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Jewish World Review August 24, 2001 / 5 Elul, 5761

John H. Fund

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Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms? -- "YOU got to know when to hold 'em, you got to know when to fold 'em," Kenny Rogers sings in "The Gambler." That certainly applies to the decision of 79-year-old Sen. Jesse Helms to retire after three decades battling liberals in the Senate. The legendary senator, who was instrumental in keeping Ronald Reagan's career alive in the 1976 GOP presidential primaries, has seen the country accept many of his conservative positions--albeit without some of his sharp edges.

Mr. Helms may be irreplaceable, but someone will have to fill his seat come 2003. Many Republicans are rallying behind Elizabeth Dole, a former head of the Red Cross and a cabinet officer in both the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Mrs. Dole, the wife of Bob Dole, has a smooth image, but is sufficiently pro-life and anti-gun control to satisfy most conservatives.

"Her numbers in North Carolina are virtually like Mother Teresa's," says Marc Rotterman, a conservative political consultant with ties to Mr. Helms's political organization. Early polls show she would easily win a general election against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall or former state House speaker Dan Blue. The only Democrat who could possibly give her a tough race would be former governor Jim Hunt, but he has come under fire since his retirement in January for leaving North Carolina in a budget crisis that is likely to result in a massive tax hike.

But the Dole boomlet doesn't please all Republicans. Lauch Faircloth, who served one term in the U.S. Senate in the 1990s, is reported to be "seething" that the White House is pushing Mrs. Dole to run. "The more they push Dole, the madder he gets," one GOP operative told the Washington Times.

Mr. Faircloth reportedly is willing to spend more than $10 million of his considerable fortune to return to the Senate. (He lost his seat in 1998 to Democrat John Edwards, now a leading candidate for his party's 2004 presidential nomination.) As a hard-shell conservative who was the bÍte noire of Hillary Clinton during the Senate's Whitewater hearings, he would pose a sharp and vivid contrast to Mrs. Dole's soothing, nonconfrontational approach. Other potential GOP candidates, such as Rep. Richard Burr and former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot, are moderate conservatives who would have difficulty picking a fight with a popular celebrity like Mrs. Dole.

Mr. Faircloth was one of my favorite senators when he was in office. A Democrat until he switched parties in 1991, he didn't follow the lead of some lifelong "good government" Republicans who misunderstood the nature of the Clinton administration and thought it could be placated or bargained with in good faith. His gruff manner in committee hearings often gave way to a Southern courtliness in floor debate or informal settings. As chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the District of Columbia, he forced the city to adopt needed reforms. But he also showed an ability to work with liberals in advancing breast-cancer legislation.

But Sen. Faircloth is the wrong conservative to succeed Jesse Helms. For one thing, he isn't much younger than Mr. Helms. If he ran and won, he would turn 75 only days after being sworn in. The age factor hurt him in 1998. While he was intellectually sharp, he ran two points behind Bob Dole's 1996 showing in the state because he looked and sounded old. "He represents the Old South in a state that is increasingly the New South," says Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. "He shouldn't have lost to John Edwards, who as a trial lawyer carried a lot of political baggage."

John Hood, the director of the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh-based think tank, says that Mr. Faircloth's biggest selling point beyond his consistent conservative message would be the wealth he might spend on the campaign. But Mr. Hood is doubtful that Mr. Faircloth would deliver $10 million to his campaign treasury. "I'm Scotch-Irish like Senator Faircloth," says Mr. Hood. "I can't see someone as tightfisted as he is spending that kind of money when he wouldn't do it in 1998 in the fight of his political life." Indeed, in 1998 Mr. Faircloth raised $7.7 million in contributions from individuals and political action committees. He supplemented that with only $1.7 million of his own money. Mr. Edwards wound up spending $8.3 million, nearly three-quarters of that from his own personal fortune.

Mr. Faircloth is said to be meeting with his advisers on Thursday to evaluate his chances in the Senate race. The unsolicited advice from many of his conservative allies is that he should let that cup pass from his lips. Mr. Helms's retirement signals a generational change in leadership for North Carolina. Mr. Faircloth has been a savvy, underestimated figure in North Carolina politics and business for decades, and that's why I think the canny pol should understand the wisdom of that Kenny Rogers admonition to know "when to fold 'em."

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04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
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03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund