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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 >>

Various reasons for an unlikely Democratic Senate win

Although some political observers described Sanford's 1986 Senate race victory, the first for a Democrat in more than a decade, as "a stunner," he claims that he was confident throughout the entire contest that he would win. He credits this confidence, and good pacing, as contributors to the boundless energy that lasted him until the final day of his campaign. Another contributor Sanford cites was the "comparative," as opposed to negative, television ad campaign that highlighted his suitability for the job.

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:
Did the campaign, well, some things that have been written said that it was the spunky Terry Sanford that won the campaign. The voters liked that as opposed to Terry Sanford, the college president. Was there a conscious effort to appear more aggressive at a certain point?
TERRY SANFORD:
I was a spunky college president [laughter] . Well, no, I think people wanted energy and vitality to be shown but not over shown, you know. I didn't jump out of an airplane but I did land by helicopter. And I was energetic. I didn't have to fake it. I didn't have any problem running eighteen hours a day. I wouldn't have wanted to have done it every day. But at one point we ran about ten days with a sixteen- to eighteen-hour day or fourteen- to eighteen-hour day, including the weekend. I was getting pretty hoarse in the middle of that. By the end of it I was running stronger than I was in the beginning. Margaret Rose suggested that I ought to start gargling with salt water, which is about the only medication I had during the whole campaign. I did buy some cough drops to keep my throat from getting too husky.
BRENT GLASS:
Was that, it seemed that that pace and that schedule accelerated toward the end. I guess that's inevitable.
TERRY SANFORD:
Yeah, but I never permitted it to accelerate to the point where I got exhausted. I was literally not exhausted on the weekend before the election. On the Monday before the election when we made another run across the state, I was completely relaxed and at ease. I remember in 1960 by the general election, they almost had to lead me around. I had been run so hard. So we timed it, and paced it. Of course, it also helps to be confident. You get less stressed if you're not in a stressful, worried situation. Right or wrong, I was extremely confident the last week.
BRENT GLASS:
So you wouldn't agree with the comment that R.W. Apple had in the New York Times that the Sanford election was a stunner or would you agree with it?
TERRY SANFORD:
Apple asked me when he was down here, because I've known him a long time, you see, "Terry, do you really have a chance?" I said, "It's inevitable." He said, "You surely are confident." I said, "That's right". [Laughter]
BRENT GLASS:
So you wouldn't call it a stunner?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, I can see how they thought it was a stunner. Here's a highly regarded person, not because of what he'd done, but in large part what he hadn't done. You know he hadn't done any thing bad. He had served his constituents, if not in getting them grants, at least he'd—and he was a decent person. He is a decent person. He was appointed by the governor. It's a Republican state. We hadn't won in over twelve years. We had Helms in there supporting him, as he was, supported him every way he could, as a matter of fact. Had the governor out there campaigning for him. I can see how at a distance—who remembers Sanford? Well, a whole lot of people remembered Sanford. I got the young vote, and I got the young enthusiasm, and I got the college students. It would have been a blunder on my part if I somehow had managed not to get them. Why wouldn't I know how to deal with them. I can see how they would say, "Well, he's been out of it." Well, of course, I hadn't been out of it. So it might have stunned them. It might have looked like a stunner. Is that the word?
BRENT GLASS:
Yes, that's what he said, a stunner.
TERRY SANFORD:
[Laughter] It might have looked like that to them but I wasn't stunned. Never at any point did I really think I was going to lose. The only time I got the least bit agitated was about the middle of September when I could not get the television and pollster to respond to the direction I wanted to take. We had a knock-down for about a week. You might say we lost a week's television.
BRENT GLASS:
What was your direction?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, my direction is where we finally went. They wanted to turn it much more negative and much more comparative, as we call it. I've nothing against being comparative but you've got to be absolutely, scrupulously honest in being comparative. You can't take something and twist it around—and say "He's against Social Security because of this vote."
BRENT GLASS:
The out of context thing?
TERRY SANFORD:
Yeah. You've also got to, I felt then, that it had to continue to build the positive side of me because the polls clearly showed that still a lot of people didn't know that I'd had something to do with… I ran into a person in Charlotte who had no idea that I was probably the chief catalyst in developing the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, didn't know I had anything to do with it, except there was a dormitory named after me and another one after Holshouser and another after Moore, that I had nothing to do with. So we had not, in my opinion, made the point. Furthermore, we hadn't talked about his, really, do- nothing record in terms of creative legislative. We never did talk about it. We missed that little transitional phase that I'd had in mind because we lost a week. We weren't losing it in a sense of losing much time. It was a transition when I wanted to start taking the positive road and not kicking him but sharply separating us, which we finally did. But not sharply as we could have if we had worked at it longer and harder but sharply as we needed to. That's as far as I wanted to go. Well, we turned back two or three of our TV spots. They came down here about the first of the month, the last of September, and did some new ones. We probably sent back six or eight, wouldn't use them. They finally agreed they were going to do it the way I wanted to do it, though it wasn't that much difference. Again, I didn't see anything wrong with comparative ads. We had to compare records but we had to do it in a way that didn't make us look cheap. I think they were pleased with the way it came out and pleased the way their television came out.