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Dole’s Absence Noted

The darling of the 1996 Republican National Convention, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) is AWOL from the Xcel Energy Center this week, forced to defend her once-safe seat in a come-from-nowhere race back home and dispatching her husband to the Twin Cities to mingle with Tar Heel State delegates.

“Sen. Dole believes that her time is best spent speaking directly with North Carolinians across the state this week about her record of results and ideas for energy independence and what we must do to grow our economy,” spokesman Brian Nick told Roll Call on Wednesday.

Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) confirmed that he plans to meet with North Carolina delegates while in town this week, both on the convention floor Wednesday night and at a delegation breakfast this morning.

“She has a race in November, and the Democrats have her as a No. 1 target,” the former Senate Majority Leader from the Sunflower State said Wednesday.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher applauded Dole’s decision to stay in North Carolina this week, writing in an e-mail that “Sen. Dole is exactly where she should be, in North Carolina speaking directly to the voters.”

A Democratic poll released Wednesday showed the Senator neck and neck with state Sen. Kay Hagan (D), whose surprisingly well-financed candidacy is drawing watchful eyes from Washington, D.C., including those of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has reserved $6 million-plus in television ads that have already been airing for a month.

“Elizabeth Dole is in serious trouble because North Carolinians want a Senator who will be effective and independent, and Dole is neither,” DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller said in an e-mail Wednesday. “Voters know Elizabeth Dole very well, and they simply aren’t satisfied with the representation she’s giving them in the Senate.”

As of July 1, Dole had $2.7 million in cash on hand, while Hagan had socked away $1.2 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Hagan’s campaign hammered Dole’s conspicuous absence in St. Paul, Minn., a stark contrast to 12 years ago when her husband was a candidate and she was a belle at the GOP ball. In a convention that was largely devoid of energy, her speech, in which she took a hand-held microphone and moved among the delegates, was an undeniable highlight. A newspaper account at the time called it an “Oprah-style performance” for a nominee’s spouse “who seems to be featured almost as much as the candidate running for president.”

But a spokeswoman for Hagan said Dole’s absence from St. Paul shows that she is trying to distance herself from Bush and the GOP. “Over 40 years in Washington, nearly six years in the Senate, having voted 92 percent of the time with President Bush, and Elizabeth Dole thinks four days apart from the Bush-Cheney Republicans will enable her to say with a straight face that she’s worked for North Carolina’s best interests?” Hagan spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said. “She’s spoken at five prior conventions and praised President Bush when speaking at the convention just four years ago.”

The Democracy Corps/Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey, conducted Aug. 20-26, showed Dole trailing Hagan 50 percent to 45 percent. The Democratic poll interviewed 852 likely general election voters and had a 3.5-point margin of error.

“Less than half of voters — 46 percent — are familiar with Hagan, while Dole receives troubling marks from voters — just 38 percent approve of the job she is doing as Senator, and voters are divided on her personal favorability ratings — 37 percent favorable, 34 percent unfavorable,” according to a Democracy Corps polling memo.

And perhaps adding to Dole’s woes, the new poll also suggested that Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) is running close with presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in a state that Democrats, including DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), hope to turn blue on Election Day.

But political surprises are nothing new for Dole, a former Cabinet official and 2000 presidential candidate who handily beat Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles six years ago in a race that cost the candidates a combined $27 million.

Asked about Dole on the convention floor at the Xcel Center on Tuesday night, North Carolina state Sen. Tom Apodaca (R) said not to “write her off yet.” Apodaca blamed some members of his own party for fanning a whisper campaign earlier in the cycle that Dole had lost her way, primarily because of a lackluster tenure in 2006 as NRSC chairwoman.

“Democrats picked up on it, but I think some segments of the Republican Party were not satisfied,” he said. “I don’t know if you can blame it on her given the tsunami Republicans faced last time. I don’t know if anyone could’ve done better, and that’s the sad part.”

Joe Hauck, a North Carolina delegate, said he was skeptical earlier in the cycle about whether “she was representing the state properly.” But when asked whether the Dole campaign has turned the corner during the past year, Hauck said, “I believe it has.”