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Edwards Defeats Faircloth, "Voters Chose Hope"

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RALEIGH — It was his first run for political office, and for Democrat John Edwards, it was a successful first try.

Edwards defeated Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth Tuesday, dominating the incumbent in his native eastern North Carolina.

Wednesday, Edwards only basked in the glow of his win for a few brief moments before vowing to get down to work.

Making the media circuit, the senator elect spoke withWRAL live at noon. The political outsider says his biggest challenge is "learning how to be an effective senator, which is something I've got to do."

The 45-year-old Raleigh trial lawyer drew support from Faircloth's key rural constituencies and held a nearly 10 percent lead in the state's urban areas.

Edwards led Faircloth in all the state's geographical regions except the mountain counties. Even in that largely Republican area, Faircloth's advantage was narrow.

Edwards says North Carolinians voted their hopes instead of their fears.

"I think folks here were looking for someone who they believed would be independent and represent all North Carolinians," Edwards said. "I think ultimately that's what made the difference."

Edwards told his audience in North Raleigh that voters picked a positive candidate, and they voted for equal opportunity for every American and against discrimination against anyone.

Also, Edwards mentioned Terry Sanford, the former senator who lost his seat to Faircloth. Edwards says it will be a great honor to try and stand in his shoes.

Edwards also thanked Faircloth for his years of public service.

Faircloth called Edwards around 9:45 p.m. and conceded the race.

Faircloth told an audience of well-wishers that he and his GOP colleagues were able to balance the budget for the first time in 35 years. He also pointed to welfare reform, which he says put people to work for the first time in three generations.

Faircloth said Republicans must not be disheartened by losing a handful of races.

"We must persevere in our beliefs," Faircloth said. "We absolutely cannot let the conservative cause, the conservative movement that has meant so much to this nation to be eroded because of one or two losses."

The Faircloth staffers said Wednesday if they had to do it all over again, they would stay away from the negative advertising. They say the real issue was the fact democrats went to the polls in big numbers and republicans did not.

In conceding the race, Faircloth quoted Winston Churchill, who consoled the prime minister when he lost his 1945 race for re-election by telling him it could be a blessing in disguise.

"And he said, `If it is, it's certainly well-disguised tonight,'" Faircloth said.

He called his loss a sad occasion, but said he was proud of what he's been able to do in his six years in Washington, especially the last four years.

Edwards' supporters, in exit polls, said they voted for the Democrat because they felt he would best address their concerns about the economy. Most voters said President Bill Clinton's affair with a White House intern played no role in their decision.

But Thad Beyle, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said a backlash among Democrats could not be discounted in analyzing who turned out to vote.

About one in five voters who went to the polls in North Carolina was black.

"I think there's a real tie between black voters and Clinton," Beyle said. "You probably have to go back to LBJ to find somebody who has seemed to work so hard for them, whether that is real or perceived."

Sam Currin, state chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, says party faithful are disappointed with the outcome of the elections.

"We are obviously very disappointed that Senator Faircloth was not re-elected," he said. "He's been a great senator and his defeat is a tragic lost for the state. At the same time, we extend our congratulations to John Edwards and his victory tonight."

The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal seemed to have a limited impact on North Carolina races. About half of those voting said it was not a factor in their votes for congressional candidates. The three in 10 voters who cast their congressional votes as an anti-Clinton protest sided heavily with Faircloth.

"I don't think the voters approve of what's been going on in the White House, but obviously there were a lot of other issues as well," Currin said. "We did everything we could to turn out our Republican and conservative vote. The Democrats obviously turned out their base vote. These races were still very close. Unfortunately, some went the other way."

Edwards enjoyed strong support from black and female voters and captured majorities in all age groups except seniors, according to exit polls.

Faircloth held a clear advantage among the six in 10 voters who said their minds were made up about the Senate race more than a month before the election.

But Edwards turned the tables by winning the support of nearly two-thirds of all voters who made up their minds in the last month, according to a survey of voters leaving polling places conducted by Voter News Service.

Moderates, who comprise the largest group in North Carolina's political spectrum, backed Edwards by a two-thirds margin.

About six in 10 women backed Edwards. That level of support for the Democrat led to a loss of about one out of every 10 women who sided with Faircloth in 1992.