RALEIGH, N.C. — Republican gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine has made a sharp climb in name recognition during his run for the state's top office, but he still goes into Tuesday's election as the underdog to Gov. Mike Easley.
For months now, Ballantine has worked to burn his political mantra into the minds of voters.
"I believe I represent that new generation of conservative leadership," Ballantine said.
After 10 years as a state senator, the last few as the Republican leader, the Wilmington attorney does not blink at polls that show him trailing Easley by double digits.
"There's a surge and I can feel it, just like the primary when nobody picked us to win that. We feel good," he said.
Ballantine's surprise rise in the primary polls pushed him to the Republican nomination over better-known candidates. He believes his ability to reach across party and racial lines sets him apart.
"Eighty percent of it is showing up and I show up," he said.
Ballantine is using that philosophy to attack his opponent.
"We haven't had a captain of our ship. It's rudderless," he said.
Ballantine won the endorsement of the State Employees Union with the promise of pay raises. At the same time, he proposes lowering taxes on families and businesses. His critics said the numbers simply do not add up. He contends it is a matter of priorities such as dumping the state's plan to spend hundreds of millions on a light rail system.
"I'm saying use road money for roads," he said.
Ballantine accepts the fact he faces a better-financed incumbent, but he criticizes the State Board of Elections for blocking TV ads that could aid his campaign.
"It's simply unconscionable," he said.
When questioned about his age, the 39-year-old Republican said he is fully prepared to lead the state.
"Governor (Jim) Hunt was 39. Governor (Jim) Holshouser was 38," he said.
Ballantine is maintaining a sense of optimism about the race.
"There's a lot that can happen in the next few days," he said.
Ballantine spent the day campaigning in Charlotte with Sen. Elizabeth Dole and former gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot.