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The Daily Tar Heel

Heir To The Throne

Elizabeth Dole Trounces Erskine Bowles To Capture Jesse Helms' Senate Seat

Republican Elizabeth Dole cruised to victory with unexpected ease Tuesday, defeating Democrat Erskine Bowles to become the first woman to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.

Elizabeth Dole defeated Bowles with 53 percent of the vote, capturing the hotly contested Senate seat soon to be vacated by Sen. Jesse Helms, who is finishing his 30th year in office. Bowles garnered 45 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting. About 1.2 million people cast votes for Elizabeth Dole, with Bowles receiving slightly less than 1 million votes.

The race was the nation's costliest, with about $21 million spent between the two campaigns.

Elizabeth Dole's victory speech was interrupted by spontaneous cheers from the hundreds of supporters packed into Salisbury's train depot. She addressed the crowd at about 10:30 p.m. after receiving a concession phone call from Bowles.

"We made history -- Elizabeth Dole will be the first woman to serve the people of North Carolina in the U.S. Senate," she said.

Joining Elizabeth Dole on stage was her husband, former Senate Majority Leader and 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole, and members of her campaign staff.

Elizabeth Dole praised Bowles' effort and stressed that she will do her best to represent North Carolina in Washington, D.C. "I want to ask those who voted for Erskine Bowles to please give me a chance because I intend to be a senator for all of North Carolina," she said.

The mood was more somber at the Hilton North Raleigh, where a crowd of several hundred gathered at about 10:30 p.m. to witness Bowles concede the election. He expressed his disappointment at losing but reaffirmed his desire to serve the state. "A few minutes ago I called and congratulated Mrs. Dole on her victory," Bowles said. "She absolutely earned it."

Bowles, who appeared on stage with Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., stressed that his defeat does not quell his dedication to the state's working families. He cited his father, who lost in the 1972 gubernatorial race, as an example of someone whose continued commitment benefited the people of North Carolina.

"There are lots of ways to perform public service," Bowles said. "My dad proved that with how he lived his life after 1972. I too will now look for other ways to serve. My desire to help the working families of North Carolina is just as strong and just as high as it was 13 months ago."

Both Bowles' and Elizabeth Dole's events were well-attended by prominent members of their parties, including N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who came in third in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, and Jim Snyder, who was Elizabeth Dole's closest competitor in the Republican primary.

Not in attendance at Elizabeth Dole's celebration was Helms, who had a strong legacy that many say will be difficult to continue.

Elizabeth Dole's speech also touched on criticism she received during her campaign. Many pundits chastised her reluctance to comment on specific issues and to participate in debates with Bowles. "You have the highs, you have the lows, and I want to tell you there's been a lot more highs than lows in this campaign," she said. "I wanted to run ... to make a positive difference for people. An incredible number of people helped me throughout this campaign ... and I'm going to help them."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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