Grier Martin against Elizabeth Dole for U.S. Senate seemed like a longshot two months ago, after Congressman Brad Miller bowed out of the “I might be the Democrat who takes on Liddy in ’08” sweepstakes. Martin, a state representative who lives in Raleigh, said he’d been waiting on Miller and would be “looking at” the race, but there were many questions in his mind, including how to raise the big money ($20 million?) needed to compete against the incumbent Dole. A few days ago, Martin said he’s still looking and the money’s still daunting. But he’s convinced Dole is vulnerable and maybe even, he said, vulnerable to him. There was no mistaking the new bounce in his tone: He wants to run. And he’s much closer to doing it.

How would the soon-to-be 39-year-old Martin match up against Dole, who in July turned 71? She’s vastly more experienced, obviously. He has all of two state House terms under his belt. But he’s the up-and-comer, the Afghan war vet (a lawyer in the Army Reserves, he volunteered for active duty after 9/11) who also stood strong against the scandalous state lotterydespite heat from the now-disgraced Jim Black. With her experience, Dole backed the war in Iraq and is still an all-out supporter.

What about charisma? Dole’s is very controlled, and she’s been little-seen in North Carolina since her election in 2002. Martin’s energy and outgoing personality are huge plusses for him.

Martin’s not the only Democrat “looking at” a Dole raceothers reportedly include ex-state Sen. Howard Lee, 73, of Chapel Hill, now the chair of the N.C. Board of Education and a member of the N.C. Utilities Commission.