When Jim Hunt announced for his second gubernatorial term at the Vance- Aycock Dinner in Asheville on October 7, 1979, the subject of his Republican opponent, Beverly Lake, Jr., came up at a press conference. Former state senator Lake had that week switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. He had also shaved his moustache. Lake, Hunt said, was trying to avoid looking like Thomas E. Dewey, the New York governor defeated by Harry Truman in 1948. "He may not look like Thomas Dewey," Hunt said, "but when we get through with him next year, we're going to make him feel like Thomas Dewey."
Hunt made good on that promise. Lake, a Raleigh lawyer, emerged as an unimpressive campaigner, even with the help of Helms's Congressional Club. Hunt linked Lake with his father's segregationist racial views. Prior to the November election, on Hunt's initiative, the two staged a televised debate at Meredith College, where Hunt's high-level, positive discussion of campaign issues left Lake far behind.
In the debate Lake first tried to use graphics, unveiling a placard entitled "Hunt's Political Machine," which tied the governor to state AFL-CIO leader Wilbur Hobby. When the debate moderator ruled that out, Lake launched a slashing but poorly organized attack. Hunt concentrated on the achievements of his first term, ignoring Lake's charges. " Lake managed to say little about what his administration would do," observed the Greensboro Record. "He came across as incompetent and stupid."
Earlier, in the May Democratic primary, Hunt had taken on former governor Bob Scott and easily trounced him. Hunt and Scott had also staged a television debate in February. Scott attacked Hunt for increasing his office staff by 130 percent. The governor's overpowering political style, he charged, had sent a "wave of fear across Raleigh with state employees afraid to speak out about problems." But the Scott rhetoric seemed overwrought. Hunt calmly outlined the accomplishments of his first term and plans for his second and ignored Scott's criticisms.
Hunt's administration weathered several embarrassments that year, however, all outgrowths of the high-powered political tone of his regime. In the first, a Hunt appointee, Mather Slaughter, foolishly initiated a project evaluating the political loyalties of sheriffs whom he knew in connection with his alcoholic beverage control work. Both Governor Scott and the Republicans seized on this issue when somebody leaked Slaughter's memos