For an epic election loser, George McGovern had a big impact on North Carolina politics. Like Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt.
If not for McGovern’s landslide loss to Richard Nixon in 1972, North Carolina never would have had a Senator Helms. The Nixon tide swept Helms into Washington. It also brought a Republican, Jim Holshouser, into the Governor’s office, but that worked out OK.
That same year, Jim Hunt was the highest-ranking Democrat to survive the tide. He was elected Lieutenant Governor while Skipper Bowles (Governor) and Nick Galifianakis (Senate) were losing.
Hunt was never a McGovern fan. “McGovern was way too liberal for me,” he told me when I was researching his biography. “I didn’t like his crowd. I thought they were hurting the party.”
Ironically, McGovern paved Hunt’s way into politics. After the disastrously riot-torn and boss-run 1968 Democratic convention, McGovern chaired a commission to reform the presidential nominating system. It required the state parties to reform their delegate-selection processes.
Then-Gov. Bob Scott appointed Hunt to chair the state party’s commission. Hunt held hearings around the state, and the commission opened the party up to more involvement by women, young people and minorities. Hunt also made a lot of friends. He expanded the organization that carried him into office in 1972. The rest is history.
Later, Hunt got a chance to reform McGovern’s reforms. After 1980, the party realized that the pendulum had swung too far. Hunt was appointed to chair a national party commission to revise the McGovern commission’s work. It restored some voice for party leaders and elected officials.
By the way, that was crucial to Barack Obama’s nomination in 2008.
It just goes to show that the political football takes funny bounces – and has unpredictable consequences.