Local News

Dole Defeats Bowles To Take U.S. Senate Seat

Posted November 7, 2002 6:23 a.m. EST

— With the support of "Jessecrats" in the East, Elizabeth Dole beat Erskine Bowles on Tuesday night, and Republicans kept the Senate seat held for 30 years by Jesse Helms.

With 87 percent of

precincts reporting

, Dole had 1,088,531 votes, or 54 percent, according to unofficial returns. Bowles had 910,448 votes, or 45 percent.

Libertarian Sean Haugh had one percent of the vote.

Dole, a Republican who served as a Cabinet secretary under two presidents, is the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina.

At a rally in her hometown of Salisbury, Dole pledged to work for all North Carolinians - Republicans and Democrats.

"I wanted to run because I wanted to help people," Dole said, with her husband, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, at her side. "They worked for me; I want to work for them."

Dole spoke to the crowd after Bowles telephoned her to concede.

Helms, nearing the end of his final term, said he was not surprised by the outcome.

"She's a great campaigner," Helms told WRAL by phone from his home in the Washington area. "She had a lot of people campaigning with her and for her.

"You could tell by the volume of the approval at these rallies whether people are genuinely supportive, and they were genuinely supportive of Elizabeth Dole."

Bowles, the Democratic former White House chief of staff, appeared almost relieved that his long race against Dole was over as he spoke to about 200 supporters in Raleigh.

He said Dole had earned the victory.

"I did everything I could,: Bowles said. "I couldn't do any more.

"I wanted to serve, and now I will have to find another way to do that."

Preliminary results showed Dole won a string of Piedmont counties where Republicans traditionally do well. But she also outperformed Bowles in several Democratic strongholds in the East, winning counties including Wayne, Wilson, Harnett and Greene.

Helms, a Republican, has long found support in those eastern counties, which have large populations of conservative Democrats nicknamed "Jessecrats."

But at times they have spelled trouble for Republicans in statewide races, backing Democrats such as Sen. John Edwards in 1998 and Gov. Mike Easley in 2000.

Bowles did well in urban counties, including Durham and Wake and areas along the South Carolina border, and he held his own in some mountain counties.

The Associated Press declared Dole the winner shortly before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Bowles called her to concede a little more than 30 minutes later.

Shortly after she was declared the winner, Dole received a congratulatory phone call from President Bush.

The celebration was raucous at Dole's campaign headquarters in Salisbury.

"I am as thrilled as you are," Dole told a large crowd of her supporters. "We'll never forget this night, will we?

"I just took a call from Erskine Bowles. He was very gracious. I want to ask those who voted for Erskine Bowles to please give me a chance. I intend to be a senator for all of North Carolina."

Helms called his Senate replacement a "fine, capable lady.

"Hers is a proven record of ability and leadership throughout her career," he said. "She'll make a great senator."