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Elizabeth Dole has rolled a hand grenade into the Senate race. The question is whether it will blow up Kay Hagan or Dole herself.

The Dole campaign last night launched an ad tying Hagan to the “Godless Americans PAC.”

Today, an attorney sent Dole herself – at her Watergate residence in Washington – a letter demanding that her campaign take the “genuinely libelous” ad off the air. If Dole does not do so by noon Thursday, the letter from Raleigh attorney Bruce Thompson said, Hagan will seek a court injunction – and damages from Dole.

I thought Dole’s to-camera ad – “you think like I do” – was pretty good and that she was putting Hagan on the defensive. I’m surprised Dole decided to risk an ad like this, which one TAP reader called the “white hands” ad of this campaign.

Is the Dole campaign desperate?

In 1988, Jim Gardner beat Tony Rand for lieutenant governor thanks in part to an ad that associated Rand with drug dealers. Rand later sued and apparently won a big settlement from Gardner.

After 2000, Roy Cooper was accused of libeling an opponent. A suit resulted, and I don’t know if it was ever settled. Carolyn Grant filed a similar suit against Congressman Brad Miller. Miller, like Cooper, had to spend a lot of time and money defending himself.

In each case, though, the bomb-throwers won. The lawsuit threat is a good start. But now Hagan has to fight back with her own ad.

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