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The lesson of 1972: Only the old Democrats remember

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, January 14, 2008

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Chapel Hill, NC - “They’ve forgotten again the lessons we learned in 1972.”

Some older Democrats were saying this under their breath last week as they watched their primary candidates for governor attack each other in a televised debate on UNC-TV, followed up by TV ad campaigns from both Democratic candidates. The leading candidates, Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue and state Treasurer Richard Moore, took off the gloves and went on the attack—against each other.

Why are the older Democrats worrying about a hard fought primary? Just what are the lessons of 1972 that haunt them?

On the specifics, some memories have faded. But most remember that before 1972, the Democratic nomination for governor was virtually “tantamount” to election.

In 1972, however, Republican gubernatorial nominee Jim Holshouser beat the Democratic nominee, Skipper Bowles. The Republican victory followed a bitterly fought Democratic primary between Bowles and Lt. Governor Pat Taylor. Today’s old Democrats do not all agree on (or perhaps do not remember) exactly why the rough primary contributed to the Democratic loss, except that some of the bad feelings from the primary weakened the Democrats in the fall election.

Typical of these general remembrances is that of an old friend of mine, the late Leroy Magness of Lincolnton. In an interview preserved in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill, he remembered, “The Democratic party split. One got angry, and I don't know who was right and who was wrong. I was a Pat Taylor man, but I could have voted for Skipper Bowles, and I guess I did at the final analysis, but a lot of Democrats didn't vote for him on account of Mr. Taylor. That's how you get beat, though; when you've got one side of a party against another, and get them angry, that's what gets them beat.”

In their book, “The Transformation of Southern Politics,” Jack Bass and Walter De Vries explained that “(Skipper) Bowles had pulled an upset over Lieutenant Governor Pat Taylor in the Democratic primary, utilizing modern media techniques, something new to North Carolina. But after the primary, Bowles made remarks antagonistic to supporters of both Taylor and Governor Scott.…” Some Democrats, wrote Bass and De Vries, “attribute the low turnout in November in part to the county organizations’ disinclination to work hard for Bowles.”

Bob Scott was the incumbent Democratic governor in 1972. His recollections, also recorded in the Southern Historical Collection, are more specific and more telling: “Another reason that Holshouser won was because the Democratic primary was so divisive that year. Pat Taylor and Skipper squared off, and my supporters generally were supporting Pat Taylor. Skipper's advisers had some rather strong things to say about my administration. He was running against me more than against the Republicans. That's the way my folks perceived it. After the primary there was an effort to get the two factions together but it didn't work because the Skipper Bowles faction felt so strongly that they wanted to be totally in charge. They were not willing to bring Pat Taylor's faction into the fold. As a result of that, together with the fact that the Skipper Bowles' folks had had so much to say about my administration, there was a definite coolness. There was not—our folks frankly just did not get out there and work for Skipper Bowles. They didn't vote against him, and they didn't work against him. They just didn't get out there and hustle for him.”

In 1984, the hard feelings left over from a hard fought primary contributed to another Democratic gubernatorial loss. In that year, Attorney General Rufus Edmisten and former Charlotte Mayor Eddie Knox met each other in a primary run-off that was passionate and bitter. When it was over, Edmisten had won, but Knox and more than a few of his supporters did not support the winner.

The result was a repeat of 1972 and the election of the Republican candidate, Jim Martin.

If the Democratic gubernatorial candidates do not want to destroy their chances in November, they would do well to remember the wisdom of Leroy Magness: “…when you've got one side of a party against another, and get them angry, that's what gets them beat.”

D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. Check his blog and view prior programs at

This week’s (January 20 ) guest is James Dodson, an award winning writer about golf and the author of “Beautiful Madness,” a book about his passion for gardening.

During an amazing year of living botanically, author James Dodson went behind the scenes of the world's two most important garden shows (the Philadelphia Flower Show and the Chelsea Garden Show in England); spent time with the Botticelli of Bulbs; attended a rare-plant auction with high rollers; sneaked into a Hosta convention; communed with the kindred spirits of Thomas Jefferson and John Bartram; met a man smuggling exotic daylilies; learned the inside poop on ten or twelve of the Western world's most influential gardens; swiped cuttings from a Founding Father's shrubbery; hung out with ten or twelve of the most accomplished gardening fanatics on earth; built three new gardens of his own; and wound up hanging perilously from a limb on the side of a cliff in Southern Africa, the birthplace of an estimated one-third of the world's flowers, and capped off a year of incalculable learning and discovery by tagging along with four of America's leading plant hunters on an expedition into the rugged jungles to find the exotic new species of tomorrow.

In this episode of North Carolina Bookwatch, Dodson shares Beautiful Madness — his true tale of shared horticultural obsession and burrows deeply into the story of how Americans became such fanatical gardeners and are today, in fact, at the forefront of what everyone agrees is a new Gold Age of Gardening, an unprecedented growth in gardening's popularity that has—according to a recent Gallop poll - an astonishing 80 percent of adult Americans claiming to be primary hobby gardeners.

Upcoming NC Bookwatch programs on UNC-TV at 5pm, Sundays:

Sunday, January 20, at 5 PM
James Dodson
Beautiful Madness

Sunday, January 27, at 5 PM
Dan Heath
Made to Stick

Sunday, February 3, at 5 PM
Margaret Maron
Hard Row

Sunday, February 10, at 5 PM
James Peacock
Grounded Globalism:
How the U.S. South Embraces the World

Sunday, February 17, at 5 PM
Tim Madigan
I’m Proud of You:
My Friendship With Fred Rogers

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The lesson of 1972: Only the old Democrats remember
In 1972 Republican gubernatorial nominee Jim Holshouser beat the Democratic nominee, Skipper Bowles.

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