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North Carolina Races

Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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North Carolina

Outlook: Leans Democratic


October 4, 2008 Update:

The battle for the Senate in the Tar Heel State is a tough nut to crack: Elizabeth Dole, an incumbent Senator with high favorability ratings and a vast campaign war chest, was poised, as we last reported, to take a commanding lead over challenger Kay Hagan and virtually any Democrat not named “Mike Easley” (the popular NC governor who passed on the race). Yet, in mid-September, even the most optimistic polls show the Republican hovering at the decent margin of 6-8 points, while a recent Democracy Corps (read: Democratic) poll had Hagan up by 5! Both sides are quick to point to each one’s favorable numbers as the true state of affairs, but it appears at this point that Dole’s lead has basically evaporated.

Hagan’s resurgence can be attributed to a number of things, not the least of which is the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s significant involvement in the state. The DSCC has pledged nearly nine million dollars in support of Hagan, and their independent ads attacking Dole’s effectiveness in Congress have hit home against an incumbent whose stock has fallen ever since her oft-criticized chairmanship of the NRSC in 2006.

As time passes, North Carolina’s sleeper Senate race is looking ever more like the late-developing Virginia contest of last cycle—except without the colorful characters… and language (“Macaca” anyone?) of the latter campaign. Both contests were late to develop with lukewarm challengers and overconfident incumbents. In 2006, George Allen’s defeat handed Senate control to the Democrats; could a 2008 Hagan victory give Democrats an even more significant achievement: a filibuster-proof, sixty-seat majority? Win or lose, the race for the White House, as previously noted, will be key in determining the outcome in the race for Liddy Dole’s Senate seat.

June 18, 2008 Update:

After clinching the Democratic nod on May 6th, things looked bright for state senator Kay Hagan. Her campaign released a poll that showed her down by just 4% to incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Two days after the primary win, a Rasmussen poll showed Hagan actually leading by 1%. Now that the dust has settled and the initial over-excitement has ended, the actual landscape is a little more clear. What once seemed to be a dead heat is probably more like a 8-10% lead for Dole, perilous, but certainly no reason to begin writing her obituary just yet.

Dole also has a substantial cash advantage, with almost ten times as much cash on hand as Hagan. Dole, as of mid-April, had $3.2 million on hand, and Hagan had just $320,000. With that sort of advantage, Dole looks poised to expand her lead instead of watching it shrink. Still, Democrats nationally seem willing to bet on Dole’s vulnerability and can be expected to pour money into Hagan’s coffers if this stay tight into the fall. The wild card may be the other marquee races in the state, as both the presidential and gubernatorial race dynamics may spill over into the senate race. If either of those races become a blowout by one party, expect that party’s senate candidate to prosper as well.

March 25, 2008 Update:

Where have all the Democrats gone? With a gubernatorial race in the Tar Heel State this election cycle, many top-tier Democrats have shied away from taking on Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole. Dole is a well-seasoned candidate who poses a formidable challenge to any upset bid, so the lightweight competition she’s facing shouldn’t give her much to worry about. The messy nomination battle between state senator Kay Hagan and businessman Jim Neal isn’t going to make things any easier for the Democrats, instead just paving the road even smoother for Dole’s reelection.

November 26, 2007 Update:

UNC and Duke may both have blue in their school colors, but this Senate seat from North Carolina should stay red in 2008. Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole has seen a sharp increase in her approval ratings in the last few months, back up over the 50% danger zone. Even though President Bush is still wildly unpopular, that shouldn’t drag Dole down in the general election next November.

But more than any other reason why Dole shouldn’t sweat 2008 is the lack of a top-tier Democratic candidate. Governor Mike Easley actually led Dole in a recent hypothetical polling matchup, but he isn’t running for the seat. The only candidates the Democrats have been able to round up are investment banker Jim Neal, who’s never run for office before, and state senator Kay Hagan, who had dropped out of the race and had to be talked back into it by DSCC chairman Chuck Schumer. While Hagan’s gender may help her against Dole, it won’t be enough to unseat a savvy, experienced incumbent. The Democrats have an uphill battle, and Dole should end up playing Queen of the Hill.


Background

Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole appears to be in good shape for her 2008 reelection bid. Even though her approval ratings are below par–43% in the most recent polls, dangerous territory for an incumbent–no Tarheel State Democrat seems willing to step up to the plate and challenge her.

Dole ascended to the Senate in 2002, replacing long-time Senator Jesse Helms. She rolled over former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, 54 percent to 45, in a race that was never particularly close. In 2006, she was the head of the NRSC; not the most positive mark on her resume in light of the Democratic takeover in the Senate.

With a gubernatorial race looming for North Carolina in 2008, it seems state Dems are unwilling to yield to national party wishes and challenge Dole. Governor Mike Easley, Attorney General Roy Cooper, state Treasurer Richard Moore, and Brad Miller of the 13th House District have all announced they won’t challenge the incumbent Senator. Cooper and Moore are running for governor, Miller wants to stay in the House, and even though Easley is term-limited out of office in 2008, he still refuses to take the bait. North Carolina Democrats have a deep bench in the state, but it seems that most prefer the security of their seats in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly and House of Representatives, leaving few, if any, prominent personalities as viable challengers.

Candidates

Kay Hagan – Democrat – state senator
Website

Elizabeth Dole (I) – Republican – current Senator
Website