10/05/08 — Sen. Elizabeth Dole sets sights on battle with Sen. Kay Hagan

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Sen. Elizabeth Dole sets sights on battle with Sen. Kay Hagan

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 5, 2008 7:51 AM

News-Argus/Bobby Williams

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., talks with supporter Gerald Hollamon of Mount Olive Friday morning at B&G Grill in downtown Goldsboro. Hollamon said he was thanking Mrs. Dole for voting against the government’s financial bailout plan.

Visiting Goldsboro for a fundraiser Thursday night and several brief meet-and-greets across town Friday morning, Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole sought to diffuse attacks that she has been an absent senator during her six years in office.

"The campaign's going well," Mrs. Dole said. "I've been in all of the 100 counties at least twice. And it's good because you have a chance to hear what's on people's minds -- their concerns."

Often called Senator Nowhere by her opponent, Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan, Mrs. Dole, born in Salisbury, also stressed her North Carolina ties.

"I'm very proud of being a North Carolinian. My roots are deep, deep in this state," she said. "It (the Senator Nowhere tag) is just campaign stuff, and there's been a lot of untrue things that have been said. It's a tight race. You just stay focused and work hard."

Which, she added, is just what she has done over the years, citing in the Goldsboro area in particular, her work during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process that resulted in more than 300 new airmen being added to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"The military is of great concern to me," she said, pointing to her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It's good for eastern North Carolina."

Mrs. Dole also highlighted the work that she has done to protect families, particularly military families, from predatory lenders, as well as her efforts to support leave from work for family members of wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, research and development for new armor and medical technologies for soldiers, and funding for the Seymour Support Center.

Additionally, she pointed to her work on the 2004 tobacco quota buyout, and legislation she introduced in the Senate earlier this year as part of the 2008 Farm Bill to establish the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission, meant to help provide funding and spur investment for economic development in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

And it's that kind of work that had several late-morning diners at B&G Grill Friday, planning to support Mrs. Dole in November.

"She's worked for us ever since she's been in office," said Edward Gooding of Goldsboro. "We appreciate what she's done, and we'll vote for her because of her record. I've always liked her. She's a nice lady."

Others were more impressed with her recent actions, particularly her vote against the proposed government bailout, which, she noted, with all the additions, has reached $850 billion.

"I just wanted to express my appreciation for her voting no on the bailout," said Gerald Hollamon of Mount Olive, after spending several minutes in earnest conversation with Mrs. Dole. "It was too fast. We knew nothing about it. I just think the bailout is wrong, and I think she's more of a conservative than anybody else we got up there."

The problem, Mrs. Dole explained, is that the bailout should not have been something done "over a weekend."

"We don't know if this is going to work," she said. "There were 200 economists who have suggested other ways we could go about this."

Among her suggestions were tax credits for home purchases, a suspension of mark-to-marketing accounting and a program for guaranteeing loans to banks.

But the real problem, she said, was the Democrats who defeated her proposals from the Senate Banking Committee, beginning in 2003, for increased oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- reforms she believes might have kept the housing crisis from occurring.

"I've been on the forefront since day one," she said.

And she plans to be on the forefront again in the next term.

"There are going to be a lot of reforms that are going to be necessary," she said.

Reforms also will be necessary in terms of immigration, she said, adding that it's not going to all happen at once.

"What I'm trying to do is do one part at a time," she said.

That means securing the border, something she has already helped get $3 billion for.

That also means enforcing current laws and helping deport illegal immigrants who commit crimes, again something she has worked to help coordinate between the state's sheriff's offices and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- after, she noted, the state government, including Mrs. Hagan, did little to discourage illegal immigrants from coming to North Carolina.

"We opened the floodgates. She's not been active on this issue. I've worked with sheriff's in all 100 counties. It's (an) optional (program) and it's paid for by the federal government. We're the only state in America that has a statewide plan," she said.

Now, Mrs. Dole said, she plans to focus on reforming the guest worker programs to ensure that farmers, construction companies and others have the help they need to survive, while leaving the problem of the existing 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants until last.

"We're not going to be able to round up and deport 20 million people," she said. "You have to go part by part, and it will resolve itself."