Kay Hagan took the lead in North Carolina's Senate race in late August and never lost it. PPP's final nine polls showed her in the lead.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee helped her to take that lead with a remarkably disciplined and creative advertising campaign against Elizabeth Dole that hit on two key themes: tying Dole to George W. Bush's failed economic policies and making her out as an inattentive and ineffective advocate for North Carolina in the Senate.
Instead of fighting back with positive ads that portrayed herself in a positive light and tried to counteract the negative impressions being created of her with the electorate, Dole spent most of her money going after Hagan.
The problem with that strategy is that this election was never about Kay Hagan. It basically became an up or down referendum on Dole's performance as a Senator. The old men on the porch in the DSCC's ads asked the question 'what happened to the Liddy Dole we knew?' Dole's campaign never answered that sufficiently.
The bipartisan support Dole benefited from in her original campaign collapsed as well. PPP estimates Dole earned about 25% of the black vote in 2002. The North Carolina exit poll shows Kay Hagan winning those voters 93-1. Dole also earned upwards of 20% of the Democratic vote six years ago. This year the exit polls show that figure down to 6%, a figure that is not nearly good enough in a state with a significant 'D' identification advantage.
The final straw for Dole may have been the 'Godless Americans' ad. She had actually been tightening the race in PPP's tracking polls but much of her crossover support from Democrats fell apart in the days after she went on the air with that message, which may have hurt her perception as a moderate with swing voters.
That tactic might have worked in a North Carolina campaign 20 years ago. But the state has changed, and Kay Hagan is more 21st century North Carolina than Elizabeth Dole is.