Monday, May 19, 2008

Lurking Out There: Dole vs. Hagan

With all the concentration that Tar Heel voters got with the Democratic presidential primary and the other contested primaries (the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries and other key Council of State races), little attention was paid to the U.S. Senate primaries. But now that we have the candidates down, some folks are beginning to wonder, what might happen with the Dole-Hagan U.S. Senate race?

The national landscape continues to look dismissal for the GOP, particularly when it comes to congressional races. On the U.S. House side of the Hill, watch the 8th Congressional race between long-time incumbent Robin Hayes, Republican, and second-time challenger Larry Kissell, Democrat. With all the attention that went to the N.C. 11th Congressional District in 2006 mid-term between Republican incumbent Charles Taylor and the winner Democrat Heath Shuler, the 8th district race went virtually unnoticed. But several weeks prior to the 2006 mid-term, an Elon Poll came out with Hayes in a very dangerous position: even though he rated high with "confidence" by respondents, he had a low-approval rating for a sitting incumbent (46% either approved or strongly approved). The end result from 2006: Kissell, running an under-funded but strong grass-roots campaign, came within 300+ votes of unsitting Hayes.

The key lesson from my studies of congressional campaigns: for sitting incumbents, you want your approval ratings in the 60s to ensure a chance at re-election.

Which brings us to Dole: in a February 2008 poll by Elon, barely 50% (50.7, to be exact) expressed approval of her work as a U.S. senator for the state, with 54.7% expressing satisfaction with her work. See the key lesson above--and this may indicate a race that is flying under the radar in terms of competitiveness.

If the DSCC (the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) decides to view the Tar Heel state as one that could be competitive with a solid nominee in Hagan (see recent some polls), we could have three very interesting state-wide battles going on at the presidential, gubernatorial, and U.S. senate levels in North Carolina.

Granted, with her extremely high name recognition level, abilities to raise money, and what appears to be her recognition of what might be a tough fight (see an article in the News & Observer), Dole has opportunities to boast her level. But going into what trends as an ugly year for congressional Republicans (the recent loss of three U.S. House seats to Democrats, two of which were in the deep South, in special elections), the undercurrent of resentment and discontent may take its toll on incumbents who would normally coast to an easy re-election bid.