Republican incumbent: Elizabeth Dole
Democratic candidate: Kay Hagan
Dole, 72, has been a senator since 2003. She was secretary of transportation in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet, and was later appointed secretary of labor by George H.W. Bush. Her husband, Bob Dole, represented Kansas in both the House and Senate, and was Republican leader in the latter body. He was the unsuccessful Republican presidential nominee in 1996.
Hagan, 55, is a state senator. Her uncle, Lawton Chiles, was governor of Florida, and represented that state in the U.S. Senate.
Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Dole leading by as much as 12 points.
The Washington Post reported on July 7 about an odd occurrence that indirectly involved Hagan. Barack Obama was unable to get to North Carolina when he had airplane problems after a takeoff from Chicago. She spoke at a rally that Obama was unable to make, citing one of her campaign themes: that Dole is a carpetbagger, who should "click her heels three times and go home to Kansas with Bob".
North Carolina is typical of southeastern states, in that Democrats dominated its politics until the 1970s. Dole's Senate seat was held by Republican Jesse Helms from 1973 to 2003. North Carolina's other senator is Republican Richard Burr, who succeeded Democrat John Edwards, who gave up his Senate seat to run for president, eventually becoming the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
Democrats are expected to make signficant gains in the Senate this year. If Hagan is able to overcome Dole's lead, that would be a sign that those gains are more like a landslide. But, so far, the polls do not so indicate.