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The Daily Tar Heel

`Senator No' Declines to Seek 6th Term

Farewell Speech Shows Softer Side

Helms, a five-term senator who will turn 80 in October, delivered a rare televised speech on WRAL-TV -- the same station he worked at as a political commentator -- a job he used to help jump start his political career almost 30 years ago.

Helms increasingly has suffered from medical problems in the past few years, including prostate cancer. He has had to rely on a motorized scooter to make his way through the Capitol Building.

"`There is one inescapable reality that no man can ignore, and that is that time takes a terrific toll, which is of an increasing nature with those who live many years,'" Helms said, quoting from the farewell speech of now-deceased Sen. Sam Ervin Jr., D-N.C.

Ervin announced in December 1973 -- less than a year after Helms entered the Senate -- that his age would stop him from seeking another term. Ervin, who served 20 years in the Senate, was 69 when he announced his decision.

"I would be 88 if I ran again in 2002 and was elected and lived to finish a sixth term," Helms said, continuing to model his speech on Ervin's address. "And this my family and I have decided unanimously that I should not do. And, ladies and gentlemen, I shall not."

Helms' announcement silenced months of speculation by both Democrats and Republicans wondering if North Carolina's senior senator would choose to run for a sixth term.

His withdrawal from the 2002 race leaves the field open to possible Republican candidates such as Elizabeth Dole, wife of 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole; Lauch Faircloth, a former senator who lost to Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., in 1998 and Richard Vinroot, the 2000 Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Democrats eyeing the seat include Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, N.C. Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and Mark Erwin, a Charlotte businessman.

Helms is the longest-serving senator in N.C. history. He has spent 28 years in the nation's capitol, focusing on agriculture and foreign policy. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 until earlier this year when Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vermont, left the Republican Party, providing the Democrats with a majority.

As committee chairman, Helms became the first U.S. senator to address the United Nations Security Council, a body he often criticized in speeches as being anti-American and wasteful.

He successfully pushed for legislation that would cut back on the amount of money the United States paid in dues to the United Nations before the United States would pay even part of the more than $1 billion owed in back fees.

Helms took care to note that this address did not signify the end of his career. "I have just confirmed speculation that I will not seek re-election next year," he said. "But I am by no means announcing my retirement, because a great deal of work lies ahead of the United States Senate."

Helms also took the time to address the thousands of staffers who have worked in his office throughout his career, pointing out that they have gone on to careers as teachers, as judges and as advisers to President George W. Bush.

"One thing is for sure (I and my wife, Dot) will never forget you, and we shall always be grateful for all you have meant to us," Helms said, his voice cracking. "Thank you dear friends. God bless you. And, as Ron Reagan always used to say, `God bless America.'"

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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