A gold-plated political résumé wasn't enough to give Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina a second term in the U.S. Senate, as she fell Tuesday to a little-known Democratic challenger who compared the senator's record to President Bush at every turn.
The winner, Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan, 55, apparently got a big boost from Barack Obama's coattails in the Tar Heel State. A former banker, Hagan was elected to the state Senate a decade ago. But she cut her teeth in high-level political campaigns in her youth, as she is the niece of the late Lawton Chiles, a Democratic U.S. senator from Florida and former governor.
Dole, once regarded as the "grand old lady of North Carolina," in the end could not survive the strong Democratic headwinds in a state where Obama's massive political operation improved the odds for Hagan. Dole sailed to victory in 2002, but in this election fought for political survival and lagged in the polls. She was hurt badly by the faltering economy and her support for the war in Iraq. Plus, a North Carolina newspaper reported she had spent relatively few days in the state early in her term, making her appear an absentee lawmaker.
Her loss means a famed political name goes quietly into the night after back-to-back defeats. In 2006, Dole disastrously led the charge to elect Senate Republicans, but their numbers shrank by six.
Dole, 72, earlier held two cabinet posts, led the American Red Cross, and gave the White House a shot leading up to the 2000 election. She campaigned in North Carolina alongside her husband, Bob Dole, who represented Kansas in the Senate for 27 years, rose to become Senate majority leader and ran for president in 1996.
It was bitter, negative, and costly race, with both parties investing heavily. In the days leading up the decision day, Dole was criticized for an attack ad questioning Hagan's Christian faith, though the challenger is an elder in a Presbyterian church and Sunday school teacher.
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