Local Politics

North Carolina readies for a presidential primary like no other

Posted May 5, 2008 11:34 p.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2008 12:19 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina's most significant primary in at least 20 years is hours away. 

The polls open at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, with a ballot featuring races for governor, U.S. Senate, statewide executive office and seats in the Legislature, on county commissions and on the judicial bench.

And there is the Democratic presidential contest that has drawn the nation's attention.

Typically, by the time the state's primary rolls around, the presidential front-runners are a foregone conclusion. But with the Democratic presidential nomination still up for grabs, the state's 134 Democratic delegates – 115 delegates who will be divided between the candidates according to the popular vote and 19 super-delegates – could make a difference for the first time since 1988.

"I want your vote," Sen. Barack Obama said during a visit to Durham on Monday. "I want it badly."

Obama and rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have spent the last two weeks campaigning across the state.

"Let's listen to what the people are telling us ... because if we listen, we will hear this incredible cry," Clinton said during a visit to Greenville on Monday.

More than 493,000 people have cast votes by mail or in person during the state's 2½-week early voting period – more than half the total number of voters who cast a ballot in the 2004 primary.

Democrats outvoted Republicans in the early period by more than a 4-to-1 margin, said State Board of Elections director Gary Bartlett. He predicted that more than half of the state's 2.6 million registered Democrats could cast a vote on Tuesday, while the Republican turnout could exceed 20 percent.

“We're going to have new records tomorrow for participation,” Bartlett said.

Extra poll workers are staffing voting sites across the state in anticipation of record turn out.

“You hold your breath and you hope you trained everybody well and you hope everyone gets their sleep tonight, because you know tomorrow is going to be a big day,” said Gary Sims, deputy director of the Board of Elections in Wake County.