Sen. Kay Hagan Faces Tough Choices as a Tobacco State Democrat

Early on, Kay Hagan faced a vote on paying for children's healthcare by boosting cigarette taxes.

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Humor helped Hagan, both in ads and in parties held by supporters who decorated glittery red slippers to send Dole "back to Kansas with Bob." Bob Dole, her spouse, had represented Kansas in the Senate. And Liz Dole, to hear Hagan tell it, wasn't peeved about the ruby slippers, telling Hagan last Memorial Day: "I wear an 8 1/2 medium."

Ferrel Guillory, who directs the Program on Public Life at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says Hagan ultimately won't be defined by tobacco, since state Democrats tend to rely on alliances with teachers and business leaders. Ideologically, Guillory expects she'll be a moderate along the lines of Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas or Mary Landrieu of Louisiana—not a liberal like Barbara Boxer of California.

He says Hagan had a reputation in the state Senate, her home for 10 years, for being hard-charging, energetic, even feisty. He gives her credit for taking on Dole after top male politicos weighed the race and decided to sit it out. How's she done so far? "She's still new at the job," Guillory judges. "She's got a learning curve."

At the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina, Executive Vice President Graham Boyd says the tax hike, soon to take effect, already has caused pain for tobacco farmers. Cigarette makers expect demand to decline and are cutting back on orders from growers, he explains. But Boyd isn't bitter, partly because he says FDA regulation is a much bigger threat. "She's new," he says of Hagan. "I've got to build a relationship with her. She's my senator for the next six years."