Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Sanford aims to reunite the Democratic Party in the early 1970s

Sanford describes his decision to run for the United States Senate, a position he won in 1986. He worried that the Democratic Party was in disarray after a string of losses in presidential elections and saw himself as the best candidate to reunite it. When he entered the race he bumped fellow Democrat Lauch Faircloth out of consideration, a move that perhaps spurred Faircloth to leave the party and oppose, and defeat, Sanford in the following election cycle.

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:
What finally led you to decide to run for Senator?
TERRY SANFORD:
Two things. One, I was out of work, needed something to do. I'd toyed with it, struggled with it. I saw good reason for doing it and many, many reasons for not doing it. All the reasons for not doing it were personal, and all the reasons for doing it were, I might say, motivated by public concerns. It was obvious that the Democratic Party was just about to finish itself off. The last thing it needed was one more bloody primary, and especially when you saw the Republicans rising with such a respectable group of people. Broyhill, of course, is a very respectable candidate, could be expected to beat almost anybody, including me. The best chance of getting the Party together—for no other reason than Faircloth and Blount who certainly were the only two, they were the two candidates that were coming out of the first primary… Neither would run if I ran, and the fact that I had ties to all parts of the Party, and that I'd been out of it long enough not really to be seen as a partisan. In any event over the passage of time almost everybody emerging in North Carolina politics was associated with me in 1960 one way or another. So I was the proper person to try to unite the party. Furthermore, I thought that I could, and that I should. That was a big factor in getting me to run but that wouldn't have been enough. The goal itself had to be, is it worthwhile being in the Senate at this time? And the answer was yes, especially at this time because there will be no national agenda by the time you get there. You can have a part in shaping the national agenda, and maybe a part in seeing to it that the Democrats don't make the same presidential mistake for the fourth time. So put it all together, it looked like a great exciting challenge. Why not do it?
BRENT GLASS:
Would you care to describe the discussions you had with various leaders? Because you got into the game kind of late, didn't you? Everyone was saying if someone didn't get into it by October of '85 that was almost like the absolute cutoff date. You certainly wouldn't have run, for instance, if Hunt had decided to run, right?
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh, no. Oh, I wouldn't have run. I tried to get Bill Friday to run. I tried to get Wade Smith to run. I tried to get numerous people to run that could have a unifying effect. The truth of the matter is that Blount and Faircloth would not have made it. In the first place they wouldn't have stood aside for each other. They would have stood aside for some of these others. I offered to do all kinds of things to support Bill Friday. I don't know how good a—nobody ever saw him as a campaigner, but he would have been good if he had followed the same kind of campaign strategy that I did. He would have been a good candidate, I think. Whoever ran had to follow the strategy that I finally followed. First unifying the party, and then running as hard as you could on the issues. So, it was certainly Christmas before I even began to think about it again. Probably not til the first week in January that I began to say, "All right, let's talk." People were beginning to say then, "Run, and we'll help you." I don't remember when exactly but it was either the latter part of January or… It didn't leave much time.
BRENT GLASS:
Did it hurt your relationship with the people who had already announced, Blount, Faircloth? There was speculation about that.
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh yeah. I think Faircloth was caught by surprise that I ran although I told him I was. He just, in his own mind, thought that I wouldn't. He, in effect, told me to, but in his own mind, thought that I wouldn't do it. I think it did catch him by surprise and hurt his feelings.
BRENT GLASS:
Don't you think it's hard for someone who's never run for elective office to run for that high an office? Who's never been successful, I guess, seems that people—I thinking about Bill Friday more than Faircloth—it seems if no one has ever pulled the lever for that person.
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh, I don't know. Bill Friday, of course, was well known and had a good reputation. Whether or not he could have exercised the independent approaches that you had to if you're not going to let these professionals take over your campaign and if we had let them do that, I think I would have lost.
BRENT GLASS:
By professionals, you mean …
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, the television people, for instance. They ran Faircloth. They ran Hunt, in my opinion. I was determined I was going to run my campaign. If we'd have been with Friday, I think we'd have determined that we were going to help him run his campaign.