RALEIGH, N.C. — Most polls show GOP gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine has to gain a lot of ground against Gov. Mike Easley. He hopes a tour across the eastern part of the state will sway voters to his side.
Ballantine is cooking up his campaign. At White House Swan of Steaks in Johnston County, the crowd is small, but the concerns among his supporters are large. From mental health to education, the Republican candidate for governor is listening and learning.
"You can't learn from the people unless you are with the people. There is no substitute for showing up," Ballantine said.
At the Ag Center in Wilson, Ballantine met with another small group.
"If he sees enough small crowds, it equals one or two big crowds, so I think his message is getting out," voter Keith Purvis said.
Ballantine is making a point to target eastern North Carolina. In the last governor election, the Democrat dominated the counties east of Interstate 95. Easley had 61 percent of the votes to Richard Vinroot's 39 percent.
"We are focusing on the east. It's a brand-new phenomenon for a Republican candidate for governor to focus on the East, and we think it's vital to our success," Ballantine said.
Ballantine knows he needs a lot of money to stay competitive. He is on track to raise $50,000 a day. He knows his fund-raising needs to heat up. However, a big obstacle is a new campaign finance law passed by the state Legislature. It prohibits advocacy groups from spending corporate or union money on a candidate within 60 days of a general election.
"It will have some effect. There's no need to tell you it won't. It will, but I think he'll make it up in energy," said Rep. Bill Creech, R-Johnston.
Easley spent Thursday in the western part of the state signing a new domestic violence law. He also spoke to National Guardsmen in Asheville who are getting ready to deploy.