Helms Injects a Racial Topic Into Campaign
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), struggling to turn back the bid of Democrat Harvey Gantt to become the South’s first post-Reconstruction black senator, Wednesday bluntly and directly injected the subject of race into the bitter Senate contest here in a television commercial attacking Gantt on the issue of racial job quotas.
At the same time, the North Carolina Republican Party began a so-called “ballot security” program that the state Democratic Party chairman charged was aimed at the “blatant intimidation” of voters.
Gantt immediately denounced the television attack as “divisive” and accused Helms of attempting “to divide people along the lines of race.” But sources in the Gantt campaign acknowledged that preliminary poll findings suggest that the Democratic former mayor of Charlotte has been damaged by the latest Helms television assault and by earlier commercials accusing him of being an advocate of “mandatory gay rights.”
The Helms job quotas commercial shows a white man’s hands crumpling what clearly is a job rejection letter. “You needed that job and you were the best qualified,” the announcer says. “But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?
“Harvey Gantt says it is,” the message continues. “Gantt supports Ted Kennedy’s racial quota law that makes the color of your skin more important than your qualifications.”
The commercial is only the bluntest weapon in a Helms arsenal that includes accusations not only that Gantt supports quotas--a charge he denies--but allegations that the challenger personally profited from a special racial preference program in the award of television licenses.
Helms’s charges that Gantt used an FCC racial preference program to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in quick profits is a direct assault on one of Gantt’s strongest appeals to voters, white and black: “I was raised to believe that nobody hands you anything in this world, you have to work for it,” declares Gantt, an architect by training, in one of his commercials. “His achievements have come the old-fashioned way, with hard work and determination,” an announcer adds.
The Helms barrage not only cut into Gantt’s support but also appeared to have shifted the campaign agenda from the issues of environment and education.