Helms, who was first elected in 1972, was the longest serving Senator in North Carolina history. Raleigh’s WTVD writes–
In North Carolina Helms was a polarizing figure, and he freely admitted that many people in the state strongly disliked him: “They (the Democrats) could nominate Mortimer Snerd and he’d automatically get 45 percent of the vote.” Helms was particularly popular among older, conservative constituents and was considered one of the last “Old South” politicians to have served in the Senate. However, he also considered himself a voice of conservative youth, whom he hailed in the dedication of his autobiography. He is widely credited with helping to move North Carolina from a one-party state dominated by the Democratic Party into a competitive two-party state that usually votes Republican in presidential elections. Under Helms’ banner, many conservative Democrats in eastern North Carolina switched parties and began to vote increasingly Republican.
Because of recurring health problems, including bone disorders, prostate cancer and heart disease, Helms did not seek re-election in 2002. His Senate seat was won by Elizabeth Dole, wife of long-time colleague and former Senator Bob Dole. Helms remains to date the longest-serving popularly-elected U.S. senator in North Carolina history.
Many people outside of North Carolina also had strong opinions about the Senator. Helms was a patriot, and it may only seem appropriate he died on the day the US celebrates its independence. RIP.
Hat tip- James Joyner at OTB