Local Politics

Tar Heels can make history in election

Posted November 4, 2008 4:06 a.m. EST
Updated November 4, 2008 7:01 p.m. EST

— North Carolina – a Southern state that has cast its electoral votes with Republicans for more than a generation – is the surprise swing state of the 2008 presidential election.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama believes: "If we take North Carolina, we'll take the election."

Pundits and the pollsters agree, and they believe the Illinois senator has a chance to win a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Recent polls show the race too close to call. But at the very least, Obama has forced Republican presidential nominee John McCain to defend a state that President Bush won by 12 percentage points four years ago.

McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, his running mate, have made seven visits to the state in the waning weeks of the campaign, hoping to bolster Republican support.

No matter the outcome, the next presidential administration will be a first. If McCain wins, Palin would be the first woman to hold the vice presidency. Obama's history-making campaign could culminate in the first African-American presidency.

Voters lined up before sunrise Tuesday to cast their ballots, despite gloomy weather across much of the state.

National Weather Service forecasters expected rain in the eastern two-thirds of the state, falling heavy along the coast between Wilmington and Cape Hatteras. Temperatures were forecast in the 50s and 60s.

WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

“It’s not the type of adverse weather to prevent you from doing your civic duty,” he said.

North Carolina, with its 15 electoral votes, was targeted by Obama from the first day of the general election campaign. He opened dozens of campaign offices and spent millions on TV ads, at one point outspending McCain 8-to-1 on commercials. His aggressive get-out-the-vote effort is credited with helping drive a record 2.6 million people to the polls during the state's early voting period.

Officials estimate another 2 million will cast their ballots Tuesday, in part because of high interested in three heated races: president, governor and U.S. Senate.

Beyond the presidential election, Democrats hope state Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro can oust incumbent GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole as part of a Democratic wave that could lead to a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate. After voting Tuesday in her hometown of Salisbury, Dole didn't miss the chance to take a final shot at Hagan as their costly and often nasty race comes to its end.

"I hope people will vote to re-elect me," Dole said. "I have the experience and my positions are clear on the issues. It's difficult to get my opponent to state her position on the issues."

A victory for Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue over Republican Pat McCrory, the popular Charlotte mayor, would put a woman in the state's top job for the first time.

"I do feel like the people of North Carolina are looking for the best leader to steer this state through these challenging economic times," Perdue said Monday at a campaign stop. "And I believe folks understand I'm that leader."

For McCrory, a victory would be historic, too. His party has held the governor's office for just 12 of the past 107 years.

"We have got passion behind our candidacy because I'm convinced that people want to change the culture of state government throughout North Carolina," McCrory said Monday.

The huge success of early voting – more than twice as many people cast early ballots this year than in 2004 – led the state to scale back its Election Day turnout prediction to about 2 million. Still, the estimate of about 4.6 million voters overall would be 74 percent of those registered – far higher than the 64 percent four years ago.

"We hope today is as uneventful as an election can be," said state Board of Elections director Gary Bartlett. ... Once you get everybody open, it's pretty much routine."

"I would say the biggest concern was the issue of moving people through the line."

Besides president, U.S. Senate and governor, voters will choose a new lieutenant governor to succeed Perdue, an attorney general and seven other members of the Council of State.

All 13 members of Congress face challengers. Among them, Democrat Larry Kissell again faces GOP Rep. Robin Hayes in the 8th District. Kissell – a high school teacher from Biscoe – lost by just 329 votes in 2006.

New faces for insurance commissioner and state treasurer are assured, as Jim Long decided to step down after 24 years and Treasurer Richard Moore unsuccessfully ran for governor. All 170 seats in the General Assembly are up for two-year terms. One seat on the Supreme Court and six on the Court of Appeals also will be filled, along with hundreds of local seats.