Ahead Of Vote, A Tie In North Carolina

North Carolina has not voted for a Democratic candidate for president since 1976. Usually, it's not even competitive. But right now, it's a tie, and trending toward Barack Obama. What's going on in the Tar Heel state?

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. Now, to a recent entry on the list of battleground states. This past weekend, John McCain was campaigning in North Carolina, fighting to hold on to a state that has voted for every Republican nominee since 1980. McCain and Barack Obama are running just about even in North Carolina. That's partly because large numbers of black voters are expected to turn out for Senator Obama and partly because of shifts in the state's population. Linda Wertheimer spent some time talking with voters in Charlotte.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Charlotte is now the largest city in the 10th largest state. North Carolina has passed New Jersey in population. The old colonial city of Charlotte, like the rest of the state, is greatly changed by new comers who brought their politics with them to North Carolina. We met with a group of them at a coffee house in the suburbs. Anne and Joe Smith moved in recently from Ohio. They say they were independents leaning Republican, but they're now leaning toward Obama.

Ms. ANNE SMITH: He just gave me a lot more confidence because I felt like I didn't really know who he was, and he just looked presidential in the debate, and I think that was pretty much what nailed it.

WERTHEIMER: Anne Smith also mentioned the increasingly negative campaign ads coming from John McCain that helped tilt her husband, Joe, toward Obama.

Mr. JOE SMITH: I don't like the negativity, and I don't like the misconstruing the facts, and I really think that Obama is more in touch with what I want to see our government do over the next four to eight years.

WERTHEIMER: Almost half the people in North Carolina now were not born there. You don't hear southern accents from these new comers. You do hear concerns about the economy. Joey Paquet (ph) made the move to Charlotte originally because of plentiful jobs and affordable housing.

Ms. JOEY PAQUET: Well, I mean, I know for me, I'm terrified because of the fact that I've got two part-time jobs trying to find a full time job, and you hear about hiring freezes every day because everybody is terrified of what's going to happen to the economy. So, you know, knowing that somebody's got a good plan in action is important to me.

WERTHEIMER: Charlotte is called the second largest banking center in the U.S., with headquarters of the Bank of America and Wachovia there. The failure of Wachovia has heightened concerns about the economy in Charlotte. Beverly Gohilll (ph) worked at Wachovia before her daughter was born. We met other mothers in her suburban home to talk about the election. Beverly Gohill says she's lost a chunk of her retirement savings. She wants a president who understands the economy, and since the debates, she thinks that's Obama.

Ms. BEVERLY GOHILL: I thought Obama seemed to be more comfortable and able to kind of understand what everyone was talking about without having to jot it down to remember. But it was more of what they said. Like I disagreed with McCain with the mortgage crisis and the healthcare. Obama's plan seems to fit my family better and the tax break as well.

WERTHEIMER: Jenny Grayback (ph) is a stay-at-home mom who taught computer skills in elementary schools. The economy is her issue, too.

Ms. JENNY GRAYBACK: I had a conversation with my mother yesterday, and she was very upset because her retirement, she just keeps seeing it dwindle. It is really disheartening to see how badly the government has misused the money and how they've let it go this far. It's scary to think that people in positions of power can let this happen.

WERTHEIMER: Jenny Grayback supports McCain because he's older and has more experience. Kristen Varrel (ph) worked in cancer research before deciding to stay home with her daughter. She says she's undecided, although she grew up Republican.

Ms. KRISTEN VARREL: And, you know, I've just always kind of leaned towards voting Republican, but this time, I don't know, I'm just - I haven't been crazy about the last 8 years, so.

WERTHEIMER: Do you associate Mr. McCain with the last eight years? I mean, is that the connection that's keeping you hesitant?

Ms. VARREL: I don't necessarily associate McCain with the last eight years, but I definitely - I mean, you know, he's Republican, and I associate the party with the last years, and he is the Republican Party.

WERTHEIMER: Newcomers are somewhat more likely to vote for Democrats, but they're not the conservative Jesse Kratz (ph) named after the late senator, Jesse Helms. John McCain is winning white rural voters but not by as much as George Bush did. Pollster Tim Johnson (ph) of Public Policy Polling says it's the economy. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The communications director of Public Policy Polling is TOM JENSEN.]

Mr. TOM JENSEN (Communications Director, Public Policy Polling): You have upwards of 70 percent saying that the economy is their top issue, and among those voters, even in these deep red districts, Obama's almost running even with McCain in those places among people most concerned about the economy.

WERTHEIMER: Polls in North Carolina now show a slight lead for Obama. The projection map on npr.org calls North Carolina a toss-up. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.

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Correction Oct. 16, 2008

We misidentified the communications director of Public Policy Polling. His name is Tom Jensen, not Tim Jensen.

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