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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, December 16 and 18, 1986. Interview C-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Deciding to run for president in 1972

Sanford recalls his decision, while president of Duke University, to seek the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. Motivated by a sense that George McGovern was not a viable candidate, he managed to get his name on the ballot, but he could not secure the support of state leaders. Shirley Chisholm drew the support of black leaders, and the governor at the time, Bob Scott, threw his support to Edmund Muskie, not to mention the fact that many North Carolinians supported George Wallace. Sanford in part blames Duke for isolating him from potentially helpful political contacts.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, December 16 and 18, 1986. Interview C-0038. 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

BRENT GLASS:
Let's talk about the senate race. Let's lead up to it and try to backtrack and ask you, how active in the last ten years have you been in state and national politics?
TERRY SANFORD:
Not very active. But active enough to keep my hand in. Just before coming to Duke I had been the national chairman of the Citizens for Humphrey-Muskie which was pretty heavy involvement since you might say that that was the center of his campaign—might have been better if it had been the total center. We had the Democratic National Committee with Larry O'Brien still heavily influenced by the Kennedys, attempting to run the organizational side which didn't run too well. Not that Larry wasn't a good leader but there were problems there. In any event, I was pretty heavily involved. I made a tremendous number of contacts there, as you might guess, including young staff people like Sam Poole who now has become my campaign manager.
BRENT GLASS:
He was on the Humphrey-Muskie?
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh, he worked for me as one of the people working with Young Democrats or young people, mostly Young Democrats in the general election. I'd worked all summer for Humphrey as a volunteer. Pretty much spent my time in Washington and around the country, lining up his delegates. At the end of that I had a tremendous number of contacts. Then I came to Duke, and I really didn't expect to get involved in politics. But in '72 with McGovern beginning to sweep the country and anybody that knew anything about politics could stand aside from the one emotional issue and realize that McGovern simply couldn't cut it. Students in Chapel Hill started it and got Duke involved. Got a petition and put my name on the ballot. I thought I could get out of that with the trustees. Well, oddly enough the trustees led by a big Republican, Tom Perkins, just urged me to do it. Thought it was a great exercise. Unfortunately, I shouldn't have done it. Unfortunately, Governor Scott not only wouldn't support me, he attempted to ridicule the effort. He wanted Muskie because he thought—well, he was pledged to Muskie. He could have easily have gotten out for his father's campaign manager and his friend and a person who had a lot to do with his being Governor but he didn't. That was fatal in itself. Then the black candidate emerged and John Wheeler, who was the black leader in North Carolina, and whom I'd made nationally known. I'd done all kinds of things to elevate him and to use him as a consultant but he felt he had to stick with her.
BRENT GLASS:
Shirley Chisholm.
TERRY SANFORD:
And you had Wallace coming in here—you know it's fatal to lose the black vote. Well, at that time I ought to have gotten out if I'd have known any decent way, graceful way to have done it. Then in addition to that you had the Nixon people that were very much campaigning against me for obvious reasons. You had the McGovern people who were campaigning against me though he was for all practical purposes out of the North Carolina race. It was Shirley Chisholm and Wallace and me and there really wasn't any way I could win that race. But I got into it, and I got out, I think, gracefully when it was all over. But I went on to being nominated just to make our point. So that gave me again a wide array of contacts I hadn't really set out to get. Then at the end of that, in spite of the fact that I had been against McGovern [interruption] , I became chairman of the Charter Commission in (1973). That gave me that summer (of 1973) to travel around the country and hold hearings and ultimately run the first Democratic midterm conference, gave me another wide range of political contacts. Really by '75 if I had wanted to quit Duke, I probably could have been a formidable candidate. My mistaken move, if it was a mistake, was not doing that and thinking that I could stay here. [That] because I had all these credentials that I could be nominated without getting out there and spending thirty days in Iowa and forty-five in New Hampshire. All of which was irrational but necessary. So, in spite of all my isolation by being in the academic world, I probably had as much political experience in the last fifteen years as almost anybody, without intending to.
BRENT GLASS:
Now there were at least, from my calculation, at least one, two, three opportunities to run for Senate prior to this one. You didn't choose to do that. Why?
TERRY SANFORD:
I never had any great ambition to be in the Senate. It seemed to me—certainly I didn't have any ambition to spend my life in the Senate.
BRENT GLASS:
How involved were you then in state politics in the last ten years?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, I took the position that every citizen, regardless of whether he was working in a machine shop or was president of the university, ought to be involved in politics. I never hesitated to take sides. I always did it, I hope, with some taste and judgment. I never was by nature violently partisan but I supported the Democratic candidates always and always openly, and I supported Hunt. I had a big fund raiser here for Bob Morgan when he ran the last time unsuccessfully for the Senate. I had a statewide fund raiser for him, for which I sent out personal invitations. So I stayed pretty much involved.