Former Gov. Hunt Won’t Enter 1986 Senate Race
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said Thursday he will not run in 1986 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Sen. John East, a blow to Democrats who see the state as crucial to their hopes of regaining control of the Senate.
Hunt, who lost a bitter election fight to Republican Sen. Jesse Helms last year, said he wanted to spend more time with his family and wasn’t ready to return to politics.
″When I think back about all the missed suppers, canceled family trips and late-night calls in the 12 years as lieutenant governor and governor, the year ahead becomes that more precious,″ said Hunt in a letter sent to several hundred supporters. ″I really believe that it is time I put my family first.″
East’s seat is one of 34 that are up for re-election in 1986, 22 of them now held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats. The GOP controls the Senate currently by a 53-47 margin.
East, a Helms protege, upset former Democratic Sen. Robert Morgan in a 1980 campaign engineered by the National Congressional Club, which also ran Helms’ campaign last year.
East’s poor health has given rise to speculation about his political future. He was hospitalized for treatment of a thyroid disorder in May. He did not return to Washington this week when the Senate reconvened, and says he has made no decision about seeking re-election.
In Washington, David Johnson, executive director of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, said Hunt ″would have been a strong challenger in the North Carolina Senate race. We regret that he has chosen not to make the race and we wish him well in private life.″
Johnson added that ″by everyone’s measure, Democrats and Republicans alike, John East is one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for re-election. There remains an impressive array of Democratic talent in the state. We are confident a strong challenger will emerge.″
Hunt’s decision, eagerly awaited almost from the moment he lost his 1984 bid to unseat Helms, sent other potential Democratic candidates scurrying to gauge their support and begin organizing.
Former Gov. Terry Sanford issued a statement saying he would announce his candidacy Oct. 1. Other potential contenders for the Democratic nomination include University of North Carolina President William Friday, Rep. Charles Rose, D-N.C., former state Commerce Secretary D.M. ″Lauch″ Faircloth, and state Sen. Marshall Rauch, D-Gaston County.
Hunt, who has been the state’s most dominant Democrat for the past 12 years and was the only North Carolina governor this century to serve successive terms, said he believed he could have won the 1986 election.
″But it would be close, and it would be a hard-fought campaign,″ said Hunt, ″and because of the big money that would be spent on the other side, I would have to begin it right away ....″
Hunt said his decision might deprive him of another opportunity to run for the Senate, ″but, whatever happens, I am convinced that this is the best decision for my family, my friends and myself.″
Since his defeat in last year’s race, the costliest Senate campaign in history at $25 million, Hunt has established what friends describe as a lucrative Raleigh law practice. He also has launched two business ventures and is working with the Carnegie Foundation on an education project.
Gary Pearce, co-director of Hunt’s 1984 campaign and a longtime associate, said he ″is enjoying himself immensely″ in private life.
Pearce said a poll commissioned by Hunt indicated he had more support than East or several other potential GOP candidates. But Pearce said Hunt’s assessment of his prospects for winning was not the crucial factor in his decision.
″It was more personal than political,″ he said.