Local News

The Race Is On To Fill Helms' Senate Seat

Posted August 23, 2001 11:38 a.m. EDT

— Elizabeth Dole may be preparing to run for the Senate seat Jesse Helms will be vacating.

CNN reports Dole is switching her voter registration from Washington, DC to North Carolina.

Dole is considered the Republican frontrunner for the Senate seat if she chooses to run.

In interviews Wednesday, she said she would not talk about whether or not she would run, saying she wanted to focus on Helms instead.

For the 2002 election, only one


has filed so far and several


have expressed interest, but they all waited to see what Sen. Jesse Helms would do.

The Republicans:

"We already see that scramble going on. The national Republicans want Libby Dole and there are some Republicans who look in the mirror and say 'I think I ought to do it'" says Thad Beyle, UNC Political Science Professor.

Nationally, Republicans want Elizabeth Dole for her name recognition. However, the Salisbury native has not lived in the state in decades. Dole has served as the president of the American Red Cross and secretary of Labor and Transportation during the Reagan-Bush era.

Republican Richard Burr, a four-term congressman from Winston-Salem, says he is ready to run and has a campaign war chest to match. Burr serves the 5th District, which spans the northwest border of the state from Ashe to Caswell county and includes Winston-Salem. He was first elected in 1994.

Lauch Faircloth, a former U.S. Senator who unseated Sen. Terry Sanford in 1992, lost his seat to Democrat John Edwards in 1998. Faircloth, of Clinton, is wealthy and politically well-connected.

Richard Vinroot, of Charlotte, lost the governor's race to Mike Easley, but has the experience of running a statewide campaign. The former Charlotte mayor and city councilman also played basketball at UNC-Chapel Hill under coach Dean Smith.

"Of course we would rather that Senator Helms would run, but it looks like we would have any number of people what would be high visibility candidates if they want to run," says Bill Cobey, chairman of the

N.C. Republican Party


Cobey is also counting on White House help.

"This is a critical race that is of national importance, and I believe for one, President George W. Bush wants a Republican Senate and he is going to do everything he can to try to make that happen," he says.

The Democrats:

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who beat racing legend Richard Petty to become the first female to hold that office, wants very much to become the first female U.S. Senator from the Tar Heel state. Marshall is currently serving her second term and is also a former state senator. She is currently the only Democrat to file for a U.S. Senate run.

State Representative Dan Blue, of Raleigh, is contemplating a run. He has not filed, but says he will not knock down speculation, either. In his 11 terms, Blue has served as house speaker, minority leader and president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State Senator Eric Reeves, of Raleigh, recently took himself out of the running.

Barbara Allen, chairwoman of the

N.C. Democratic Party

, expects more interest to come with Helms' announcement.

"I don't think we have heard of all of the people who might be interested in running at this point in time," she says.

Beyle says for the first time in 30 years, the Democrats have a shot at both Senate seats.

"I think it is very critical, and it's also critical nationally." He says "The U.S. Senate is 50 to 49 Democrat with one Independent. This would be one more Republican seat that would be open and up for grabs."


North Carolina Center for Voter Education

estimates the race to fill Sen. Helms' seat will amount to at least $40 million in campaign dollars. That is money that will be spent in North Carolina.