Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ferrel Guillory, December 11, 1973. Interview A-0123. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Republican Jesse Helms's 1972 North Carolina senatorial victory

Guillory describes Republican Jesse Helms's 1972 North Carolina senatorial victory. Helms won because his ultraconservative politics expressed the frustrations of many North Carolinians, Guillory thinks, but the dominant issue was race.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ferrel Guillory, December 11, 1973. Interview A-0123. 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 BASS:
How do you analyze the senate race in 1972? And also what you've heard.
FERREL GUILLORY:
My view of it is that it was a special case of "the right person in the right place at the right time". By right I mean the pun in all. I think the politicians around, the ones I've talked to, even the Republicans, consider it a case of their party, Republican Party, putting up a guy who had a particular attraction to a region, the East, that their party had never done well in and that they overcame that simply because Jesse Helms first off had built in exposure there and Jesse's people will tell you that they went into rural counties and in a fact exploited his having been on the air, the word of mouth and the way they campaign was to accentuate that this is the guy that you've been seeing on television or that you've been hearing over the tobacco network, TN or whatever they call it out there. He was just a person and I think he won because he did well in the East and I think it was a case of his ultra-conservatism, his seeming to speak the frustrations of the people out there. It just carried it and I don't think it's any grand strategy about it that you could point to. Particular things like his McGoverngalonfinactus ads where he wrote him as one word and that kind of stuff helped a little and I suppose the Nixon helped a little.
JACK BASS:
Is McGoverngalonfinactus just one word? How much of his appeal is based on race?
FERREL GUILLORY:
It's my view almost all of it, but that's a biased view there. I think that the racial issue had a lot to do with it.
JACK BASS:
Kind of rock bottom you might say.
FERREL GUILLORY:
I think that deep down, if you really get down to it, Jesse Helms was going to take the cheats off welfare, he's going to get the federal government out of our business, and he's going to stop bussing and he's going to return things to local control and all that kind of stuff and I just think that deep down he was..that's it. He talked about foreign affairs, he talked about his relationship to Nixon, he talked about a lot of that. But I think deep down his race symbolized and his winning was a symbol of of the racial issues still having an appeal in the south. I think other races show that other people can overcome that by running a good campaign or by going to certain issues but I think Jesse Helms, I think the race issue there was a very heavy factor.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Then is there a special case? He won on the basis of race or racial causes?
FERREL GUILLORY:
I think he's a special case in terms of the way he's a special case in that he won as a Republican. Okay. I think Jesse Helms could have won in the other party. Okay. I say a special case because he's the first Senator elected in 72 years as a Republican. Okay. And I think that the reason that he won that was that by being a special case as a Republican. You understand what I mean? Okay. But
WALTER DE VRIES:
So you think that the racial politics would have been enough in either case, either as the Democrat or as the Republican to have won it?
FERREL GUILLORY:
It's my guess, yes. Totally yes.