I recently wrote an article about Kay Hagan, the Democratic challenger to GOP Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. The race is one of the most critical of the election season, and both parties are spending millions to secure victory. Hagan, a state senator with little recognition outside North Carolina, has been holding a small but solid lead in the polls--this week, she's up three points--and Dole has struggled to garner support during the financial crisis, when economic issues took a forefront in the race. Now, though, Dole is hammering Hagan on social issues. She's accused her challenger of being "godless" in a new ad, noting that Hagan attended a Boston fund-raiser hosted by people with ties to an atheist group. At the end of the ad, Hagan's image appears and another woman's voice says, "There is no God!" Hagan has given Dole's campaign 24 hours to pull the ad before seeking a cease-and-desist order.

What's more, the NC GOP sponsored a mailer emphasizing that Hagan opposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage in the state (which she does). It also highlighted Hagan's Boston visit.

These heavy-handed attacks on social issues are new to the race, which, up until this final stretch, has focused heavily on the economy, as well as Dole's record and ties to President Bush. In September, I asked Hagan why social issues hadn't been brought up, and here is what she had to say in a portion of our discussion that didn't make it into my original article: 

"I don't think I've ever on the campaign trail gotten a comment about social issues. I think a lot of that is the fear tactics that Republicans and Karl Rove try to use as wedge issues. ... To me, we are our brothers' keepers, and we need to be working together to help the country."

It has yet to be seen what sort of effect the new GOP attacks will have, but they have shifted the rhetoric of the race and, for the time being, focused it squarely on the traditional GOP go-to issues of gays and God. Consequently, Hagan is having to play serious defense for the first time in several weeks, even more so than when Dole ran an ad comparing Hagan to a yapping dog. Hagan held a press conference with her pastor and family this morning to address her faith and spent this afternoon at the General Baptist State Convention. Her Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Joe Mullin, also recently recorded a radio ad in her defense.

--Seyward Darby