Dole's 'godless' ad is talk of N. Carolina as race nears end

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 1, 2008 

Sen. Elizabeth Dole wrapped up her eight-day "ElizaBus tour" of the state while her challenger Kay Hagan worked early election sites Saturday in a late push for votes in the hotly contested U.S. Senate race.

"We've got three days to go," said Hagan, a Democratic state senator from Greensboro who's trying to oust Dole. "I'm feeling very good about this campaign."

While Hagan was greeting voters waiting to cast their ballots at Pullen Park in Raleigh, Dole was outlining her career accomplishments to fellow Republicans gathered at GOP headquarters in Union County.

"We've got to pull out all the stops and not leave anything to chance," Dole, the Republican incumbent, told about 60 supporters in Monroe. "I want your prayers. I want to be undergirded by a prayer network."

Neither Dole or Hagan initiated talk of the controversial "godless" ads that have drawn national attention to Dole's re-election bid in North Carolina, a religious southern state where every political event seems to start with both a prayer and a pledge to the flag.

Dole, who is trailing in some major polls, startled observers last week when she began airing ads that prominently use the word "Godless" in association with Hagan, who's active in her Presbyterian church.

The ads focus on a Democratic fund-raiser for Hagan held in Boston. Though U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., headlined the invitation, he didn't attend. The event was held at the home of Woody Kaplan, a civil liberties activist who supports Democratic causes and is a member of the Godless Americans PAC.

That group promotes a secular society and doesn't want government associated with religion in any way. It is opposed to Christmas being a federal holiday, and doesn't want God mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance or on U.S. currency. Hagan said she doesn't support the group's agenda.

Dole's campaign first drew attention to Kaplan's associations before the reception even took place, when a notice about it had been posted on a Democratic Web site. Hagan attended anyway, saying earlier this week that political contributors shouldn't be vetted by religious affiliation.

Voters were curious about Dole's ads and the rebuttal aired by Hagan, in which she talks about her faith.

"When I saw (Dole's ad) I was really surprised, if it's true, that she (Hagan) is that type of person," said Tom Dodgen, a retiree from Gastonia who is a substitute teacher and an admirer of Dole. "Then I saw the opponent's ad saying she's a Sunday school teacher. Something's not right."

In a Greensboro shopping center, Karen Smith told Hagan: "Dole did you a favor."

The 58-year old paralegal said she voted for Dole in 2002 and planned to do so again until the "godless" ad ran.

"I was a Dole fan before this," said Smith, who said she'd vote for Republican John McCain for president. "I just think this is a below the belt, dirty, nasty way to try to campaign."

Dole told reporters it is "purely a truthful ad."

"She chose to go. The question is why and what does she think about the agenda of the group, it has nothing to do with her faith," Dole said.

She spent Saturday telling supporters that Hagan is "wobbly" and has refused to take stands on important issues.

Hagan, who has argued that Dole is an ineffective leader, denied the assertion.

"We've accepted every statewide debate on the issues," Hagan said. "Elizabeth Dole will not debate me on the issues."

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