Case #1099.0

Jesse Helms v. Harvey Gantt: Race, Culture, and Campaign Strategy in the 1990 Senate Battle

Publication Date: January 01, 1992
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This case, drawn from the events of the closely-fought Jesse Helms/Harvey Gantt North Carolina campaign for the United States Senate, explores the dynamics of race as they affect electoral politics in America. The campaign was widely viewed as one in which race was a significant factor: Helms, a conservative Republican, was known for his opposition to race-conscious hiring policies; Gantt was bidding to become the state's first black elected to the Senate since Reconstruction. Based on candid reflection from both camps, the case highlights specific tactical decisions--which voters to target, which advertising firm to hire, what kind of television ads to produce--and raises the question of how such decisions were influenced and constrained by consciousness of race.

Learning Objective:
The case raises a series of broad questions: what is acceptable discourse on race in US public life? Did either candidate in this campaign cross a line such that their campaign tactics raised moral issues because of their references to race? If such a line exists, does it constrain black and white candidates equally? Hitchner Case Prize Winner, 1991.

Other Details

Case Author:
Pamela Varley
Faculty Lead:
Gary Orren
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States