Sen. Kay Hagan (D)
Elected: 2008, term expires 2014, 1st term.
Born: May 26, 1953, Shelby .
Education: FL St. U., B.A. 1975; Wake Forest U., J.D. 1978.
Family: Married (Chip); 3 children.
Elected office: NC Senate, 1999-2008
Professional Career: Lawyer; Banker
Kay Hagan, a Democrat, upset Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008. Hagan was born in Shelby in Cleveland County, which in the 20th century produced an unusually high proportion of prominent state Democratic politicians. When she was a child, her parents moved to Lakeland, Fla. Her father, Joe Ruthven, worked in the tire business, was a real estate broker, and was elected mayor of Lakeland. There were other political influences in her life. Her uncle was Lawton Chiles, who was a state senator from Lakeland in the 1960s, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1970, 1976, and 1982, and went on to become Florida governor in 1990. Hagen helped out in Chiles’s campaigns, and also interned in his Senate office in the 1970s.
|Kay Hagan (D)||2,249,311||(53%)||($8,953,274)|
|Elizabeth Dole (R)||1,887,510||(44%)||($17,468,134)|
|Christopher Cole (Lib)||133,430||(3%)|
|Kay Hagan (D)||801,920||(60%)|
|Jim Neal (D)||239,623||(18%)|
|Marcus Williams (D)||170,970||(13%)|
Hagan graduated from Florida State and then went to law school at Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, where she met her husband, Chip Hagan. After graduation they moved to his hometown, Greensboro, where she worked as an attorney in the trust department at NationsBank (now Bank of America). After her third child was born, she was a stay-at-home mom and got involved in civic affairs—the Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro Day School—and Democratic politics. In 1992 and 1996, she was Greensboro chairman for Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt’s campaigns. In 1998, Hunt persuaded her to run for the state Senate, convincing her that she could still balance her kids’ soccer practices and Scout meetings.
With campaign help from Chiles, Hagan defeated an incumbent Republican. Once in Raleigh, Hagan befriended Democratic Senate President Marc Basnight, who became her mentor, giving her important committee posts. Hagan was able to secure money for several projects in her district, including funding for the International Civil Rights Museum, the International Furnishings Market, and Center City Park. As a senator, she cast votes in favor of a state lottery, a two-year moratorium on executions, and financial incentives for corporations to create new jobs. She opposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, citing a state law already in place against it. She also proved an able fundraiser, bringing in more than $325,000 for each of her re-election races in 2002 and 2004.
In 2007, when it looked like GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole would be re-elected without serious opposition, state and national party leaders looked around for a candidate. Former Clinton-era White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, who lost the 2002 and 2004 Senate races, declined to run again. Democratic Gov. Michael Easley, though barred from running for a third term, declined also, as did Rep. Brad Miller and Attorney General Roy Cooper. In early October 2007, Hagan announced she would not be a candidate. But Hunt and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York pressed her hard to run, and later in the month she announced her candidacy. In a five-way May primary, Hagan’s chief rival was Chapel Hill investment adviser Jim Neal, who criticized Hagan as too moderate. She was the only candidate to run ads in the May primary and won with 60% of the vote.
At that point, Dole was the clear favorite. She had raised nearly $10 million, far more than Hagan. But Dole had also spent much of 2005 and 2006 traveling around the country on behalf of GOP candidates as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Dole had spent little time in North Carolina until the May 2008 primary. Hagan seized on this, accusing Dole of being a Washington insider and promising to give her a pair of ruby-red slippers to send her to her husband’s home state of Kansas. (Dole is married to former Republican senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole of Kansas.) Hagan ran ads accusing Dole of blindly supporting the Bush administration and being “in the pocket of big oil” because of political contributors who worked for energy companies. National Democrats also subtly raised the issue of Dole’s age with a television ad featuring two elderly men in rocking chairs debating whether Dole was 92, the percentage of her votes in support of Bush administration stands, or 93, her effectiveness ranking in the Senate, according to the website Congress.org. At the time, Dole was 72. She attacked Hagan for supporting higher taxes on a state Senate budget committee and said she was a creature of national Democrats. Dole dubbed her “Fibber Kay.” She emphasized her work in the Senate on North Carolina issues, such as the 2004 tobacco buyout, preserving military bases, and protecting the state’s Medicaid funding.
By October, Hagan was consistently leading Dole in polls. With one week to go, Dole ran an ad attacking Hagan for attending a fundraiser in the Massachusetts home of one of the leaders of the Godless America Political Action Committee, a group opposed to having Christmas as a national holiday. The announcer said, “Godless Americans and Kay Hagan. She hid from cameras. Took godless money. What did Hagan promise in return?” Hagan, citing her Sunday school teaching and status as a Presbyterian elder, said Dole should be “ashamed” of the ad, which she said was “bearing false witness against fellow Christians.” Hagan threatened to sue for libel and slander. Some 3,600 people sent in contributions to Hagan.
Some North Carolina analysts said the “godless” ad backfired on Dole, and the polling evidence suggests it didn’t help her. Hagan won 53%-44%, running 3 percentage points ahead of Barack Obama while Dole ran 5 points behind John McCain. Hagan won 71% of voters under 30, while losing narrowly among voters over the age of 44. Dole carried white evangelical Christians 67%-31%, running 7 percentage points behind McCain among that group. Hagan clearly benefited from the huge increase in the number of young and African-American voters prompted both by the Obama campaign organization and spontaneous enthusiasm for Obama. But she probably would have prevailed in any case, as she ran ahead of most statewide Democratic candidates.