Speculation abounds in North Carolina about if and when Republican Sen. Jesse Helms will announce this week that he does not plan to run for re-election in 2002.

Republicans in North Carolina have been on high alert since last Thursday, when Helms' associates let it be known that 80-year-old Helms had reached a decision about running again.

GOP officials in North Carolina and in Washington, D.C., who asked not to be named, told Fox News that Helms has reached his decision, and several sources close to Helms said the announcement will come "sooner rather than later, perhaps any day."

However, on Sunday, several of Helms' closest aides and associates in North Carolina and D.C. insisted that Helms had not discussed his decision with anyone yet.

One source joked that "Jesse probably hasn't even told his wife yet, he keeps his own counsel, frankly we all wish he'd say more so we could plan a big event better."

Life Is 'Horrible' With Dems In Charge

Helms has raised very little money this year, which has contributed to speculation that he does not plan to run again. In 1998 he had hip replacement surgery and has gotten around in a motorized cart ever since. But aides for the most part deny that Helms' health problems are serious.

Earlier this year, Helms lost his chairmanship of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., bolted the GOP and gave Democrats the Senate majority.

Helms has complained to his Republican colleagues about playing second fiddle to the new chairman of the committee, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. One Republican Senate leadership aide said that "Jesse let loose at a GOP policy lunch in July, and went on forever about how horrible life is with Democrats in charge."

Just before Congress left Washington for its August recess, Helms said he would make a decision during the break and announce it in September.

Another Sen. Dole?

Republicans in the Tar Heel state and the nation's capitol are all operating under the assumption that Helms will not run again, and already two prominent Republicans have said they are considering a run if Helms bows out.

Elizabeth Dole was born and raised in North Carolina and ran briefly for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination. She bowed out early sighting an inability to raise money against the Bush financial juggernaut. Dole was a strong second in the polls when she dropped out.  Her chief spokesman was Ari Fleischer.

In 1996, Dole was a tireless campaigner for her husband Bob Dole, the former Senate Majority leader who was the GOP presidential nominee. Before that, Mrs. Dole was the president of the Red Cross.

The other North Carolina Republican who has said he will run if Helms does not is former Sen. Lauch Faircloth. In 1998 Faircloth, a wealthy hog farmer and colorful conservative, was defeated after one term by Democrat John Edwards.