Bill Friday surprised me in our UNC-TV interview when he asked me about the most remarkable characters I’ve met in politics.
So I’ve given it more thought. I’ve come down to two people I met during Governor Hunt’s 1984 campaign against Jesse Helms.
At different times that year, our campaign was advised by two of the oddest characters in the history of American politics: James Carville and Dick Morris.
Carville, who was working on a Senate race in Texas, was unknown then. Will Marshall, our press secretary, had worked with him in a Senate race in Virginia the year before. Carville flew in to Raleigh a couple of times during the spring and met with us.
Spending time with Carville is like being thrown into a Mixmaster. He’s just as jerky, hyperactive, imaginative and funny as he is on TV. Except you can’t turn him off. You’re exhausted after a couple of hours.
In 1984, Morris was still – officially – a Democrat. He was brought in by the late David Sawyer, our media consultant, in October. We were desperate. Sawyer thought Morris might have some ideas. He had a good one: Attack Helms on abortion. Tell voters, especially women, that Helms opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest. And would even outlaw birth control.
It was too radical for our campaign. Later, I found out from Carter that Morris was right. It was the one magic bullet that might have turned the campaign around. The Helms campaign always wondered why we backed off.
Everybody in our campaign loved Carville. Morris, not so much. After he left, one campaign aide said she felt like she needed a shower.