RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina takes center stage on Friday night with the Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, speaking at the party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
The event was supposed to be a dinner for 500. Now, the dinner crowd has grown to 900, with 4,000 expected to be in the audience to watch the two speak days before the state’s primary on Tuesday.
WRAL.com will carry the speeches — from the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and president — live starting at 7 p.m.
The event will be held at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds’ J.S. Dorton Arena, 1025 Blue Ridge Road, in Raleigh. All attendees are urged to arrive when the doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Jerry Meek, state Democratic Party chair, will welcome the guests and recognize party officials starting at 7 p.m.
Senate candidate, and potential Elizabeth Dole challenger, Jim Neal will be the first to speak.
He will be followed by, in order: gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue and presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Neal's rival for the nomination, State Sen. Kay Hagan, speaks after Clinton. She'll be followed by gubernatorial candidate State Treasurer Richard Moore and remarks from Gov. Mike Easley.
Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama will be last to the lectern.
“It is huge. We’ve never had anything like this. It is clearly unprecedented,” said Meek.
Party officials announced that 100 more tickets are available at the last minute for the previously sold-out event. After crews set up for the event, officials found they had room for 100 more people.
The tickets are on sale for $25 at the J.S. Dorton Arena at the State Fairgrounds. They're available on a first-come, first-served basis until they're sold out.
The candidates will be speaking to an audience filled with key Democrats in the state, including some super-delegates.
“These are the people who are with the party through thick and thin. They are the ones who will get out and work for you. They are the ones who will write checks for you, too,” said political commentator Barlow Herget.
The timing of the event has also brought increased interest. A WRAL news poll released Wednesday showed that Obama's double-digit lead over Clinton among Tar Heel Democrats had dropped to 7 points, with a 5-point margin of error. It found 9 percent of Democrats undecided.
“We’ve seen that in state after state as the election approaches. The polls get tighter and tighter,” Meek said.
Meek said that within the last week, he's seen attention shift from Indiana to North Carolina.
As each candidate tries to win over the undecided voters, Herget suggested that Obama focus on his background and how he relates to the working people of North Carolina.
“I would certainly focus on those things that are important to the crowd. I don’t think the Rev. Wright controversy helps him one bit,” Herget said.
Herget suggested that Clinton continue to talk about the things that helped her win in Pennsylvania, like health care and gas prices. He also said Clinton should play up her endorsement by Gov. Mike Easley.