North Carolina's Jesse Helms to be put to rest

Jesse Helms' family prepared Tuesday to lay the five-term U.S. senator to rest, gathering with a group of mourners that was expected to include national figures and home-state admirers.

Helms, 86, died July 4 after years of declining health. The funeral will be held at Hayes-Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh, where Helms worshipped for decades and was a deacon.

Several hundred people paid respects to Helms at a closed-casket visitation at the church Monday. Attendance was steady during the day and picked up in the early evening when Helms' family greeted visitors at the front of the sanctuary.

"If you were going to look at three things that are important from the family perspective, it would be his family, his faith and his flag. That was the cornerstone of who Uncle Jesse was," said nephew Paul Coble, a Wake County commissioner and former Raleigh mayor.

Vice President Dick Cheney planned to attend the funeral, according to Cheney spokeswoman Megan Mitchell. A delegation of U.S. senators also planned to attend, along with state political figures and average admirers of the conservative Republican icon, who inspired both love and disdain for his strong views.

Among the senators expected to attend was Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who took Helms' seat when he chose not to seek re-election in 2002. All Senate votes Tuesday were postponed for a day because of the funeral.

The coffin of Helms, who served in the Senate from 1973 to 2003, was covered with a U.S. flag and flanked by two state Highway Patrol troopers. The front of the sanctuary was decorated with flowers sent by U.S. senators and a painting of Helms at work. Dole and her husband, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, also sent flowers.

Helms won his first election in 1972 after a career in newspapers, radio and television commentaries and rose to become a powerful committee chairman.

He never lost a political race, but his margin of victory was never large, reflecting his image as a polarizing figure both at home and in Washington. In the Senate, he forced roll-call votes that required Democrats to take politically difficult votes on cultural issues, such as federal funding for art he deemed pornographic, school busing and flag-burning.

He also ran racially tinged campaigns in his last two runs for Senate, defeating former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who is black, in 1990 and 1996.