Image: Elizabeth Dole
Chuck Burton  /  AP
Sen. Elizabeth Dole pauses as she gives her concession speech at the train depot in Salisbury, N.C., Tuesday night.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/4/2008 10:53:17 PM ET 2008-11-05T03:53:17

In one of the most expensive — and most mean-spirited — races in the nation, little-known Democratic challenger Kay Hagan defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina on Tuesday.

Just a few months ago, Dole was considered a shoo-in to be re-elected to her seat. But Hagan, whose fundraising prowess impressed party leadership, beat Dole handily.

Dole and Hagan were locked in one of the closest races in the nation, a race that turned sour in the final days.

When Dole aired an ad questioning Hagan's credentials as a Christian, Hagan's response was quick and aggressive. She sued Dole, accusing her of libel and defamation, and went to the airwaves to defend her faith, telling voters she teaches Sunday school and serves as a church elder.

"Sure politics is a tough business," she told voters, "but my campaign is about creating jobs and fixing our economy, not bearing false witness against fellow Christians."

For Hagan, the road to the Senate was an interesting one.

When she was initially offered a chance to challenge Dole, Hagan declined. She felt Dole was to ensconced to be unseated.

Pressured by her allies, however, Hagan eventually changed her mind. Now she's headed to the U.S. Senate after defeating Dole, who was seeking a second term.

Hagan's rise to the U.S. Senate mirrors that of her uncle, former Florida Sen. Lawton Chiles. Both were relatively unknown state senators when they began their campaigns.

Chiles earned the nickname "Walkin' Lawton" by walking 1,003 miles across the state to introduce himself to voters.

Hagan also journeyed around North Carolina as she tried to compete with Dole's famous name — taking a car, mostly.

Video: Dole suffers 'double stomach-punch' Hagan worked in the banking industry before her three children were born, and entered politics as a county manager for former Gov. Jim Hunt's campaigns in the 1990s.

She won a seat in the state Senate a decade ago — beating a Republican incumbent — and quickly rose through the ranks to become a chief budget writer.

In that role, Hagan influenced billions in state spending. The 55-year-old spent much of her time pushing Democratic efforts to increase funding for education. Along the way, Hagan became one of the most powerful women in Raleigh, rising through a leadership usually dominated by men.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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