Local News

Dole Stumps For Ballantine; I-85 Corridor At Stake

Posted July 29, 2004 11:12 a.m. EDT

— While the Democratic Convention in Boston was grabbing national political headlines Thursday, Republicans were busy in North Carolina.

Elizabeth Dole came to Raleigh to campaign for Patrick Ballantine, who is looking to unseat Gov. Easley.

"Patrick has a great deal of momentum, and we need to make sure we keep that momentum going all the way to November," Dole said.

Dole said North Carolinians are looking for a new leader who can inspire them. She presented Ballantine with a letter of support from President George W. Bush.

Ballantine said he hopes to follow Dole's model of conservative leadership.

The road to the governor's mansion could come down to a busy stretch of highway runnning down the center of the state. The Interstate 85 corridor is an area up for grabs this election year and has potential to swing two key races in the state.

Thirteen counties from Wake to Gaston represent 72 percent of the votes that will be cast in the November election. Political watchers say the independent voters living in the highly-populated corridor could decide the race for governor and U.S. senator.

"Research is showing Democratic performance along the I-85 corridor actually has declined over the last three elections," Democratic strategist Brad Cone said. "Republicans have remained constant, and the unaffiliated vote has increased."

Former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer is a Republican consultant. He believes Republican and Democratic candidates need to visit the I-85 region hit hard by job losses in the furniture, textile and light manufacturing sectors. Fetzer said they must give people there hope.

"Victory may hinge on that," Fetzer said.

Ballantine said he will not put any extra emphasis on the I-85 corridor. He wants to run an equal campaign in all 100 counties.

Gov. Easley's campaign said that, whether its in Watauga County or Wake County, every vote counts. So, he will stump statewide.

One way the candidates can key in on the I-85 region is by hitting the airwaves. The corridor is home to the three largest television markets in the state.