As the Republican Party prepares to lose two conservative icons
from neighboring Southern states - Sens. Jesse Helms of North
Carolina and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina - the races to
replace them could not be more different.
In South Carolina, Rep. Lindsey Graham, a conservative and
logical successor to Senator Thurmond, is on track for what looks
to be a fairly easy victory.
In North Carolina, the picture is far less clear - and far more
crowded. A number of Republicans from various political backgrounds,
including former cabinet secretary Elizabeth Dole, have expressed
interest in the race, which could make for a bitter primary battle.
Potential Democratic opponents could just as easily capture the
Taken together, the two races reflect the somewhat uncertain hold
of conservatism in the South. Both states still tilt to the right,
voting for George W. Bush and for conservative congressional
candidates like Congressman Graham, who played a prominent role in
the impeachment proceedings against former President Clinton.
Yet, the homes of Thurmond and Senator Helms are not exactly
conservative strongholds. Both states have Democratic governors,
Democratic junior senators, and increasingly moderate electorates.
Although many of the high-tech, professional workers that have
migrated to North Carolina are Republicans, for example, they are
far more moderate than longtime residents, who represent Helms's
Moreover, the sizeable black population in both states makes it
difficult for far-right candidates to draw the kind of broad support
needed to win statewide office. Without the black vote, a candidate
in North Carolina needs more than three-fifths of the white vote to
win - a virtual landslide. A strong conservative, like Graham in
South Carolina, could achieve this. But in general, more moderate
candidates, like Mrs. Dole or even Democrats, may have the
"In the case of South Carolina, I think you'll probably see a
pretty smooth transition - a new-generation, younger conservative
emerging to take the place of Senator Thurmond," says Merle Black,
a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. "But in North
Carolina, it's not clear at all what the outcome will be. This is a
seat that could well go to the Democrats."
The styles of Helms and Thurmond themselves may partly account
for the difference between the North and South Carolina races.
Helms refused to moderate his conservative views and had famously
difficult battles, at times barely winning reelection. Indeed, he
had such a polarizing effect on voters that he drove some moderate
Republicans into the arms of his opponents.
In contrast, Thurmond softened his positions over the years, even
voting for the 1982 Voting Rights Act, and won landslide victories -
leaving a broad constituency for his successor to tap. …