Even those observers who in the spring had termed the Helms-Hunt campaign "mud-wrestling" and a "back-alley brawl" were startled to see it sink to even greater depths by mid-summer. In early July a Chapel Hill weekly newspaper editor, an avid Helms supporter, published a detailed story based on an alleged rumor that Governor Hunt had had "a lover who was a pretty young boy" in college and "a girl friend in his office:" The front-page article was headlined "Jim Hunt is Sissy, Prissy, Girlish and Effeminate." The story appeared in a tabloid called the Landmark edited by Bob Windsor, a rotund, self-labeled "redneck" who wears bib-overalls. It specified that the student "lover" was "presently employed by the U.S. State Department" and the girl friend was "a former high-priced call girl used by the banks and big companies in Winston-Salem to entertain their guests."
Even though Windsor said he'd made "no efforts to check out [the facts]" and did not "claim they are truth or factual in any way," the story made the front page of Raleigh News and Observer on July 6 and other state newspapers the following day. Accompanying the first story was a statement from Hunt headquarters saying the governor had "instructed his special [campaign] counsel, former State Supreme Court Justice J. Phil Carlton, to determine appropriate legal action."
Within twenty-four hours the governor mailed Windsor a registered letter demanding a retraction. Hunt also asked Carlton to "determine the relationship between Senator Helms, his campaign and the Landmark." The same issue of the newspaper contained seven photographs of Helms, including one showing Helms with his arm around Windsor, captioned "Jesse Helms Is Mighty Good Hugging." It also included one and one-half pages of advertising by Helms's campaign committee, a center spread of photographs from the recent state GOP convention, and articles headlined "Republicans United" and "Frances Knox Endorses Helms."
Windsor's tabloid had been publishing a steady stream of anti-Hunt stories for months. But the gay issue had been brought into the campaign even earlier in fund-raising letters written by the Helms Campaign Committee. In August 1983 a five-page letter signed by Senator Helms was devoted almost exclusively to the theme that homosexuals "have drawn a bulls-eye on my campaign. . . . Make no mistake: The so-called gay-rights crowd has the cash to bankroll my opponent."