Sen. Jesse Helms is crediting churchgoers, especially in rural and small communities across North Carolina, for helping him to victory over Democratic challenger Harvey Gantt.

``These people know where I stand, and ... when they saw the homosexuals coming in here, when they saw NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) come in here, when they saw the National Organization for Women in there, dumping not thousands of dollars - but millions of dollars - that is when they went to work,' said Helms, who won 53 percent of the vote Nov. 6.``Everywhere I went that week (before the election) ... church people would come up to me and say, 'Everybody in my church is going to vote,'' the Republican senator told The Charlotte Observer in an interview in his Washington office.

He said they are ``people who believe in the Lord, and who don't like homosexuality, and who don't like taxpayers being required to finance filth - they all melded together.'

Helms said his hard-fought battle against Gantt left him worn out and owing $1 million in campaign debts.

The campaign went into debt without Helms' knowledge after promising it wouldn't. The decision was made after Gantt raised enough money to mount an aggressive advertising campaign in the final weeks.

``They made the judgment that it had to be answered,' Helms said.

Now that he's won re-election, Helms promised six more years of being himself.

``I'm going to continue to do what I've been doing - defend the free enterprise system, the conservative cause,' he said.

``And yes, I'm going to keep an eye on the National Endowment for the Arts. I'm going to maintain my pro-life position - all the things Mr. Gantt denounced me for doing. I think the people of North Carolina have spoken.'

Helms said he ignored advisers who told him to avoid the issue of abortion. He grew emotional talking about his anti-abortion stance.

``I will never sit idly by while people say it's just a choice,' said Helms, referring to those who say women have a right to do what they want with their bodies. ``Well, that's fine, well, what about that other body - the one that has the two arms, and the two hands, and the 10 fingers and the two legs, and the beating heart?'

Helms, who ran ads accusing Gantt of supporting racial quotas in hiring, said again that it was his black opponent who injected race into the campaign.

He said: ``Here's a guy who goes to black churches and says, this is our chance to get a black United States senator. You got to get out and vote - all of you.'

Helms said many news organizations focused on the 65 percent of the white vote he received - while not emphasizing that 90 percent of black voters supported Gantt.

``What (Gantt) was looking for, and what he got, was the bloc vote,' Helms said. ``He is the man who put race into the campaign.'

Helms said Gantt, unlike John Ingram and Jim Hunt - the Democratic candidates he beat in 1978 and 1984 - never congratulated him. But he added, ``That doesn't matter. He probably was not happy about it.'

Asked if he'll run again in 1996, the 69-year-old senator grinned and referred to Congress' oldest member - Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. - who just won another term at 87.

``They asked him (Thurmond) whether he was going to run again,' Helms said. ``He said, 'Well, that depends on my wife's health.' '

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