Local Politics

Hagan defeats Dole in U.S. Senate race

Posted November 4, 2008 5:50 p.m. EST
Updated November 5, 2008 10:37 a.m. EST

— Support from women, blacks and young people and concern about the faltering economy helped Democrat state Sen. Kay Hagan unseat U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Beverly Perdue win the governor's race, according to an Associated Press exit poll.

The poll showed that Hagan received more than half of women's votes. Seven in 10 voters under the age of 29 also supported the state senator, along with nine in 10 blacks and nearly six in 10 voters who said they make under $50,000 a year.

The win makes Hagan the first Democrat to hold the seat since Sen. Jesse Helms took it for the GOP in 1972.

“What we were able to accomplish in a little less than a year is a testament to how hungry people are for a change,” Hagan said to packed crowd of several hundred at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Just after 8 p.m., CBS News called Hagan the winner of the race.

“I think the people in North Carolina knew about the issues that they were concerned about," Hagan told WRAL News. "They knew that they needed new faces and new ideas in Washington and new leadership, and I am thrilled that they decided to put me in this seat."

Dole, who was seeking a second term, reminisced on her five-decade-long career in a concession speech just before 10 p.m.

“It’s been the highest honor in my life to be elected as the first female senator in North Carolina history,” Dole said during a speech at a train station in Salisbury. “It’s been an honor and a joy to represent the people of North Carolina in the United States Senate.”

Dole said she was not happy with the tone of the race, particularly noting the spending from outside the state on advertising that sought to tear her down. But she voiced no regrets in how she defended her seat.

“I want to congratulate my opponent, Kay Hagan,” Dole said. She also asked for her supporters to join in “praying” for God to support and guide Hagan.

The Senate race was tight leading up to Election Day, and some Dole supporters feared controversial advertisements against Hagan would affect the vote negatively.

Hagan filed paperwork Thursday as a prelude to a lawsuit after Dole refused to stop airing an ad questioning Hagan's faith.

Dole's ad questioned why Hagan went to a fund-raiser at the home of a Boston man who advises the Godless Americans Political Action Committee, an atheist advocacy group. In response, Hagan rolled out her own television ad in which she told voters "I believe in God" and cited the Bible's Ninth Commandment against bearing false witness to decry her rival's tactics.

Charlie Murphy, 69, of Knightdale said Helms' infamous ad from 1990 that showed white hands crumpling a job-rejection letter while a narrator slammed racial quotas was more acceptable than Dole's spot.

"It was one of the worst I've ever seen," Murphy said. "Even the 'white hands' one wasn't over the line as much. [That] was over the line, but not as much as this one."

Democratic strategist Gary Pearce said he thought the advertisement didn’t hurt Dole because the candidate was already suffering at the polls.

“I think she ran the 'Godless' ad because she was losing,” Pearce said.

Analyst John Davis of NCFREE said he thought voters favored Hagan because it is an “anti-establishment year” and there is a generational change happening in the country.

“People aren’t voting for her because she is a Democrat. People are voting for her because she is much younger than the incumbent and because she is not the incumbent,” Davis said.

In advertisements, 55-year-old Hagan tried to paint Dole, 72, as out-of-touch.

Dole voted early Tuesday morning at the Rowan County library in her hometown of Salisbury.

Hagan voted on the first day of early voting in North Carolina. She spent Election Day crisscrossing the state and stopping at 20 polling sites in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro.

Dole staffer Margaret Kluttz said Dole will still have a bright future.

“This woman has been serving this country and this state all her life, and there’s something still wonderful still ahead for Elizabeth Dole,” Kluttz said.