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North Carolina's pivotal primary day has arrived

Voters across the state prepared to cast crucial ballots Tuesday that could sway a historic race for the White House and an equally competitive campaign for the Executive Mansion.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Voters across the state prepared to cast crucial ballots Tuesday that could sway a historic race for the White House and an equally competitive campaign for the Executive Mansion.

An announcement Monday evening that Sen. Barack Obama will hold his election night party in Raleigh capped a day of campaigning in the state by every major presidential candidate.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, will watch the returns from North Carolina's primary in North Carolina State University's Reynolds Coliseum. The event is open to the public, but tickets are required. You can request a ticket on Obama's Web site.

The final day before the primary saw a flurry of campaign activity by Obama; his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain; and the three candidates' spouses.

Clinton spoke at a train depot in High Point, where she was joined by Gov. Mike Easley and his son, Michael.

"She’s got what it takes. She’s ready, she’s tough, she’s smart," Easley said, calling Clinton his "best buddy."

"I wish I could bottle what I knew about Hillary Clinton and just give North Carolina a little sip. ... it's addictive," the governor said.

Obama spoke to 100 workers at Cree, a maker of light-emitting diodes and other high-tech equipment, in Research Triangle Park, – then made an unannounced stop at coffee shop in downtown Durham.

"I want your vote, and I want it badly," Obama said.

While speaking in Charlotte, McCain declined to speculate on whom he thought he would be running against in November.

"Very likely, it's going to come down to the starkest choice Americans have ever faced," McCain said, adding, "I'm confident I'll win it (the election), and I want to win it here in North Carolina."

All three candidates focused on economic issues in their speeches.

"I'm really campaigning on a central belief, "Clinton said. "This election is about jobs, jobs, jobs – good jobs."

Clinton noted that High Point has been hit hard by knocks to the furniture industry and called for raising taxes on the highest-earning Americans. She also proposed renegotiating trade agreements and doing away with tax incentives for foreign exports.

"The wealthy have gotten wealthier," she said. "Well, bless their hearts, everybody else should be able to benefit."

Both Obama and McCain emphasized that current economic troubles demand changes from companies, workers and communities.

"We could transform our economy for the amount of money that we're spending in Iraq on an annual basis, transform it, put millions of people to work," Obama said.

The economy has "gone from the old industrial era to the Information Age," McCain said. "We should not fear that change. ... We need to take the actions necessary to keep our economy growing and back on its feet again."

Clinton and Obama tried to draw contrasts between themselves by pointing out their differing views on suspending the federal gas tax for the summer – a plan first proposed by McCain.

"Sen. McCain wants to have a gas tax holiday, but he doesn't want to pay for it," Clinton said. "Sen. Obama wants you to pay the gas tax this summer."

"You eliminate the gas tax, and the oil companies simply make up the difference. ... They sop up whatever perceived savings the consumers might have," Obama said. "We no longer have that money going into our Highway Trust Fund that builds roads and bridges."

Obama urged investment in alternative energy sources and said the public needs to be better educated about energy efficiency.

He claimed that a key difference between himself and Clinton is whom they accept money from in the campaign.

"(We have) a difference in attitudes about special interests in Washington and how much they dominate the debate," he said. "I don't take money from lobbyists."

Spouses tout their candidates

The spouses of all three candidates touted the virtues and strengths that they claimed will make their wife or husband the best candidate to be the next president.

Former President Bill Clinton has been the most active campaigner on behalf of his spouse in North Carolina. He made nine stops Monday in the eastern and central parts of the state and planned four more appearances for Tuesday.

"If you send her a big vote here, you will send a message heard around this country: 'We want to win the White House to change this country, and she's our girl,'" Clinton said.

Michelle Obama scheduled stops in Charlotte and Fayetteville, where she spoke to a small crowd, mostly women, at Fort Bragg. She said that families need more support while their spouses are deployed, including higher pay, counseling and studies on how deployments affect children.

Michelle Obama said Americans have to understand "that when we deploy, we are not just deploying soldiers, we're deploying families."

Cindy McCain introduced her husband as "a marvelous man," who possesses "great integrity."

North Carolina's primary on Tuesday will divide 115 convention delegates between the two Democratic presidential candidates as they try to settle their historic race for the White House. The vote will conclude a three-week barnstorm of the state after Clinton's win in Pennsylvania extended her hopes.



Erin Coleman, Reporter
Erin Hartness, Reporter
Terry Cantrell, Photographer
Pete James, Photographer
Anne Johnson, Web Editor
Kelly Hinchcliffe, Web Editor

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