RALEIGH, N.C. — From the campaign trail to the airwaves, the race to fill John Edwards' U.S. Senate seat has gained national attention. Both Republicans and Democrats would like to claim that seat.
In the final days of the campaign, national faces and political dollars are coming to the aid of Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Erskine Bowles.
"There's a lot being placed on this particular race in terms of attention," said Peace College politics professor David McLennan.
The reason for all the attention is the close makeup of the U.S. Senate. Right now, Republicans control the Senate with 51 members. Democrats have 48 members on the Senate and one independent.
"We're talking about a net gain of three seats on the Democratic side means they control the Senate. Republicans want to add a couple of seats to give them a margin," McLennan said.
Both parties hope to pick up open seats where an incumbent is not running. Bowles and Burr are vying for John Edwards' seat, which is why the National Republican Senatorial Committee is spending $3 million on ads against Bowles.
"It is a pick-up. We get to 52 seats. We win South Carolina, another one of these open seats, that's 53," said U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va. "If we can win Florida, another open seat, that's 54."
"The Republicans talk about this in terms of being able to hold onto the power that they have in the Senate. That's not why Erskine Bowles is running. That's not what he's about," said Scott Falmlen, of the state Democratic Party.
Bowles may not be concerned about the balance of power, but his national party is. It, too, is spending $3 million on the race. Analysts say losing ground in the South is one of the Democrats' greatest fears.
"John Breaux is retiring in Louisiana. The seat in South Carolina is held by Fritz Hollings who's retiring," McLennan said. "They lose those and all of a sudden, the South is solid Republican. That's why this is a crucial seat."
Although the race is a dead heat, recent history gives the advantage to Burr. A Democratic senatorial candidate has not won in North Carolina in a presidential election year since Sam Ervin in 1968.