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Dole projected to win North Carolina Senate seat

Dole's election means that both spouses of the 1996 presidential candidates will be Senators in 2003.
Dole's election means that both spouses of the 1996 presidential candidates will be Senators in 2003.

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(CNN) -- Former Republican presidential hopeful Elizabeth Dole defeated former Clinton White House official Erskine Bowles to become the Tar Heel State's first female senator, CNN projects.

Dole became the favorite in the race when she scored a convincing primary victory September 10, taking 81 percent of the vote in a seven-way GOP race.

Bowles, a wealthy investment banker, began the general election race with several challenges. He faced a divided party base and had to work to gain support from black voters who backed state Rep. Dan Blue in the Democratic primary.

Bowles' most formidable challenge was overcoming his work as chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton, who has always been unpopular in North Carolina.

Although Democrats hit Dole hard for holding a fund raiser with former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, Bowles was also vulnerable on corporate-responsibility issues. He spent a year on the board of Merck Pharmaceuticals, which acknowledged using accounting gimmicks to claim revenue it never collected. Dole also held a sizable financial edge throughout the campaign.

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