Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican known as “Senator No,” died today at the age of 86. Helms left the Senate in 2003 after serving five terms. The Heritage Foundation credits Helms with establishing “the conservative movement and became a powerful voice for free markets and free people.” During his political career, Helms “became a symbol of a particular brand of uncompromising, racially tinged social conservatism.” In his 1990 campaign for the Senate, Helms defeated the former African-American mayor of Charlotte, Harvey Gantt, with the help of this ad that preyed on people’s fears about affirmative action:
“It dealt with people’s worst fears,” Gantt later said of the ad. “In one sense, we thought the ad was political genius. In the other sense, we couldn’t believe that someone in 1990 would run an ad like that.”
UPDATE: Fox News phoned former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) for his reaction to Helms’ passing. “He had a philosophy, had principles he believed in, and he stood and fought for them,” Lott said, adding that he admired that Helms accomplished his work without being “mean-spirited and disrespectful.” Lott added:
Senator Helms did it by sometimes supporting things that surprised people. But if you looked at it, if you looked at his faith and principles he believed in, it made sense.
UPDATE II: Steve Benen highlights David Broder’s analysis of Helms’ legacy.