Hagan takes Republican seat of Dole

— -- Democrat Kay Hagan defeated incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina's bitterly contested Senate race Tuesday, unseating one of the best known figures in the U.S. Senate.

In her victory speech, Hagan called her win "a testament to how hungry people are for a change."

Dole was one of several embattled incumbents fighting to retain her post in a political climate made hostile to Republicans. "It's been a hard-fought campaign," Dole said in her concession speech. "Historic winds have swept across the political landscape, unsettling allegiances and toppling traditions."

Dole, 72, a two-time Cabinet secretary, head of the Red Cross and a presidential candidate, waged an expensive battle with Hagan for what was once considered a safe seat for Republicans. Hagan, a five-term state senator, had the financial backing of national party officials eager to expand their Senate majority.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had spent more than $11 million to aid Hagan, according to data compiled through Sunday by the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute, which tracks money in politics. The Republican Senate election committee pumped $5.8 million into the race to help Dole during the same period.

The race turned nasty in the final days of campaigning after Dole ran an ad questioning why Hagan attended a fundraiser at the home of a man who advises an atheist political action committee. Hagan, a Presbyterian, fired back with a defamation suit and an ad of her own, asserting her Christian faith.

All along, the contest was marked by sharp exchanges. Hagan cast Dole as too closely aligned to President Bush.

Ferrel Guillory, an expert on state politics at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said that message hurt Dole as Bush's approval ratings plummeted. In Dole's first Senate race, "she was seen as this North Carolina icon who has gone off to Washington and done well," he said. "She was running in 2002 as an ally of President Bush's a year after 9/11 when Bush was still riding high.

"Six years later, it has turned on her," Guillory added.