Thursday, May 29, 2008

Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole‘s campaign yesterday aired its first TV ad for the North Carolina general election, seeking to blunt a strong challenge by state Sen. Kay R. Hagan, a Democrat.

The 60-second TV spot showcases Mrs. Dole’s work fighting illegal immigration in the state, an issue on which she garners high ratings from voters even as her poll numbers are dragged down by falling popularity of the Republican Party nationally.

Presented in a series of testimonials by a half-dozen sheriffs, the ad tells voters Mrs. Dole spearheaded the country’s first statewide partnership with federal authorities to identify and deport illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

Recent polls show Mrs. Hagan in a dead heat with Mrs. Dole, an embarrassing showing for an incumbent who enjoyed a double-digit lead last month.

A Rasmussen Reports survey showed Mrs. Hagan, a five-term state senator from Greensboro, edging out Mrs. Dole 48 percent to 47 percent. Both candidates drew strong support from their respective party bases, but Mrs. Dole was hurt by the dwindling number of self-identified Republican voters in North Carolina, historically a Republican stronghold.

A separate Rasmussen poll showed presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona also struggling in the Tarheel State, with a thin 48 percent to 45 percent lead over likely Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

The polls confirmed North Carolina’s place on a long list of states where once-safe Republican seats in the Senate are in jeopardy this year. That list includes Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Virginia.

“The string of recent polls and voters’ response to Kay on the trail prove what we’ve been saying all along: Elizabeth Dole is vulnerable because of her ineffectiveness on behalf of working families in North Carolina,” said Hagan campaign spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan.

Dole campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said the incumbent did not place much stock in the polls but is bracing for a hard-fought contest.

“Senator Dole has always maintained this race was going to be tough, and she takes every race seriously,” he said, adding that Mrs. Hagan will face a litany of questions before November, including why she opposes a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

“This election is just getting started,” Mr. Gidley said.

Mrs. Hagan’s bounce in the polls follows a win in the state’s May 6 primary with 60 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates. Her closest rival captured 18 percent.

The Hagan campaign plans to criticize Mrs. Dole for voting with President Bush, including supporting what she called cuts to veterans benefits and opposing a raise in the federal minimum wage, Ms. Flanagan said.

She said the campaign also will highlight Mrs. Dole’s “lack of leadership” on immigration, an issue where she broke with Mr. Bush over the administration’s plan that would have offered a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants.

But the Dole campaign welcomed a debate on the immigration issue.

In the TV ad, sheriffs call Mrs. Dole “one tough lady … with major-league clout.”

Mrs. Dole, a nationally recognizable political figure whose husband is former Kansas senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, won the senate seat in 2002 with 53.6 percent of the vote.

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