calculations, as well as some convenient political math.

    April 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Teens trading naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 12, 2014

  • Brent Laurenz If you want to vote in primary, you need to register to vote now

    RALEIGH – North Carolina voters will head to the polls on May 6 this year to cast ballots in important primary elections across the state.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Scott Mooneyham Heeding the voter fraud call in N.C.

    RALEIGH – Legislators found the findings outrageous.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Roots

    I took a few minutes over the weekend to enjoy our yard and the arrival of spring. There seems to be so much work that needs to be done, it is hard to decide what to do first. I am excited that I got to run my tiller through the garden. I didn’t go very deep, but I did at least break up the soil. I have a couple of raised beds and the soil in them was in very good shape. I didn’t plant my peas and now after the big rain we got on Monday I realize that I missed a window of opportunity.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Seasonal Content