In his reelection campaign during the spring of 1980 Hunt had no trouble trouncing former governor Bob Scott in the Democratic primary. In November he defeated his Democrat-turned-Republican adversary, State Senator I. Beverly Lake, Jr., by a substantial margin. Like his popular predecessor Governor O. Max Gardner in 1928, Hunt was voted in while others of his party, including the state's junior senator, Robert Morgan, fell under a Republican onslaught, this one spearheaded by Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms.
A key victory in Jesse Helms's rise to national prominence occurred on November 7, 1978, when he successfully defended his seat against John Ingram, the Democratic state insurance commissioner. Ingram, a folksy populist, had whipped the Democratic establishment in much the same manner as Congressman Nick Galifianakis beat Senator Everett Jordan in 1972. In the spring primary Ingram defeated Luther Hodges, Jr., the banker son of the former governor, who had the support of mainline Democrats.
Ingram did it mainly by posing as a David against the Goliaths of wealth and privilege. He had won the insurance commissioner's seat by criticizing the business establishment, especially the insurance and utility companies. Hodges lacked political experience. He also had no knack for loosening up on the barbecue circuit. Ingram out-campaigned him at the crossroads.
But when autumn arrived, Ingram's attempt to characterize Helms as "The Six Million Dollar Man," referring to his fund-raising prowess, failed to score. Helms had set about encouraging an already widespread Democratic disillusionment with Ingram. Democrats generally viewed Ingram as a maverick. Only party loyalty kept many of them in line. This attitude of lukewarm support extended even to Governor Hunt's office.
Helms knew precisely how to lure dissident Democrats. In a state where Democratic voter registration outnumbers Republicans three to one, he needed those votes. His approach was to soft-pedal differences with every Democratic leader except the one he opposed. Helms even quieted his criticism of Jimmy Carter. He went out of his way to praise Governor Hunt. A week before the election he told reporters he believed Hunt would support