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State Democrats Enjoy Successful Election As Black's Seat Hangs In Balance

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Mecklenburg County elections officials say that with the 115 disputed provisional ballots, a likely recount, and the involvement of attorneys, it could take weeks to settle the state House District 100 race. Democratic House Speaker Jim Black leads Republican challenger Hal Jordan by seven votes.

Black, who won one of his four terms as speaker by a single vote and pushed through a historic vote on the state lottery last year by just two votes, led Jordan by seven votes out of at least 10,500 cast in Tuesday's election for the Mecklenburg County seat, according to unofficial results from the state Board of Elections.

State Democrats Enjoy Successful Election As Black's Seat Hangs In Balance

Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson said Wednesday that 135 provisional ballots have yet to be counted in the district. The updated results must be announced no later than Nov. 17, when counties review their final vote totals, Dickerson said. It wasn't immediately clear when county officials would count the ballots.

Despite Black's links to a public corruption investigation, his fellow Democrats thrived on Election Day. In addition to reclaiming Congress, Democrats increased their control of the State Legislature.

Pending final results, the party looks to increase its hold on the House to as much as a 68-to-52 margin over Republicans. The Senate is looking at a 31-to-19 majority for Democrats.

"Our role will be very diminished," said House Minority Whip Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell.

Political analysts told WRAL that unhappiness with national issues such as U.S. troops remaining in Iraq were key in Democratic victories locally.

"What happened was the Iraq War and unhappiness over the Bush administration trumped the local scandals," said Rob Christensen, a political columnist for The News & Observer.

"All politics is local, except when it's national. And this year it was national," said Ran Coble of the North Carolina Center For Public Policy Research

Coble said Republicans just couldn't hang Black's legal troubles on fellow Democrats.

"I think it affected Jim Black's race, but Jim Black's race only," he said. "I can't name another race where a Republican was able to tie that Democratic incumbent to Jim Black."

Jordan was close to the pulling off the biggest upset of the night, but faced a daunting task in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 20 percentage points. Black's reputation was scarred by investigations of his role in the passage of the lottery last year and possible campaign fundraising violations.

He was called to testify last month at the federal trial of former lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings, a Black appointee who was convicted on five fraud counts. Several people linked to Black or his campaign have been called before a federal grand jury examining donations from the video poker industry and Black's fellow optometrists.

The State Board of Elections also ruled in March that Black violated campaign finance laws by accepting corporate contributions and incomplete checks from his fellow optometrists.

While Black has been charged with no crimes, four people associated with him have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes in the past year.

Christensen pointed out that Black still poses a predicament for Democrats.

"There's the possibility the speaker could be indicted," he said.

Democrats want Black's seat to stay under their control. However, the cloud of questions that follow him complicate public perception as the party hopes to capitalize on its gains.

"I think there will be a lot of Democrats who hope secretly Black won't pull through, because that way they can have a fresh start," Christensen said.

The speaker's race will likely take weeks to resolve as elections officials and attorneys sort through disputed ballots and a likely recount.

In Wake County, there's another close race in which provisional ballots might come into play. Rep. Nelson Dollar leads Greer Beaty by more than 300 votes. Both the House race between Russell Capps and Ty Harrell and the Senate race between Neal Hunt and Gerry Bowles race were tight, too.

However, none of the Wake County races is within the 1 percent margin required for a recount.


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