Rural Election Watch: Dole On The Ropes

By Sean Reagan

Kay R. Hagan continues to box incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole into a corner. Veteran election watcher Charlie Cook has moved the North Carolina senate race from “Leans Republican” to a toss-up. Last week, two polls showed Hagan with a slim lead. Taken together, that translates into real momentum.

There’s little doubt that Democrats are going to pick up Senate seats this year, but knocking off a high-profile Republican like Dole will be sweet indeed.

The latest Rasmussen has Hagan up three points over Dole, 48-45. That’s a slight uptick for Dole, but there’s really no way for her to put a positive spin on it. She enjoyed double digit leads in June and July this year, still maintains a significant cash advantage, and she’s an incumbent. If you’re Dole, you know it’s late in the race to be losing steam.

Part of her problem may have been sheer hubris. Republicans generally take North Carolina for granted but Democrats have put it in play this year. McCain is locked in a dead heat with Obama for the state’s electoral votes. And Dole, over the years, has effectively been an absentee Senator. In 2006 she made only thirteen visits to North Carolina!

She’s not making the same mistake twice. Faced with a real possibility of losing her seat, Dole is officially showing up in the state she purports to represent. She may, in 2008, break one hundred visits. But is her newfound enthusiasm too little too late?

Given Hagan’s tenacious bid, it may be. Whatever Dole’s faults – and there are plenty – the other side of this coin is the simple fact that Hagan has run a smart and aggressive campaign. Earlier this month, she won the endorsement of N.C. Vets, a group of politically active military veterans, cutting into a traditional Republican base. We can read that as a rejection of Dole, but the reality is that Hagan has courted the votes of veterans by reaching out where it counts – she’s been a vigorous supporter of increased funding for veteran’s health care and related benefits.

Real, thoughtful and comprehensive plans for real problems has been one of the hallmarks of Hagan’s campaign. Take a look, for example, at the detailed plan she’s laid out for representing North Carolina’s rural interests. It’s based on three fundamental tenets: ensure agricultural productivity, create a clean energy future and promote rural competitiveness. Hagan then breaks each subject area down with specific issues and proposals ranging from crop insurance to broadband access.

Skip on over to Dole’s website. See any action plan for taking rural North Carolina forward? Dole boasts of her accomplishments in this area, but Hagan’s momentum with voters tells the real story. Dole is a Republican elitist and North Carolina voters deserve better. Hagan is giving them a real choice in 2008 and they’re starting to flock to her.

The last time I wrote in detail about this race, Hagan was down fourteen points and her cash disadvantage looked insurmountable. The odds were long. Several months later – and only five weeks shy of the election – Hagan has proven exactly the kind of brilliant and scrappy contender that Democrats needed in North Carolina. This is officially a winnable race. Senator Kay R. Hagan anyone?

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One Response to “Rural Election Watch: Dole On The Ropes”

  1. Been watching this one with interest since the first time I read about it here — the slings and arrows of North Carolina politics have made my everyday googling a fascinating study, from the Jesse Helms-like attacks on challenger Kay Hagan’s fundraising to the fact that entrenched incumbent Elizabeth Dole suddenly seems to remember her address on the ballot says North Carolina not Washington, DC.

    Keep us posted — another month of this and we’ll all feel the effects of a roller coaster ride to end all roller coaster rides.

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