Helms and Hunt: The North Carolina Senate Race, 1984

By William D. Snider | Go to book overview

6. The Lone Ranger

Vermont Royster, the retired Wall Street Journal editor, found Jesse Helms, after six years in the Senate, a "phenomenon in search of an explanation." Helms, he wrote, had first appeared in Washington in 1973 as a "sort of oddity . . . a congenital naysayer standing somewhere to the right of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan." After a while, though, and especially after Helms rolled over his opposition again in 1978, Royster admitted that "he must be taken seriously" as a national political figure.

Helms's senatorial colleagues had reached the same conclusion soon after the tall, stoop-shouldered figure with the graciously disarming Old South manner had appeared in their midst. Helms first came to the fore as a skilled parliamentarian. He was befriended by the late Senator James Allen (D-Ala.), a visceral conservative and a master of parliamentary procedure. Allen had more than once so confused his senatorial opponents with the intricacies of his maneuvers that they found themselves voting for legislation they condemned or against new laws they favored. Helms proved an adept student. In October 1973 he won the Golden Rule Award as the first GOP senator to preside over the Senate chamber for more than one hundred hours. He was present for 96 percent of the Senate votes in 1973, and he nearly succeeded during his freshman year in getting a bill approved abolishing forced busing to achieve school integration. Helms modestly explained that he was "just a country boy trying to live up to what I promised I would do."

What that was, Helms's colleagues soon learned, was to keep things constantly stirred up. The new North Carolina senator spoke in dulcet tones when seeking favors or greeting friends. One of his favorite expressions, especially among women and children, was "Bless yo' heart." But Helms could strike furiously in rhetorical combat. He was a master of the sharp retort. His shrewd way of sensing the vulnerabilities of an opponent, and with a phrase or an offhand comment wounding him to the quick, aroused anger among many and in the liberal camp, blind fury.

Helms was also full of endless energy. He seemed to savor standing alone at the storm center of hopelessly unpopular causes. He provoked his own GOP associates by forcing them to vote on delicate political issues that most of them would have preferred avoiding.

From the outset Helms planned strategies for enacting his key social programs. They included an anti-abortion amendment, removal of the federal

-39-

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Helms and Hunt: The North Carolina Senate Race, 1984
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Prologue 3
  • Mr. Clean and the Fire Chief's Son 5
  • I. Patriarch and Upstart 7
  • 2. Salt of the Earth People 10
  • 2. Salt of the Earth People 18
  • 2. Salt of the Earth People 25
  • 5. Too Proud to Be Proud 31
  • Naysayer and Pragmatist 37
  • 6. the Lone Ranger 39
  • 7. a Touch of Camelot and Carter 43
  • 7. a Touch of Camelot and Carter 49
  • 10. a New Direction 58
  • Master Campaigner and Avenging Angel 63
  • Ii. Political Tarnish 65
  • 12. Catching Hand Grenades 70
  • 13. Against the Wind 78
  • 114. Helms at Bay 82
  • 114. Helms at Bay 91
  • 114. Helms at Bay 95
  • 17. That Old-Time Religion 104
  • Epochal Battle or Mud Fight? 111
  • 18. "I'Ll Carry It" 113
  • 19. "Helms Can't Win" 117
  • 20. the D'Aubuisson Connection 122
  • 21. the School of Hard Knox 128
  • 22. the Windsor Story 136
  • 23. When Helms Wasn't Helms 139
  • 24. Time Out for Party Time 146
  • 25. the Big Guns of August 150
  • The Helmsmen Ride High 157
  • 26. a Severe Identity Crisis 159
  • 27. the Reagan Tide 167
  • 28. "Macabre Wild Card" 179
  • 30. Search and Destroy 186
  • 31. a Dead Heat? 194
  • 31. a Dead Heat? 201
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