Helms formally announced his decision not to seek re-election, which he attributed to his age, on WRAL-TV last night. Now 79, Helms would be 88 if he won and completed another term.
In recent years Helms has had health problems, including a battle with prostate cancer and knee surgery. "I see him retiring because he's older, but I think he was a good senator," said DeShaun Richardson, a senior from Tarboro.
Joy Robinson, a first-year graduate student who watched Helms' announcement in the Student Union, said she was elated. "I feel it was very long overdue," she said. "I didn't think that his views represented the betterment of all citizens."
Helms has served in the U.S. Senate since 1972. He was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 until this year when Sen. Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party, turning the power to name committee chairs over to the Democrats. Over the years, Helms gained a reputation for being outspoken and conservative, traits some students think will shape his legacy. "He has a policy of holding firm in what he believes," said senior Rheta Burton, chairwoman of the UNC College Republicans. "You have a lot of Republicans who can be wishy-washy, but Sen. Helms has been the sole no voter on a lot of things, and I truly admire him for that."
Some say Helms is persistent, but his stances are not representative of the whole state. "I think he represented the Old South and values that used to dominate the South," said senior Michael Songer, a UNC Young Democrat. "His retirement symbolizes the transition from the Old South to a new progressive era."
Russell also said Helms' departure indicates the coming of a new era. "I think on the state level it kind of mirrors Jim Hunt leaving the governorship," he said. "It signals a shift to the new blood in politics."
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