Black, a longtime incumbent in a strong Democratic district, faces IBM sales consultant and Republican novice Hal Jordan in the Nov. 7 race for House District 100 in Mecklenburg County.
Although both candidates talk about issues such as education, the conversation always returns to Black and his ties to people convicted of fraud, lobbying violations and conspiracy. Black, though, has not been criminally charged.
"I think he has lost his compass in terms of ethical behavior with regard to influence-peddling, with regard to the ethics challenges he faces that have brought a lot of shame to the district and to the state of North Carolina," Jordan said.
Although Democrats dominate the district, a Jordan-commissioned poll shows the rookie and the veteran in a dead heat. Looking for his fifth term as speaker, Black believes his record trumps any challenge.
"I expect to win handily," he said at a Charlotte campaign event Thursday, adding that despite his legal concerns, his campaign is his current focus. The speaker started the election year with about $1 million in campaign finances, but it appears the vast majority of the money has gone to pay his legal bills.
Jordan is counting on a ripple-effect upset.
"If I win this race against Jim Black, it will change the tone of the Legislature, and they'll start to rethink some of the things going on," Jordan said.
Both candidates agree the real difference on Election Day will depend on voter turnout.