Why, after the Democrats captured both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections, did so little happen of consequence? One answer is, the Democrats controlled the House, but they didn’t really control the Senate, where 60 votes out of 100 are needed to break a filibuster, and the Democrats have but a shaky 51. The result: regular derailing of House-passed bills by Senate Republicans.

North Carolina’s two senators, both Republicans, have been charter members of the obstruct-progress gang. Fortunately, we have the chance to replace one with a determined, high-energy Democrat, state Sen. Kay Hagan of Guilford County, whom we endorse.

Hagan, a powerful budget chief in Raleigh, wasn’t our first choice for this gig. She’s a bit too pro-business for our progressive taste, not very pro-labor, and she can’t talk enough about the military brass in her family and how pro-defense spending she’s going to be. Thus, we endorsed someone else in the Democratic primary.

But that’s water over the dam. Hagan won, and since then her centrist politics, together with massive TV advertising support from national party headquarters, has vaulted her into a competitive race against the supposedly unbeatable Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Christopher Cole, a Libertarian, is also running.

Frankly, Dole has been everything she promised to be when, after the late Jesse Helms announced his retirement from the Senate six years ago, she jetted back to her native state from Washington, D.C.where she lives with her husband Bob Dole, the former Kansas senatorto claim Helms’ mantle of conservative leadership. Dole’s been pro-life, anti-gay, a dependable ally of the rich, no help to the poor, and a “see no evil” benchwarmer on the Senate Banking Committee, where she watched as the Bush administration gave the giant U.S. banks carte blanche to plunge us into subprime disaster.

Indeed, there’s been no more determined supporter of the Bush administration’s policies, nor obstructor of Democratic changes, than Dole. She backed Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and she’s opposed all subsequent Democratic efforts to set a timetable for withdrawal. She voted with Bush, and in opposition to the Democrats, against expanded health care for children; against raising the minimum wage; against funding for renewable energy sources; and against a windfall profits tax on the oil companies even when gas hit $4 a gallon.

Dole supported the huge Bush budget deficits, but now laughably, her campaign is blasting Hagan for relatively insignificant increases in state indebtedness. What a joke.

The one thing Dole didn’t learn from Helms was to stick to her knitting at home. Helms’ Senate office offered exemplary constituent services. By contrast, until her re-election was threatened, Dole couldn’t seem to be bothered even coming to North Carolina; she spent much more time campaigning in other states as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP’s Senate election arm.

In that vein, too, Dole’s work came to grief: The GOP lost the Senate in ’06, Dole lost her party post, and North Carolinians gained insight about their celebrity senator and how ineffectiveand disconnected from our stateshe really was.

Predictions that the Democrats will win 55 or more Senate seats, and perhaps even a filibuster-proof 60, make it all the more important that Hagan replace Dole. The reason: Hagan’s victory will be almost surely be in the “or more” category, adding a supposed “red state” seat to the 55 and helping push the total towards 60.

As part of a solid Democratic majority, Hagan will be a team player in Washington just as was in the N.C. Senate starting out. She became a leader here in time. Up there, she may again.