He inspired great loyalty from his key people all over the state. They would absolutely follow Bert into the flames. He has that kind of personal loyalty."
By the early seventies Jim Hunt had, with the help of Bennett, set his cap for the lieutenant governorship. Governor Bob Scott had used that office as a staging area for the Governor's Mansion. In the same year Jesse Helms announced for the Senate, Jim Hunt announced for lieutenant governor.
On the verge of his resignation from the presidency in the summer of 1974, Richard Nixon, by then besieged and lonely, called four members of Congress to seek consolation. One was the freshman senator from North Carolina, Jesse Helms. Helms said later that the President had called in response to a note Helms wrote him earlier. "My wife and I had been to church and the sermon was about loneliness," he said. "I got to thinking that this guy's got to be lonely, so I just dropped him a note."
Helms supported Nixon almost to the end of Watergate. But then he gagged on the White House tapes, especially Nixon's vulgar language. As a young aide to Senator Willis Smith in the early fifties, Helms had gotten to know Senator Nixon, but he had never noticed such outbursts then. "Why I'd never heard him say 'damn'. . . . I was repulsed by the language [in the tapes]. Perhaps he was just trying to match Kennedy and Johnson in the use of profanity."
From that moment Senator Helms gradually abandoned the Nixon ship. But he had never supported the President completely. He vigorously opposed Henry Kissinger's appointment as secretary of state and his friendship with Nelson Rockefeller. ( Helms was later to say of Rockefeller, "He's a wife stealer.")
A foreign policy that favored negotiating with the Kremlin made Helms nervous. "My loyalty is to the principles of conservatism," he told a group of young conservatives in 1973, "not to any particular regime. . . . It pains me to say this, but the current administration [ Nixon's] cannot escape a large measure of blame for the current easy acceptance of Leviathan-like government expansion. This expansion has, if anything, become even faster under the current administration."