The commercial has been widely criticized, even by Republican strategists, as going too far. Hagan probably has little chance of winning a libel lawsuit against Dole, but her quick reaction puts voters on notice that she's pretty ticked off. Dole's commercial does have the look of a desperate maneuver. Hagan is leading in most polls, and Dole's campaign has been pitifully ineffective in countering Hagan's smoothly running campaign.
Although a number of high-profile Democrats (including Gov. Mike Easley) declined to take on Dole, who, despite partisan ties to an abysmally unpopular president, seemed headed toward a comfortable re-election, Dole has run one of the most ineffective campaigns in recent memory. First of all, she nearly disappeared from the state over the past five years, apparently feeling comfy with her Washington apartment and her decades of social connections in the capital. Unlike Sen. Richard Burr, who has spent every congressional recess making the rounds in North Carolina's cities and small towns, Dole was rarely seen in North Carolina. Some news media have questioned how many times she actually spent the night in this state since being elected.
Making matters worse, Dole didn't seem to take Hagan seriously and did not gear up her campaign until she belatedly discovered how vulnerable she is. Dole's campaign ads have not been effective in changing the impression that she has been aloof and absent, that she has followed the lead of an unpopular president and that she was more concerned with Washington, D.C., than with Washington, N.C.
Hagan has been less than an ideal candidate. She has said and done things that should cost her support among generally conservative Tar Heel voters. But the Dole campaign, such as it is, has failed to exploit those openings. Hagan has come out in support of ending secret-ballot union elections (a curtsy to the labor unions who have contributed to her campaign) and of the right of N.C. teachers and other state employees to go on strike. She also was unwilling to take a stand on Congress' recent financial bailout package until Dole had already cast her vote against it. Against a more aggressive candidate — or a more effective campaign manager — gaffes like those would be blared to the masses.
So why is Dole ignoring these legitimate differences and harping on the Godless Americans PAC? Hagan was less than astute in attending this fundraiser, which was ripe for exploitation, but it is less of an issue and less of a distinction than Hagan's indecisiveness about big issues and her kowtowing to union directives.
If Dole loses this election, which it looks like she will, she has no one to blame but herself.