That was good news. Analysts were predicting a runoff turnout of no more than 15%, which wouldn't have boded very well for Harvey's chances in the fall. But still, here's how the votes fell:
479,774 total runoff vote
In my opinion, these figures aren't that low. In 1986, Democratic Senate candidate Terry Sanford won the Democratic nomination with 409,000 votes. He was a former N.C. governor, and because of that, very well known across the state. In the '86 general election, which Sanford won, 1,590,000 votes were cast...that means he attracted upwards of at least 800,000 votes.
Now, when Helms last ran for re-election, in '84, against outgoing Democratic governor Jim Hunt, the general election drew a total of 2,239,051 votes. They stacked up like this: 1,162,685 Helms - 1,076,425 Hunt. If that means Gantt has to get at least 1.3 million votes to knock off Helms, I think it can be done.
Barack Obama, first black president of the Harvard Law Review and a Harvey Gantt fan, on the night of the 1990 mid-term election returns.
But there are storm clouds. Initially, in the May 8 primary, a total of 693,054 non-Helms votes were cast.
May 8, 1990 Democratic/Republican primary
(1) Non-Helms Vote for white candidates
203,576 Easley (D)
116,399 Ingram (D)
80,262 Thomas (D)
13,764 Wimbish (Republican, Helms challenger)
(2) Non-Helms Vote for black candidates
256,107 Gantt (D)
7,907 Hannon (D)
15,039 Nixon (Republican, Helms challenger)
693,054 total non-Helms vote
Because North Carolina is historically such a Democratic state, registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans by at least 3-1. The Republican votes that Helms got in the primary weren't miniscule, but paled in omparison to what the Democrats polled.
Helms vote (May 8)
11,096 Garner (Democrat, right-wing fundamentalist)
164,877 total Helms vote
Not all Republicans who will vote for Helms in the fall voted in the primary, since he was virtually assured nomination, but the real reason for this total being so low is that a lot of Helms' support comes from conservative voters who are also registered Democrats, also known as "Jessecrats". Which is no big deal. I'm assuming that Helms is assured about the number of votes he picked up in '84. The thing that worries me, though, is that a lot of non-Helms voters in the first primary didn't return to the polls on June 8 for the runoff - about 213,280.
There could be a number of explanations for this, but what most likely happened was that Mike Easley lost some of his initial (white) liberal support in urban areas, votes that went to Gantt. Gantt also probably picked up votes from a slightly higher black voter turnout the second time around, which is good news, because it proves that in all likelihood, a lot of black voters are going to get out there and vote for Harvey again in November. And that's fantastic...22% of North Carolina's total population is black. The problem is that as recently as 1980, only 49% of black Tar Heels were registered to vote, the lowest percentage of any state in the South.
At the same time, Easley probably picked up a roughly corresponding amount of support from white Democrats who had previously voted for Ingram or Thomas, which explains why his popular vote total was about the same (200,000) during the two contests as opposed to percentage-wise (30% of the vote May 8, 43% on June 5). But, then a lot of other former Thomas or Ingram supporters didn't bother to return to the polls, which makes me wonder how enthused they're going to be over voting for a very liberal candidate like Gantt (whose skin color is black) against Helms.
None of this business about Harvey's chances for the fall has concerned me. The newspapers down here are all very supportive of Gantt, even the smaller, rural ones, and I'm a little surprised. Definitely a good sign. It really looks as if a hell of a lot of people just don't like ol' Jesse any more!