“Revenge” – This may be the ugliest word in the English language, or the sweetest when it describes a politician’s response to perceived evil.
In 1984, after two terms as governor, Democrat Jim Hunt ran for the seat of the US Senate held by Republican Helms. A host of ambitious Democrats have lined up to succeed him.
Contestants for the primary for governor that year included Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green, Insurance Commissioner John Ingram, Hunt Lauch Faircloth’s Commerce Secretary, Hunt’s Assistant Human Resources Secretary Tom Gilmore, District Attorney General Rufus Edmisten and former Charlotte Mayor Eddie Knox.
Even though Hunt was engrossed in his own campaign, all of these gubernatorial candidates, especially those who had worked closely with Hunt in government and politics, were hoping for favorable attention and assistance from the popular Hunt.
None had more hope or expectation than Knox, who had been Hunt’s political friend from his early college days at NC State, where they were close allies. Knox led Hunt’s campaign for student body president. Their alliance continued as the two enjoyed successful political careers. including Hunt’s statewide campaigns for Lieutenant Governor and Governor.
Knox was right behind Edmisten in the primary. As the two lined up for a second round and Hunt’s other closest political allies were no longer in competition, Knox hoped Hunt would give him the help he needed to beat Edmisten. He didn’t come and Knox lost almost four percentage points.
A few weeks later, appearing with Senator Helms, Knox made it known that he had changed his loyalty. He would support Helms rather than Hunt in the next election. Hunt lost four percentage points. Knox later formalized the split by changing his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
We can’t be sure whether Knox’s actions were revenge or some other political calculation.
But, looking back, we can see that this marked the end of his promising political career which some believe could have led to much higher office, including the presidency. Instead, he returned to his Charlotte law firm where he still puts his considerable skills to the service of his clients.
In that 1984 primary, Lauch Faircloth came in a respectable third place, which led him to consider running for the US Senate in 1986. The seat was “open” in the sense that incumbent John East was ill. and later died. But there was no rush of prominent Democrats to contend for the seat.
Former Duke University governor and president Terry Sanford had considered running, but dropped out in September 1985 when party leaders were not encouraging, apparently seeking a “new face.”
Faircloth, at this point, felt encouragement from Sanford.
With Sanford out, Faircloth emerged as the lead candidate and set about organizing his campaign, gaining support, especially from Tory Democrats.
Reacting to Faircloth’s apparent success and fearing he might be too conservative, party leaders reassessed their decision to discourage Sanford. They persuaded him to enter the competition. He immediately became the favorite.
These actions have pulled the rug out from under Faircloth, who has withdrawn from the countryside. Sanford won the primary handily and won the Senate election.
Faircloth was seething quietly.
His opportunity for revenge came six years later, in 1992, when Sanford ran for re-election. Faircloth had become a Republican and had the backing of Senator Jesse Helms and the powerful Conservative Club of Congress. With Sanford battling the disease at the end of the campaign, Faircloth has gained four percentage points.
Revenge. Ugly. And soft.
Editor’s Note: The author was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat in the 9th District in 1984 and 1986.