Democrat Hagan Beats Incumbent Sen. Dole

Relative unknown Kay Hagan has defeated Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. A year ago, Dole was heavily favored to win the election. Hagan talks with Renee Montagne about why voters chose her over Dole.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

When Democrat Kay Hagan beat Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, she had these words for the naysayers.

Senator-elect KAY HAGAN (Democrat, North Carolina): All who were ready to write this race off and hand Elizabeth Dole the keys to her office for another six years...

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Senator-Elect HAGAN: But it's not her office.

MONTAGNE: It will now be Kay Hagan's. Her victory was an upset for Senate Republicans who lost at least five seats in the Senate last night. Senator-elect Hagan joins us now live from North Carolina. Good morning.

Senator-elect HAGAN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, perhaps not to you, but your victory was a surprise to many there. What was - what were you able to challenge about Elizabeth Dole's time in the Senate that worked for you?

Senator-elect HAGAN: Well, I think the fact that she really didn't spend enough time in North Carolina representing the people here. I've traveled all over the state for the last year talking to as many individual voters as I possibly could and getting my message out. And that message is, we need to bring real change to Washington right now, a change that makes a difference here in North Carolina.

MONTAGNE: Now, this race drew national attention, in part because of a negative ad put out by Senator Dole. It seems to have gone too far for enough of the electorate there. Just briefly remind us of what that ad was, and how big a role you think it played.

Senator-elect HAGAN: Well, I think it's clear from my victory last night that North Carolinians rejected that kind of negative personal attack. People here in North Carolina, they want action on the issues, not attacks. And we - I want to go to Washington and start this change. I'm committed to fixing the economy. And whether it's a Democratic idea or a Republican idea, I'm committing to getting the job done right. And that's what people here in North Carolina are interested in.

MONTAGNE: But not to go over old news from an election now in the past, this ad was a very strong attack ad, and it actually had a voiceover - which would have seemed to be your voice - it was not - of a woman's voice saying, there is no God. It suggested that you were Godless or your thinking was that of an atheist. You were pretty shocked. You came out pretty strong.

Senator-elect HAGAN: Well, Elizabeth Dole saw nothing wrong with her taking my voice and attacking my faith. But you know, that's not what the people are interested in. They want to talk about what's going to happen in Washington. That's why I won this race last night, because we are focused on helping working families in North Carolina. The economy is what is still important in North Carolina, the lack of jobs, the fact that people are worried about falling incomes and the values of their homes going down. We need to have effective leaders in Washington. And I believe that I want to work hard whether it's a Democratic idea or a Republican idea. We need to break this partisan gridlock.

MONTAGNE: Now, North Carolina has been a reliably red state for three decades. Just briefly, what do you think about your win there and the fact that the presidential contest is still - possibly could go to Barack Obama? Is this an historic shift or just a one-off?

Senator-elect HAGAN: Well, I think it is a historic shift. I think we have a lot of new voters that have moved in to North Carolina. And I think this election brought out a lot of new voters who had never voted before and a lot of young people who got very interested in this campaign.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us, and congratulations.

Senator-elect HAGAN: Renee, thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: Senator-elect Kay Hagan, Democrat of North Carolina.

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