barnyard gossip but its publisher initially took responsibility for it and bragged about it. Former senator Robert Morgan, defeated by Helms's colleague John East in 1980, thought full coverage might "serve a purpose to let people know what has been going on. . . . This kind of demagoguery is very successful until it gets out of hand. This recent article may have reversed the trend. It was so scurrilous, I think the people of this state may wake up."
Politicians of all stripes were astounded. "There's been a lot of things said and done, but nothing like that," said North Carolinas' eighty-four- year-old secretary of state Thad Eure whose political memory went back some sixty-five years. "I don't recall anything that scurrilous in North Carolina politics, ever," said former governor Terry Sanford. When asked to comment, State GOP Chairman David Flaherty declined, but then said: "I like [the Landmark] better than I do the News and Observer."
"I've been ready for 18 months;" Jesse Helms said of the first state-wide television debate with Jim Hunt on Sunday, July 29, 1984, in prime time. His only preparation, Helms told a reporter, was to get a haircut, as suggested by his wife. As it turned out, the senator had made more preparation than that, but he underestimated the forensic ability and tenacity of Hunt. Neither candidate stumbled badly, but Helms got not only a haircut but also a close shave.
Fifteen months earlier, when Helms launched his media blitz, his initial theme--"Where does Jim Hunt stand?"--had emphasized allegations that the governor was fuzzy on issues and constantly changed his position. Helms hammered on the idea that the two candidates needed face-to-face confrontations. Hunt, the senator declared, was afraid to debate because he was uninformed and inexperienced.
The Helms forces had raised the same theme time after time as they tried to portray Hunt as a youthful novice, not a mature leader capable of serving in the Senate. Helms's senior aide, Tom Ellis, liked to sound off on the subject. Hunt, he said, was a "pretty good governor if you want a nice guy and a ribbon-cutter," but what we needed was a real leader.
The governor had refused to accept the senator's challenge to debate