Black Democrat takes on veteran North Carolina Republican whose huge war chest and firm support could prove hard to beat
HARVEY GANTT, the Democratic nominee for US Senate in North Carolina, is telling voters it is time to reject the ``hot button'' issues of flamboyant, arch-conservative Jesse Helms, his GOP opponent in the November general election. Mr. Gantt says he sees Senator Helms's favorite topics, including homosexuality, revolutionary movements abroad, and flag burning, as ``bogeymen,'' diverting residents from the real economic issues affecting their lives.
Gantt, founder of a successful architectural firm and a former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., is up against one tough campaigner.
During his three terms on Capitol Hill, Helms has developed a reputation as the most outspoken arch-conservative in the Senate and as a dogged campaigner who spares nothing to win. Containing dire warnings of threats to ``the American way of life,'' his frequent letters to conservatives throughout the country have built a huge following and a solid financial base.
Six years ago, the man who narrowly lost to Helms, former Gov. James Hunt, didn't challenge the senator directly on many issues. ``Hunt moderated his positions, which allowed Jesse to attack him on flipflopping,'' says Robert Dorff, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. ``I don't think you'll have that problem with Gantt.''
Avoiding `irrelevant' issues
Gantt's camp is taking the opposite tack. ``Our strategy is to stay away from irrelevant issues Jesse's likely to focus on,'' says Gantt campaign manager Melvin Watt.
During his primary campaign, Gantt told an audience that Helms is trying to identify himself as a ``moral arbiter'' of arts and sex, referring to Helms's role in the controversy surrounding grants issued by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Gantt continued, ``Maybe we ought to be talking about the real immoral acts that we contribute to: people sleeping on the streets and mothers having babies that don't have a chance, or the immorality of not doing what we can to provide the best public education system.''