Her bid to be N. Carolina's first woman senator may face stiff opposition from likely opponent Erskine Bowles.
Elizabeth Dole may not have lived in North Carolina since Elvis was king and Ike president, but she swears she never quite left her Tarheel home.
Even as the adviser to five presidents and as the former Red Cross chief, Ms. Dole made regular trips back to the textile town of Salisbury, where as a girl she was given her nickname, Liddy.
Dole brings the kind of national name recognition that's rare for North Carolina politicians to her race to replace retiring Sen. Jesse Helms. Yet her likely opponent - Charlotte investment banker Erskine Bowles - carries weight with a national reputation as well.
Dole's campaign officially starts tomorrow with a "kick-off" party in Salisbury. If successful, Dole would become the first woman senator from North Carolina.
The North Carolina seat is one of three open Senate seats in the South - all vacated by Republicans - that have both parties preparing for a close fight. "What you will have is very intense battles concentrated in a few small areas, and North Carolina is one of those," says Andy Taylor, a political-science professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
But the deeper question for Tarheel residents is how an unproven national candidate favored by the national Republican Party will handle the rapidly changing economy and demographics of a state lumbering out of its textile and tobacco past.
"We've had a string of elections where the soul of the state was at stake," says Ferrell Guillory, a Southern-culture expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "This is one where the state is still coming to grips with how much it has roots in the past and how much it's moving into the future."