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Jim Gardner almost changed political history twice – 20 years ago and 40 years ago.
 
In 1972, he was the fair-haired boy of the North Carolina Republican Party. Six years earlier, he had unexpectedly defeated a long-time Democratic congressman from the East, Harold Cooley. How big an upset was it? Cooley was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, for Pete’s sake. Eastern North Carolina hadn’t elected a Republican congressman since Reconstruction. And Gardner was barely 30 years old.
 
Gardner had been one of the early founders of Hardee’s out of Rocky Mount. He was handsome and a hell of a speaker. He caught the early Republican wave in 1966 and rode it to Washington. Gardner was a fire-and-brimstone conservative. He knew all the racial code words, like “law and order,” “forced busing” and welfare.
 
He was Jesse Helms before Jesse Helms.
 
But one term in Congress was enough for Gardner. In 1968, he ran for Governor and nearly beat Bob Scott. He immediately started running for 1972.
 
Then he ran into a quiet, more traditional Republican from the mountains, state Rep. Jim Holshouser. Holshouser edged Gardner in the Republican primary. So it was Holshouser, not Gardner, who rode the Nixon landslide into the Governor’s office in 1972 – the same year Helms was elected to the Senate.
 
Gardner went back to the business world, full of high-flying plans. But they crashed in the Nixon recession and gas shortages of the 1970s. He fell into a string of bankruptcies, bad debts and business failures that would plague him later.
 
He stayed out of politics until 1988, when Republicans recruited him to run for Lieutenant Governor. Governor Jim Martin was sweeping to reelection that year, and once again Gardner was at the right place and the right time. He destroyed Tony Rand, his Democratic opponent, in a debate. And he began planning another run for governor in 1992.
 
Then he ran into Jim Hunt.  Hunt was coming back into politics in large part because Democrats feared Gardner. They fought a bruising campaign. We (I was working with Hunt’s campaign) pounded Gardner with his business record. Hunt asked him in a debate: “If that’s how you run your business, I’d hate to see how you’d run the state.” Hunt won big.
 
Now Gardner is back. He was front and center when Governor McCrory named his transition team. Gardner’s old strategist, Jack Hawke, played the same role with McCrory. And now McCrory has picked Gardner to be ABC Chairman.
 
You wouldn’t think it’s possible to bankrupt the state’s liquor system. But Gardner has quite a track record.
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dap916
# dap916
Monday, February 11, 2013 5:26 PM
Posted 2/11/13...5:15pm

Gardner was a successful businessman. No one in business has total success, but Gardner weathered the storms and survived. I'm curious why you're so worried about a lowly chairmanship like ABC Chairman. Just fodder to trash a republican, I guess. Lovely. More...a chance to trash McCrory. It's the order of the day for you, Gary. You're watching McCrory and every other republican politician here in NC to find whatever you can to post negatives about them. I guess it's just what you do. I guess it will make you look even more "democrat" so that you can realize more paid gigs help democrats in their quest to win elections and sway public opinion here in our fair state. Okay...fine. I applaud that you actually work for a living and pay taxes.

But, when ya do it on your blog here, I'm here to call you out. Not sure just how many democrats read/peruse TAP. But, hopefully they see Dap's posts and at least consider what I say about your Front Page posts here. We've got a lot of republicans/conservatives here in NC. We don't have a huge "immigrant" population that votes here and we have a great many conservative African American residents here. If that wasn't true, Jesse would have had a much tougher time in his many, many terms as U.S. Senator.

I admired Hunt and do so today. You did good, Gary, with directing his campaigns with whatever involvement you had in that. We don't have any "Hunts" in the democratic party today in NC, sadly.

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