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In Late Reversal, Ballantine Declared Winner Over Vinroot

Posted July 22, 2004

— Richard Vinroot was leading the Republican gubernatorial primary when he went to bed Tuesday night. Twenty-four hours later, he found himself in second place.

The results of the GOP primary changed late Wednesday night after errors were found in New Hanover County totals.

A recheck showed that results from one precinct were not reported Tuesday. Another precinct was misidentified, and some vote totals apparently were transposed.

The mistakes changed the 1-2 order in the GOP gubernatorial race, putting Ballantine ahead of Vinroot.

According to a final unofficial from the State Board of Elections, Ballantine led the race with 109,552 votes to 108,247 votes for Vinroot.

Ballantine's victory means that Vinroot must request a runoff, which is allowed because neither candidate got more than 40 percent of the vote.

A runoff would be held Aug. 17.

Vinroot wasted no time in starting his campaign for next month's GOP gubernatorial runoff, attacking Ballantine's voting record on taxes and pork-barrel spending Wednesday.

After Vinroot and Ballantine finished neck-and-neck in Tuesday's six-person GOP primary, the former Charlotte mayor was back campaigning Wednesday morning, while Ballantine sought the support of former competitors in the race.

The winner of the runoff will face Democratic incumbent Mike Easley, who overwhelmingly defeated one opponent in his party's primary Tuesday.

Vinroot called himself the true conservative in the race.

"I think it's a clear choice between a moderate with a big-spending record and someone who wants to reduce bureaucracy and government waste," said Vinroot, 63, who is making his third run for the office. "I think I'm the clear choice."

Ballantine, 39, served in the Senate for 10 years, five of them as minority leader, before he stepped down to run this campaign.

"I believe we've taken a big, big step, a step toward a new administration that will get things done," he said. "An administration with energy and enthusiasm, new faces and new ideas."

Ballantine won in 34 of North Carolina's 100 counties, most of them in the east where Vinroot performed poorly in his 2000 defeat to Easley. Ballantine also won a handful further west, including Macon, Cherokee and Yancey counties in the mountains.

Vinroot won 28 counties, including his home Mecklenburg as well as most in the 5th and 10th Congressional Districts, which held intense GOP primaries Tuesday.

Former state GOP chairman Bill Cobey, who finished third with 27 percent of the vote, won 33 counties, mainly in the Triangle and Triad with a few in the mountains such as Buncombe and Rutherford.

Vinroot said North Carolina Republican voters will have little trouble differentiating between him and Ballantine.

"Senator Ballantine is a fine man, but if you look at his record, he's done some things I would not support," he said.

For example, in 1998 Ballantine voted to increase state spending by $1.5 billion. And he has supported legislative initiatives to provide incentives for Fortune 500 companies to expand or relocate to North Carolina, Vinroot said.

Vinroot also planned to seek the support of the other candidates -- especially Cobey: "A lot of his supporters can be my supporters."

But Cobey's campaign spokesman said Wednesday he will remain neutral, at least for the present.

"At this point, he's not endorsing anyone," spokesman Jeff Miller said.

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