United States Senate election in North Carolina, 2008

United States Senate election in North Carolina, 2008
North Carolina
November 4, 2008

Nominee Kay Hagan Elizabeth Dole
Party Democratic Republican
Popular vote 2,249,226 1,887,445
Percentage 52.7% 44.2%

County results

U.S. Senator before election

Elizabeth Dole

Elected U.S. Senator

Kay Hagan

The 2008 United States Senate election in North Carolina was held on November 4, 2008. The Senate election coincided with the presidential, U.S. House elections, gubernatorial, Council of State, and statewide judicial elections. Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole ran for re-election to a second term, but was defeated by Democrat Kay Hagan.[1] The November general election was the first time in North Carolina history, and only the eighth time in U.S. history, that the two major-party candidates for a U.S. Senate seat were both women. In addition, Hagan became the first Democrat to win this seat since it was won by the Republicans in 1972, and the first woman to defeat an incumbent woman in a Senate election.

Democratic primary



Hagan, initially an unknown politician, decided to challenge incumbent Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole.[2]

National Democrats at first encouraged incumbent Governor Mike Easley to make the race. A late October 2007 Rasmussen Report poll showed Easley defeating Dole 50% to 42%.[3][4] Easley declined to run, as did Congressman Brad Miller, who expressed interest in early 2007.[5][6] Former Governor Jim Hunt also declined to compete against Dole.[7][8]

Neal earned the endorsement of the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. He also was endorsed by Blue America PAC, eQualityGiving, the Independent Weekly and YES ! Weekly.[9]


2008 North Carolina U.S. Senator Democratic primary election[10]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Kay Hagan 801,920 60.1
Democratic Jim Neal 239,623 18.0
Democratic Marcus W. Williams 170,970 12.8
Democratic Duskin Lassiter 62,136 4.6
Democratic Howard Staley 60,403 4.5
Turnout 1,335,052

Republican primary



2008 North Carolina U.S. Senator Republican primary election[10]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Elizabeth Dole (Incumbent) 460,665 90.0
Republican Pete DiLauro 51,406 10.0
Turnout 512,071

General election



Dole's attack ad, "Godless".

Dole was initially a heavy favorite for reelection, especially after several potential top-tier challengers such as Congressman Brad Miller, Governor Mike Easley and former Governor Jim Hunt all declined to compete against Dole.[7][8] Ultimately, Kay Hagan, a state senator from Greensboro, won the Democratic primary election and became Dole's general election opponent. Reports late in the campaign suggested that Dole, once considered a safe bet for reelection, suffered from Barack Obama's decision to aggressively contest North Carolina in the presidential election.[11]

Hagan was initially given little chance against Dole, but Hagan was helped by independent 527 groups lobbying/advertising against incumbent Dole [8] The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee expended more money in North Carolina than in any other state during the 2008 election season.[8] However, Dole benefited from more out-of-state funding overall than Hagan.[12]

In late October, Dole released a controversial television ad attacking Hagan for reportedly taking donations from individuals involved in the Godless Americans PAC, a group which advocates for the rights of people who do not believe in God. The ad also included a female voice saying, "There is no God."[13][14] The Dole campaign said the ad correctly shows who Hagan will associate with in order to raise campaign funds, and on November 1, Bob Dole also defended it, asserting that "it never questions her faith," and that "the issue is why she was there. There's no question about her faith. I think it's [the ad's] fair game."[15]

Hagan, who is a member of the Presbyterian Church and a former Sunday school teacher,[14] condemned the ad as "fabricated and pathetic," and, according to Hagan's campaign website, a cease-and-desist letter was "hand-delivered to Dole's Raleigh office, faxed to her Salisbury office and sent to her home at the Watergate in Washington, DC."[16] Hagan also filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court accusing Dole of defamation and libel.[17][18]

The ad has met exceptionally strong criticism from the public as well as many local and several national media outlets. CNN's Campbell Brown said about the ad: "[A]mid all the attack ads on the airwaves competing to out-ugly one another, we think we've found a winner."[19] The ad has been described as "ridiculously outrageous,"[20] "indecent,"[21] a "gross misrepresentation,"[22] "worse than dishonest"[23] and "beyond the bounds of acceptable political disagreement,"[23] among other harsh criticism.[24] Another ad issued by the Dole campaign in mid-October 2008 was described by The Fayetteville Observer as "[setting] the low mark in negative political campaigning."[25] The media reported, that within 48 hours of the first ad Hagan received over 3,600 contributions, including major donors as well as individual support from a range of atheists, agnostics and followers of other religious beliefs who felt they were being attacked by Dole.[26] Following the second ad Hagan's lead doubled according to some polls.[26]


In June 2008, Senator John Ensign of Nevada, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, considered North Carolina to be one of the top ten most competitive Senate races of the year.[27] Later, CQ Politics rated this race as 'Leans Democratic'.[28] The Cook Political Report called it a 'Toss-Up'.[29] The Rothenberg Political Report considered it a 'Lean Takeover'.[30]


Hagan on the campaign trail

Polls released October 28 showed Dole and Hagan within the statistical margin of error (3% apart) and Dole garnering 4% of the vote.[2]

Poll Source Dates administered Kay Hagan (D) Elizabeth Dole (R)
Survey USA November 2, 2008 50% 43%
Rasmussen Reports October 29, 2008 52% 46%
Survey USA October 20, 2008 46% 45%
Rasmussen Reports October 8, 2008 49% 44%
Survey USA October 5–6, 2008 43% 44%
Public Policy Polling September 28–29, 2008 46% 38%
Rasmussen Reports September 23, 2008 48% 45%
Public Policy Polling September 19, 2008 46% 41%
Rasmussen Reports September 18, 2008 51% 45%
Daily Kos/Research 2000 September 10, 2008 42% 48%
Survey USA September 8, 2008 40% 48%
Democracy Corps August 26, 2008 50% 45%
Public Policy Polling August 23, 2008 42% 39%
Insider Advantage August 19, 2008 40% 40%
Research 2000/Daily Kos July 28-30, 2008 42% 50%
Public Policy Polling July 23-27, 2008 40% 49%
Rasmussen Reports July 15, 2008 43% 54%
Survey USA July 14, 2008 42% 54%
The Tarrance Group July 9, 2008 36% 51%
Civitas Institute/
Tel Opinion Research
June 11-13, 2008 38% 48%
Rasmussen Reports June 10, 2008 39% 53%
Anzalone Liszt Research June 4, 2008 44% 48%
Public Policy Polling May 28-29, 2008 39% 47%
Survey USA May 17-19, 2008 46% 50%
Civitas Institute/
Tel Opinion Research
May 14-17, 2008 43% 45%
Public Policy Polling May 8-9, 2008 43% 48%
Rasmussen Reports May 8, 2008 48% 47%
Research 2000/Daily Kos April 28-30, 2008 41% 48%
Rasmussen Reports April 10, 2008 39% 52%
Public Policy Polling February 18, 2008 33% 50%


2008 North Carolina U.S. Senator general election[31]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Kay Hagan 2,249,311 52.65 +7.7
Republican Elizabeth Dole (Incumbent) 1,887,510 44.18 -9.4
Libertarian Chris Cole 133,430 3.12 +1.6
Other Write-Ins 1,719 0.0 0
Majority 361,801
Turnout 4,271,970
Democratic gain from Republican Swing


In the 2008 election, Dole lost by a wider-than-expected margin, taking only 44 percent of the vote to Hagan's 53 percent – the widest margin for a Senate race in North Carolina in 30 years, and the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent Senator in the 2008 cycle. It has been speculated that the outcry over the "Godless" ads contributed to Dole's loss.[32] Hagan trounced Dole in the state's five largest counties – Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Forsyth and Durham. Hagan also dominated most of the eastern portion of the state, which had been the backbone of Helms' past Senate victories. While Dole dominated the Charlotte suburbs and most of the heavily Republican Foothills region, it was not enough to save her seat.


  1. Libertarian Party of NC press release: Libertarians File List of 2008 Candidates Archived September 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. 1 2 "Perdue tries to whistle up a Mayberry miracle". Raleigh News and Observer. 2008-10-28. Retrieved 2008-10-28.
  3. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/election_2008__1/2008_senate_elections/election_2008_north_carolina_senate_race
  4. Dan Kane; Rob Christensen; J. Andrew Curliss (2007-01-25). "Poll puts Easley over Dole". The News & Observer. Archived from the original on September 18, 2008. Retrieved 2007-02-05.
  5. newsobserver.com | Miller looking at Senate race
  6. Draft dodger? | newsobserver.com projects
  7. 1 2 2008 Election Challenge.
  8. 1 2 3 4 "Is the Southern Strategy Dead?". American Prospect. 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  9. "Profile of U.S. Senate Candidate Jim Neal". News & Observer. 2007-10-04. Retrieved 2008-03-18.
  10. 1 2 NC State Board of Elections website
  11. "Scrambling the red states". The Economist. 2008-10-23. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  12. “Elizabeth Dole: Campaign Finance/Money - Summary.” Center for Responsive Politics. http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?type=C&cid=N00008071&newMem=N&cycle=
  13. Kraushaar, Josh. Hagan's campaign says the ad sought to put inflammatory words in their candidate's mouth; The Dole campaign says the ad correctly shows who Hagan will associate with in order to raise campaign funds.Dole still keeping the faith. The Politico. October 29, 2008.
  14. 1 2 Brown, Campbell. Commentary: Mudslinging to get elected. CNN.com. October 29, 2008.
  15. Bob Dole Defends "Godless" TV Ad. Small Business VoIP. November 1, 2008.
  16. KayHagan.com. Kay on Dole Ad Attacking Her Christian Faith: A Fabricated, Pathetic Ad. October 30, 2008.
  17. Dole Sued for 'Godless' Attack Ad, ABC News. October 30, 2008.
  18. Dole challenger irate over suggestion she is 'godless'. CNN.com. October 30, 2008.
  19. Brown, Campbell. Commentary: Mudslinging to get elected. CNN.com. October 29, 2008.
  20. Frank, James. Dole 'Godless' ad shows progress, sort of. Chicago Tribune. October 31, 2008.
  21. Dole's desperate turn to Big Lie advertising. The Charlotte Observer. Oct. 30, 2008.
  22. As election nears, negative ads a distraction. Asheville Citizen-Times. October 30, 2008.
  23. 1 2 Editorial: Dole’s attack on Hagan’s faith drives heated campaign lower. Greensboro News & Record. October 30, 2008.
  24. ELIZABETH DOLE ATTACKS KAY HAGAN´S CHRISTIAN FAITH. AmericanChronicle.com. November 02, 2008.
  25. Dole’s new ads set the low mark in negative political campaigning. The Fayetteville Observer. October 15, 2008.
  26. 1 2 "Dole's mistake: 'Godless' ad drove donors, voters to Hagan". Miami Herald. November 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
  27. Kate Phillips, G.O.P. Leader Maps Senate Elections The New York Times, June 13, 2008
  28. Race Ratings Chart: Senate Archived October 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. CQ Politics
  29. 2008 Senate Race Ratings The Cook Political Report, October 23, 2008
  30. 2008 Senate Ratings The Rothenberg Political Report, November 2, 2008
  31. NC State Board of Elections website
  32. Barbara Barrett (2008-11-05). "N.C. voters deny Dole, elect Hagan to U.S. Senate". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2008-11-05.

External links

Wikinews has related news: Kay Hagan sues Elizabeth Dole over "Godless" television advertisement
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