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North Carolina: Hagan Does: Lawmaker Will Enter Senate Race

State Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who took herself out of consideration for the 2008 Senate race earlier in the fall, reversed course this week and said she would be a candidate after all.

Hagan joins investment banker Jim Neal in the Democratic race to determine who will take on Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) next November.

“She’s as strong a candidate as you’ll see running anywhere in the country,” Gov. Mike Easley (D) told the Greensboro News and Record Wednesday.

Democrats have argued that Dole, who was once seen as politically invincible in the Tar Heel State, can be beaten in 2008, but they have struggled to find an A-list challenger, and it isn’t clear whether Hagan or Neal will make Dole sweat. The incumbent had $2.3 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.

Brad Crone, a Raleigh-based Democratic consultant, told the Greensboro paper that a primary between Hagan and Neal would help raise the ultimate victor’s profile in the state.

“It will help vault the Democratic nominee up to Elizabeth Dole’s stage,” he said.

Neal, who is not well-known across the state but is personally wealthy and is popular among grass-roots Democrats, recently announced that he is gay — prompting some observers in the state to speculate that there is no way he can be elected statewide. Hagan denied this week that she changed her mind about running for the Senate only after Neal came out of the closet.

— Josh Kurtz