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How Vulnerable is Sen. Dole?

Ask Democratic strategists about their chances of giving Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) a serious race in 2008 and you're likely to hear them say she is surprisingly vulnerable.

Ask their Republican counterparts and they'll respond that Dole remains an iconic figure in the Tarheel State and will cruise to a second term.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina
Do Democrats have a shot at knocking off Sen. Dole in 2008? It depends on which survey you're consulting. (AP File Photo)

Who's right?

Well, both sides have released polls recently that seem to make their respective points.

A poll conducted by Jan van Lohuizen earlier this month and released today by Dole's campaign shows her in strong shape for reelection. Sixty-four percent of the sample viewed Dole favorably while just 26 percent saw her in an unfavorable light. Dole's job performance ratings were similarly solid -- 63 percent approved of the job she is doing, compared with just 25 percent who disapproved.

Compare those numbers to President Bush's 45 percent favorable/52 percent unfavorable rating in the poll and it seems to justify van Lohuizen's conclusion that Dole's strong showing is in spite of "a difficult national political environment focused on Iraq."

Van Lohuizen pointed out that Democrats, who have yet to put forward a candidate against Dole, have their own problems in the state. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), the frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, has a 43 percent favorable/53 percent unfavorable rating in the state and nearly nine-in-ten voters (87 percent) view the state government, which is controlled by Democrats, as corrupt.

Case closed? Not so fast.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a poll of its own late last month that painted a drastically different picture. In that survey, which was conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang, 49 percent of the sample rated Dole's performance as a senator as either "excellent" or "good" while 46 percent said it was "fair" or "poor." Asked whether they would vote to reelect Dole, 35 percent said they would while 23 percent said they would consider someone else and 23 percent said they would definitely vote for someone else.

Atmospherically, the DSCC survey painted a bleak picture for Republicans. Just 34 percent said Bush was doing and excellent/good job while 64 percent rated him as fair/poor. Twenty-two percent of the sample said the country was headed in the right direction while 68 percent said it was off on the wrong track.

While the polls paint differing picture of Dole's vulnerability, they both agree that the climate in which she is running is an extremely difficult one for her party. The difference between the two polls is that van Lohuizen's survey argues that Dole is largely immune to the toxic political atmosphere while the Democratic one postulates that she is being weighed down by it.

The problem for Democrats at the moment is that they have no serious candidate willing to step forward and challenge Dole. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and state Treasurer Richard Moore are both running for governor in 2008 and don't seem interested in switching races in midstream.

Outgoing Gov. Mike Easley (D) hasn't expressed any interest -- publicly at least -- in taking on Dole. Asked about the Senate in a recent sitdown with Charlie Rose, Easley said: "I just don't want to live that way. I mean, if you're in the Senate, you're sitting around doing hearings all day long, having -- I'm not a good meeting person. I don't like sitting in meetings."

Well, then ...

So, if not Perdue, Moore or Easley, then who? Rep. Bobby Etheridge has repeatedly expressed interest in running for Senate, only to back away in favor of Erskine Bowles (D) in 2002 and 2004. Rep. Brad Miller, who won the 13th district in 2002, is also mentioned.

Dole could throw a wrench in all of these calculations by deciding not to seek a second term. Republican insiders insist she will run, but her age -- she will be 72 on Election Day 2008 -- and her less-than-stellar performance as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2006 cycle have kept the whispers alive.

Will Dole crack our top ten in this week's Senate Line? Make sure to check back Friday for the answer.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 13, 2007; 4:14 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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