As this fall's presidential campaign gets into high gear, alumni of the early 1970s will recall the 1972 and 1976 Democratic primaries, when Terry Sanford tried to project himself from the Duke presidency to the presidency of the U.S. A former governor of North Carolina (1961 to 1965) and Democratic Party leader, Sanford would become one of the guiding forces behind the creation of "super delegates"—a group often in the news during the recent primary season. After retiring from Duke in 1985, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1986 to 1992.
Reactions on campus to Sanford's presidential run were mixed. Some felt his full attention should be on Duke, while others thought the national exposure helped the university. Just three years into his term as Duke president when he made his 1972
run, Sanford did not receive the support he expected from North Carolina Democrats and fell far short of his goal.
His 1976 attempt was well organized and had better local support, including a Citizens Committee formed in 1974 as Sanford investigated his prospects. In June of 1975, Sanford announced his candidacy and arranged to take a six-month leave from Duke in order to start his campaign the following January.
Unfortunately, Sanford's run ended almost before it could get started. While campaigning in New England shortly after Christmas, Sanford developed severe chest pains and had to be hospitalized. He was flown back to Duke Medical Center and treated for a heart murmur. On January 25, 1976, Sanford withdrew from the race and returned to Duke full time.
The university benefited from his return, adding more than twenty-five buildings and undertaking a successful fundraising campaign over the course of his tenure. In addition, Sanford increased the role of students in campus governance, adding student representatives to more than fifty committees, as well as to the board of trustees.