RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley is set to seek a second term in office, but will be four more weeks to determine his Republican opponent in the November election. Patrick Ballantine and Richard Vinroot are headed for an August runoff.
show both candidates finished neck-and-neck, each with 30 percent of the vote, in primary voting Tuesday.
Bill Cobey was third with 27 percent of the vote while the other three GOP candidates -- George Little, Dan Barrett and Fern Shubert -- each had less than 6 percent of the vote.
With no one Republican candidate getting 40 percent of the vote, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters will be held Aug. 17. That election will cost taxpayers about $1 million.
Around 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, officials with Vinroot's campaign claimed there were problems with the voting machines in Mecklenburg County, but those problems were resolved quickly.
With votes still being counted, Vinroot, a former Charlotte mayor, predicted he and Ballantine would face off in the runoff and criticized Ballantine's record in the state Senate, saying he voted for "pork."
"If you want someone who will go up there and increase your bureaucracy in record numbers, he may be your guy," Vinroot told supporters in Charlotte, adding that he'd streamline government.
Many of Vinroot's supporters were surprised about the early election returns, believing he would have more space between him and the other candidates.
"It's a little too early to tell, but I think Richard will win this," Vinroot supporter Steve Noble said. "Hopefully, he will win 40 percent plus and if not, he'll win the second primary."
Vinroot himself said he is not disappointed about the election returns.
"I think I'm going to win tonight, and I'm going to win in four weeks," Vinroot said.
As the numbers continued to roll in, Ballantine's supporters became more confident. Ballantine also mentioned wanting to debate Gov. Mike Easley.
"We are ready for Easley, for sure," the former state senator said. " I wouldn't be running for governor if I thought he was doing his job. We are going to let the people of North Carolina -- Democrats and Republicans -- know: 'Hey, you can't have a better governor in North Carolina.'"
"After all the numbers are in, we can all celebrate together," Ballantine said. "I want to carry the banner for the Republican Party and win this runoff election."
With the numbers so close late Tuesday, Cobey said he was not ready to to concede defeat.
"I feel optimistic," he said. "Everybody says a low voter turnout favors me. I had hoped that more people had come to vote, but I'll take it."
Cobey, Ballentine and Vinroot have all scheduled press conferences Wednesday.
The Democratic primary for governor was a little easier to determine. With 50 percent of precincts reporting unofficial results, Easley had 85 percent of the vote, while Rickey Kipfer had 15 percent.
Kipfer, a former corporate manager and political newcomer, quit his job to campaign against Easley on a platform of lower taxes and exploration of natural gas deposits he said lie beneath North Carolina.
Defeating Easley will be a daunting task for any Republican. Since the state constitution was changed in 1977 to allow governors to seek second terms, no incumbent Democrat has lost his job.
Easley had more than $4 million in cash on hand at the end of June, according to his campaign.