Elizabeth Dole Registers to Vote in N.C.

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Republican heavyweight Elizabeth Dole registered to vote in her native North Carolina on Friday, fueling speculation that she will vie for departing Sen. Jesse Helms' seat.

Dole said it was an honor to be mentioned as a potential candidate and that she is giving "serious consideration" to running for the seat.

The former labor secretary gave her residence as her mother's address in Salisbury, said Nancy Evans, director of the county board of elections.

"I've said many times this is my rock of Gibraltar, my home," Dole said after coming out of the elections office. "I love Salisbury."

On Thursday, Dole notified elections officials in Kansas that she intended to transfer her voter registration. Her letter was dated Aug. 22, the same day Helms announced he would not seek re-election in 2002.

If Dole does run, she will face former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, who spent Thursday afternoon meeting with advisers before announcing his candidacy and filing with the Federal Elections Commission.

"Why be coy about it if you're interested in it?" he said. "Just go ahead and do it."

Vinroot said his timing had nothing to do with Dole's potential candidacy. But he said Dole had called him Thursday morning indicating her interest in the race.

"I called her back as a courtesy and said 'I was going to run and have filed papers, and wanted you to know that, because you're a good friend and will always be a good friend,'" he said.

Dole has been at her childhood home in Salisbury this week. She declined to come to the door when a reporter knocked Thursday. Aides said she was making campaign calls and visiting with her 100-year-old mother, Mary Hanford.

"She's definitely still in the process of deciding what to do, but I do know she's seriously considering it," said Margaret Kluttz, a close friend who worked on Dole's short-lived presidential campaign in 1999.

Dole has long been registered to vote in Kansas, the home state of her husband, former Republican Sen. Bob Dole.

Party leaders in Washington and North Carolina have been quietly courting Dole for weeks, arguing that her name recognition, popularity and experience in the cabinets of Ronald Reagan and George Bush would make her a strong candidate even though she hasn't lived in North Carolina for decades.

Other Republicans eyeing the race include former U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth of Clinton and U.S. Rep. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem.

Among Democrats, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is the only announced candidate for Helms' seat.

During a Democratic picnic Thursday evening in nearby Mill Bridge, Marshall touted her own North Carolina roots.

"This is the state where I live. This is the state where I work, and this is the state where I serve," Marshall said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.