Watch CBSN Live

Hagan Wins North Carolina Senate Seat

North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan has pulled off one of the early upsets of election night, knocking off Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole in a race that was one of the nastiest Senate contests in the country.

Hagan’s victory is especially sweet for Democrats because she is taking over the seat once held by the late Sen. Jesse Helms — and because her election could signal a new era for southern Democrats.

Dole had always been a favorite daughter of the Tar Heel State, yet Hagan ran an aggressive race, fueled by national Democratic money, that portrayed the incumbent as out of touch and ineffective. The race will perhaps be best remembered for Dole’s infamous “Godless” ad — a spot that accused Hagan of cavorting with atheists who attended one of her fundraisers last year. That ad was widely denounced by local North Carolina newspapers and may have actually backfired on Dole.

Dole, a former Cabinet secretary and a presidential candidate in 2000, was considered a rising force in Republican politics when she claimed the North Carolina Senate seat in 2002. But Dole’s star began to fizzle in 2006, when the Republicans lost their Senate majority on her watch as the chairwoman of National Republican Senatorial Committee. In the Senate over the past two years, Dole was rarely involved in major legislative negotiations and seemed marginalized after the debacle of her NRSC chairmanship.

Dole was criticized throughout this election cycle for not spending much time in North Carolina until the final couple months of the campaign, and Hagan proved to be an energetic foe. After the “Godless” ad, Hagan quickly took to the airwaves with ad in which she looked straight into the camera and talked about how she taught Sunday school and had been an elder in her Presbyterian church.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was also brutal with its attacks, making what appeared to be an attack on Dole's age, 72. In an ad that ran over the summer, the DSCC asked, "Is Dole 92 or 93?” It was a reference to an effectiveness rating Dole had received, but not everyone took it that way.

Hagan will join what is expected to be a robust freshman class of Democratic senators from previously Republican states, giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a larger working majority to push through a wide range of Democratic priorities.

Hagan, 55, is a former banker and state senator from Greensboro who chaired the North Carolina Senate’s budget committee. She will be sworn in as North Carolina’s second female senator and the first Democrat to represent the state since John Edwards retired from the Senate in 2004. Hagan has Democratic politics in her bloodlines — her uncle was the late Florida Gov. and Democratic Sen. Lawton Chiles. She was born in Shelby, N.C., in 1953, and after a stint as a bank vice president, she served in the North Carolina State Senate for a decade, pushing through a teacher pay raise and additional funding for early childhood education. She lives with her husband, a wealthy businessman who was criticized by Dole’s campaign for owning a stake in several oil wells, in Greensboro. During the campaign, Chip Hagan also took heat for his longtime membership in the Greensboro Country Club, which didn’t admit blacks prior to 2005.

Glenn Thrush contributed to this story

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue