Classic Case - Helms-Hunt Senate Race (C): Phase II

Helms-Hunt Senate Race (C): Phase II


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  • Product Description

    The 1984 race between incumbent North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and Governor Jim Hunt was the country's most expensive and, arguably, meanest Senate race to date. In 1982, Jim Hunt was leading the polls with a 14 to 20 point margin. Two years and $25 million later, after an intense and vitriolic media war, Hunt lost by a four point margin. This case, divided into four parts, looks at the Senate race from the Hunt campaign's perspective. The case revolves around strategy decisions, particularly media--strategy; it is designed to be taught over three or four classes, with a heavier reading load for the first two. The first part, the "preview," orients the class to the electorate of North Carolina, current events in the state, and the history of both Helms and Hunt. The "preview" introduces issues which will arise during the campaign. After reading the "preview," students should be able to propose a campaign strategy for either Helms or Hunt. They will also have a background for understanding the electorate's reactions as the race progressed. "Phase I" tracks the Hunt campaign, from its development in 1982 through May of 1984. It shows Helms' early and damaging ad campaigns against Hunt, which linked him to high taxes, blacks, homosexuals, unions, and liberal Democrats. While Hunt maintained a positive, "high road" campaign, Helms labeled him a political opportunist without strong convictions. By May 1984, Hunt fell behind Helms in the polls. Hunt responded by airing tougher ads, and the section ends with his campaign managers. They are debating whether to air a risky commercial, which features the dead bodies of Salvadoran citizens, and links Helms to the right--wing death squads who perpetrated the violence. Discussion topics to consider: how to handle Helms' racial appeals, and Helms' damaging "Where do you stand, Jim?" campaign theme; whether Hunt should switch strategies and launch a negative campaign against Helms. "Phase II" traces Hunt's decline throughout the summer of 1984, and focuses on a set of individual strategy decisions in four "case--lets": (1) How should Hunt handle the televised debates? (2) What should Hunt do when long--time friend and colleague Eddie Knox, an unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, publicly blames Hunt for his loss, and Knox's wife and brother--in--law endorse Helms? (3) What should Hunt do when a scurrilous, right--wing newspaper alleges that the governor is a homosexual and a skirt-chaser? And finally, (4) after the Democratic Convention, Hunt, like all the Democratic candidates in the state, plummets in the polls. By mid--September, he is eight points below Helms. The Hunt campaign's desperate last round of strategizing centers on a final media effort, including an emotional debate over the issue of abortion. "Phase III" accounts for the final weeks of the election, followed by a postmortem: the results, post--election analyses by the press, and Monday--morning quarterbacking by the major players. This section could be handed out as a sequel, or used to assess the current "conventional wisdom" of Hunt's campaign strategy. The video exhibit is a compilation of key television advertisements for both candidates. The ads clearly reflect both the financial and emotional investment of Hunt and Helms.

    Learning Objective:
    The case series can be used to illustrate many basic tenets of campaign strategy, and provide students repeat opportunities to think tactically in a highly charged political environment.

  • Other Details

    Publication Date: January 01, 1986
    HKS Case Number: 666.0
    Case Author: Pamela Varley
    Faculty Lead: Gary Orren
    Pages (incl. exhibits): 30
    Setting: United States
    Language: English
    _pages: 25+
    _geography: US & Canada
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