Political Advertising During the 1996 North Carolina Senate Race: The Helms and Gantt Rematch
Anne Johnston University of North Carolina
On November 5, 1996, Jesse Helms was reelected to his fifth term in the Senate. He had once again defeated Harvey Gantt, a Black architect and former mayor of Charlotte in an election that, like Helms' previous two, drew national media attention. In Senate campaigns involving Helms, it is the televised political ads that receive national scrutiny, mainly for their negativity, name-calling, and cost. In addition, several observers have credited Helms' political ads with turning voters to him in the last several weeks of the campaign and allowing him to defeat Jim Hunt in 1984 and Gantt in 1990.
Although political advertising has been criticized in North Carolina senatorial races as well as more broadly, it plays an important role in election campaigns. As early research by Kaid ( 1981) showed, it allows candidates the most control over how their messages about issue concerns and reasons for running will reach voters. This control is important in light of how voters may use political advertising. Southern voters in 1992 indicated that they used political ads to find out a candidate's positions on particular issues, to learn about the background and personal leadership qualities of the candidates, to help them decide which candidate to vote for, to remind them of the candidate's strong points, to judge the candidate's honesty and potential performance in office, and to follow what the candidates were saying about each other ( "Southern Poll," 1992). Given these uses, a candidate's ability to provide a particular vision of his or her candidacy and of the issues during an election is critical.