When she formally announces her candidacy for the U.S. Senate this week from her home state of North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole will become the instant front runner. The most recent public poll, conducted earlier this month, showed her clobbering her most likely Democratic opponent, Clinton-era White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, by a 47-point margin. Still, Dole's race for the seat being vacated by Jesse Helms may not be as easy as it once seemed. Democrats have put up TV ads blasting her for a Ken Lay-hosted fund raiser just nine days after Sept. 11. (Her campaign has since donated $5,000 received from Enron's ex-CEO and his relatives to a fund for employees of the bankrupt energy giant.) Some scoffed at Dole's declaring her mother's Salisbury home as her residence, when she's a fixture at the Watergate in Washington, where she and Bob have an apartment. And though her campaign had $2.5 million on hand in January, it also had an eyebrow-raising $637,000 in debts, mostly from direct-mail expenses, according to insiders. The big question, though, is whether Dole will get past the scripted, stilted quality that helped doom her 2000 presidential bid. Her announcement on Saturday may offer the first clues.
--By Matthew Cooper