Sunday, September 21, 2008

North Carolina U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

North Carolina U.S. Senate

September 21, 2008
44 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican (change from Likely Republican)

With a woman on the Republican ticket, a Democrat nominated for Governor, and a general election for U.S. Senate between two female candidates, North Carolina may very well consider 2008 to be the "Year of the Woman."

A trailblazer for women in government going back to her early days of service in the Johnson Administration is Elizabeth Dole, the current Republican incumbent Senator from North Carolina. Before winning her first ever election for this seat in 2002, Dole was of course well known for her marriage to Bob Dole and her positions in the Cabinets of two Republican Presidents. In 1999, she launched a campaign for her party's Presidential nomination, and for a time looked quite formidable, but the campaign never really took off. In 2002, she returned to her native state, where she had not lived for decades, and in a conservative leaning state, her popularity and star power was enough to win a competitive race.

Six years later, she is the favorite to win another term, but for whatever reason, she does not seem to be as secure as one might have expected. If she is to win, it will probably be thanks to her name recongition, strong campaign checkbook, and the advantage that Republicans have in Senate elections in the state. In fact, there are several examples of Republicans, including Dole herself in 2002, and her predecessor, the lengendary Jesse Helms, running better on Election Day, than polls indicated they would.

Perhaps daunted by Dole's strengths, several prominent Democrats refused to enter the race, and for a time, it looked like Dole would not have much of a race at all. Eventually though, the Democrat primary featured two main contenders and was won by State Senator Kay Hagan. While not very well known in the state previously, Hagan appeared to benefit from the recognition that came with her primary campaign and victory and she polled at a surprisingly strong level early on in the general election. As time progressed, and as Dole spent more time campaigning and advertising in the state, her lead over Hagan expanded into the double digits. Most recently though, it is Hagan who seems to have made a comeback in the polls, as the national campaign committee for Senate Democrats advertised heavily on her behalf, portraying Dole as being a not very influential Senator who was out of touch with issues of the day.

A very recent poll by the Democrat affiliated PPP firm shows Hagan now holding a one point lead. Survey USA's most recent poll has Dole ahead by eight points, in a modest increase of her advantage. Another poll by Research2000 this month has Dole ahead by six.

It is tough to pinpoint exactly why Hagan has not faded away against an opponent who was considered to be far more difficult to beat. Perhaps it is because Dole has not retained as strong a presence as she could have in the state, due to such factors as being the Republican Senate Campaign chair in the 2006 cycle, which of course did not go well for the GOP. Many would say that Dole has not lived up the expectations of being a national star during her first term in the Senate, but on the issues, she is probably more in line with the state than her more liberal opponent, and while the race may not be a blowout, Dole should benefit from the advantages of incumbency enough to win a second term.

Dole campaign link:

2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 11 D, 13 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 50 D, 39 R


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