When Sen. Elizabeth Dole was named Duke University's "Leader of the Year" by The Chronicle in 1958, the honor left little doubt in many students' minds that the Woman's College Student Body President would go far after graduation.
By all accounts, Dole, R-N.C., has had a successful career. She has worked in five presidential administrations and served as president of the American Red Cross. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002 as North Carolina's first female senator. Despite her impressive resume, Dole's reelection bid against Democratic challenger state Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro seems uncertain.
An Oct. 20 poll by Public Policy Polling reports Hagan leading Dole 49 to 42 percent.
"This is a very bad year to be a Republican," said David Rohde, Ernestine Friedl professor of political science. "[Dole] has been a less visible senator than others, and therefore she is less insulated."
But Dole is determined to fight back. The senator is using her own money to support her campaign, The Associated Press reported Oct. 12.
"You get such a lot coming at you and spending a great deal of time raising money. There just comes a point when you feel like you need to put some skin in the game," Dole told the AP.
Rohde said Hagan holds the advantage in terms of resources, thanks to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the largest organization dedicated to electing Democrats to the Senate. The U.S. Senate hopeful also has been running an aggressive ad campaign in an attempt to undermine the public's opinion of Dole, but this may be a lesser factor, Rohde added.
"This has been much more a race that was against the Republicans first and against Dole second, as opposed to for Hagan," he said.
Colleen Flanagan, communications director for Hagan's campaign, said voters are responding in favor of the Democratic candidate, adding that Hagan has done a good job of presenting her views to voters.
"This [success] is a result of the extremely aggressive and grass-roots campaign that Hagan has been running since before the primary," Flanagan said.
According to a PPP poll conducted Oct. 18 to 19, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama holds a 51 to 44 percent lead over Republican Sen. John McCain in the presidential race in North Carolina. Though McCain and Dole share party loyalties, Rohde said McCain's popularity is unlikely to have much of an affect on Dole's campaign.
"I don't see a close link here in terms of evaluation of the candidates," Rohde said. But he added that Obama's campaign to register new voters could send greater numbers of Democrats to the polls, who may also vote for Hagan.
Although election day is still more than a week away, poll numbers seem to indicate that Dole will have to increase efforts over the next nine days to protect her seat.
"Dole was only in North Carolina for 13 days in 2006 and for 20 days in 2005," Flanagan said. "Quite frankly, there are people who come here for vacation for longer than that."
Dole's campaign could not be reached for comment.