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Easley, Vinroot to Face Off in November

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RALEIGH — North Carolina voters made their decisions about who should lead the state loud and clear. Democrat Mike Easley will face Republican Richard Vinroot in the November general election.

Attorney General Easleywon his party's bidby beating Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker by a wide margin. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Easley received 59 percent of the vote to Wicker's 36 percent.

Easley said he was surprised by his margin of victory.

"With the turnout, you never know what is going to happen on the numbers. But I'm pleased to see I was able to articulate the message well and that people want to lower class sizes and they want to do something about seniors' prescription drug problems."

Easley said he will continue on the same track as he campaigns towards November, promising "a clean, positive, issue-oriented campaign."

The race between Easley and Wicker has been especially hard fought. Wicker was gracious in defeat as he thanked supporters in Raleigh. Around 9:30 Tuesday night, Wicker called Easley to offer his congratulations and his full support.

"I just called Mike Easley and I congratulated him on his victory," Wicker told his supporters. "I told him, and I tell you, that he was a tough opponent and he will make a great nominee for our party and a great governor."

It was a closer race in theRepublican primary. Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot finished ahead of challengers Leo Daughtry and Check Neely with 45 percent of the vote.

Vinroot told supporters it was a better night than the one in 1996, when he narrowly lost the GOP primary.

"I've been here before, and I know the difference of how I feel tonight compared to four years ago," Vinroot said. "I'm a better man for it, and a better candidate. I'm not going to let you down."

Vinroot also pledged to stick with his primary campaign message.

Daughtry, a state representative from Smithfield, ran a close race, garnering 37 percent of the vote.

"We are still happy with our results," said Daughtry. "We wish we could have won, but it just wasn't in the cards."

Neely, a former state legislator from Raleigh, said money was to blame for his third-place finish.

"I really believe in our message of strengthening families. I think my failure was in my inability to raise money to get that message out on TV," he said.

Libertarian Barbara Howe won the right to run against the Republicans and Democrats in November with a decisive win over John Littlejohn. Howe came away with 80 percent of her party's vote.

To avoid a runoff, the winning candidate in each party had to get more than 40 percent of the vote.

In all, 13 candidates campaigned to replace Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat who served four terms over the past 25 years. Hunt is barred by law from seeking another term. From staff and wire reports