Jesse Don't Like It
A new biography of the liberal-slaying North Carolina senator leaves him without a legacy
Early last year when his presidential bid was gearing up, one of Barack Obama's classmates from Harvard Law handed the New York Times a photo of the young superstar from a 1990 election-watching party. Obama is wearing jeans and a blue shirt opened down to the last button, as if he's en route to a phone booth and a battle with Lex Luthor. The buttons are undone so that Obama can reveal a T-shirt: "Harvey Gantt for U.S. Senate."
Why Harvey Gantt, the former mayor of Charlotte who was running for a Senate seat in North Carolina? Why not, say, John Kerry, who was winning his second term that night in Massachusetts? It wasn't just that Harvey Gantt was black. It was that he was running against Jesse Helms.
That year Helms had attacked Gantt for benefiting from racial preferences, for supporting racial quotas, and for being close to Jesse Jackson. Gantt fought back with millions of dollars in campaign funds, raised on swings to California and New York from liberals much like Obama. The result was the same as every time Helms faced a challenge from the left. Helms won.