Of all of this year’s Senate races, the one that’s most taken me by surprise is the Dole-Hagan race in North Carolina. Right out of the starting get, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, and New Hampshire were understood to be solid pickup opportunities. And Oregon and Minnesota (along with Maine, which now looks very safe for the GOP) are classic instances of going after GOP incumbents in solid blue states in a bad year for Republicans. Then there’s Alaska where obviously Ted Stevens’ legal problems were going to create problems with him. And then you’ve got some longshot races in Kentucky and Georgia. But Hagan doesn’t fit those models and her race isn’t a longshot at this point — she’s clearly favored. It’s a turn of events that’s really taken DC by surprise.
I’m not sure exactly how to account for it, but her impressive string of newspaper endorsements does seem noteworthy. Conventional wisdom has it that these endorsements don’t matter, but part of that is probably because most newspaper endorsements are pretty predictable. Something like the Washington Post, which always endorses the Democratic presidential nominee, endorsing the Democratic presidential nominee despite having tilted somewhat more to the right in recent years passes for noteworthy. But the solidity with which Hagan has picked up endorsements — every paper in the state that’s endorsed so far — suggests something well-beyond picking up the predictable sources of support. And one can see how that kind of thing could be a big boost to a candidate who didn’t start out with great statewide name recognition or a strong financial backing.