North Carolina today is a far different place from when Mr. Helms rose to become one of the most controversial Southern hawks in American history. Today, Dole will have to assemble a coalition that appeals to tobacco farmers losing their allotments and manufacturers reeling from big job losses - as well as a million newcomers to the state.
Well-bred, Ivy League-educated, and a glass-ceiling-breaker extraordinaire, Dole will have to walk the fine line between the modern sensibilities of the cities and the languidity and churchliness of the rural regions. It's a coalition that Helms himself could barely hold together.
From county fairs to tobacco auctions, her reputation has preceded her: She's mobbed by autograph seekers and well-wishers, most of whom easily melt under her smile and drawl. Her polling numbers are so strong that several Republican candidates have already bowed out.
"She's a polished lady, educated. She says what she means, and she has the experience for the job," says Herbert Eddins, sitting by a personalized portrait of the Doles at the Rolesville Flea Market just north of Raleigh.
Yet a national reputation also brings national baggage. Just days after Sept. 11, when she announced she was suspending all campaign activities, Dole attended a fundraiser in Houston hosted by Enron chairman Kenneth Lay. The Democrats, eager to replace Helms with one of their own, have pounced on that.
But more important may be how her relatively moderate national persona plays with Bible-thumping conservatives - who may not just question the firmness of her antiabortion stance, but even whether a "lady" should hold such a powerful position.
While Dole's image as a Southern doyenne appeals to many in a state where cotillion parties still fill up local Holiday Inns, some traditionalists wonder if she has the gravitas for the job at a time when national-security issues are paramount.