The 36th House district, considered by many political analysts to be among only a dozen competitive races statewide, has turned testy in the weeks running up to the Nov. 7 election.
Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar upset a six-term Cary lawmaker to claim the seat in the Legislature two years ago. Now, he's the incumbent in a tough race against Democratic challenger Greer Beaty, a Cary ad executive.
Beaty said she entered the race because she grew frustrated watching politics from the sidelines.
"I complained and complained, and my husband looked at me across the table around Christmas and said, 'Here's what's going to happen at our house. Either you're going to run for the seat, or you're going to shut up,'" she said.
Dollar touts his attendance record and anti-tax stands in the General Assembly. He's also been a vocal critic of Black, and he jabbed at Beaty in recent ads for not making Black a bigger campaign issue.
"It's time for the speaker to step down," Dollar said.
Black has been cited for campaign finance violations and has been linked to a former legislator convicted of taking bribes, a former lottery commissioner convicted of fraud and a former political aide convicted of a lobbying violation.
"I felt like I had been attacked," said Beaty, who fired back with ads chastising Dollar for attending a taxpayer-funded ferry cruise during the Tall Ship celebration.
The so-called "booze cruise" took a state ferry out of service to give VIPs a front-row seat for the festival in Beaufort over the July 4 weekend.
Although Dollar repaid the state for his expenses on the cruise, Beaty's ads employ a Love Boat theme. Dollar blames the Democratic Party, which financed the ads.
"I think it's just simply the state Democratic Party trying to buy a seat in the Legislature, trying to buy a vote," he said.
Beyond the bickering, Dollar and Beaty both believe education and the economy need nurturing.
"We've got to be able to find a way to grow not just bigger, but to grow better," Beaty said.
"I have called for reforms in the General Assembly. I have called for change," Dollar said.