Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina Democrats are gearing up for a 2008 run at the U.S. Senate seat held by Elizabeth Dole.
Although Dole has national appeal, lofty name recognition and a powerful political network, after last year's Republican collapse in Congress and growing frustration over the war in Iraq, Democrats think she is beatable.
A recent poll commissioned by the Democratic Party shows 49 percent of people think Dole is doing a good or excellent job, but only 35 percent of those surveyed said they would support her in the next election.
"When you have an incumbent with re-elect numbers under 50 percent and approval numbers under 50 percent, it's a sign of danger," Democratic strategist Morgan Jackson said.
That means big donors are actively searching for a new senator to back, Jackson said.
"One of the top things off their lips is who's going to be our candidate in 2008," he said.
Not long ago, Dole was so popular that taking her on would have been political suicide. Republicans downplayed the poll results, saying Democrats are grasping for any sign of weakness to get someone to challenge her.
"I think they recognize that she'd be difficult to beat and she's done a good job for North Carolina. That's why I think they're struggling to get candidates in the race," GOP strategist Mark Stephens said.
Most of the names dropped as potential Dole contenders haven't yet shown public interest:
- Gov. Mike Easley has repeatedly said he's not the Senate type.
- Some Democrats would like to see State Treasurer Richard Moore stay out of the governor's race to take on Dole, but he is apparently intent on beating Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue.
- Attorney General Roy Cooper said he plans to run for another term.
- Congressmen Bob Etheridge, David Price and Brad Miller; Gen. Hugh Shelton, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman; and state Sen. Kay Hagan of Guilford County also have been mentioned as possible candidates.
For now, it's still Dole's race to lose. But Democrats said they expect challengers will start emerging by the early fall.
"I think, as you see her numbers dip, more of these folks will take a much harder look at this race," Jackson said.