RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The challenges facing Senator McCain and many other Republican candidates are especially clear in North Carolina. Traditionally a red state, the presidential race there this year is suddenly close. Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole is trailing in her reelection bid, and at least one Republican seat in the House is in jeopardy. NPR's Brian Naylor is in North Carolina, where early voting is already under way.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Midday - less than a week before Election Day, at the Independence Regional Library in eastern Charlotte, North Carolina, people are lined up around the building reading books and newspapers chatting with their neighbors, standing in line to vote. under a Tar Heel blue sky. Larry Kissel works the line - a little last minute politicking for the Democrat, a schoolteacher who's running in the state's 8th congressional district. He encounters a man leaning on a golf club who tells Kissel he needs a change.
Mr. LARRY KISSEL (Democratic Candidate, 8th Congressional District, North Carolina; Schoolteacher): The real reason I'm running is to change things around.
Unidentified Man: Well, I need a change. 'Cause, you see, I'm using one of my old golf clubs, because I can't afford to buy a cane.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NAYLOR: Already in this district, almost as many people have cast their ballots in early voting as did in total two years ago; most are Democrats. This is good news for Kissel, who is running again after having lost by just 329 votes in 2006.
Mr. KISSEL: The thing that has hurt our district the most is bad free-trade deals. My opponent was the deciding vote on fast-track. He was the deciding vote for CAFTA.
NAYLOR: Over in Oakboro, Republican incumbent Robin Hayes is talking to a couple of dozen workers outside the Tuscarora Yarn Mill. It's one of the shrinking numbers of textile plants in the state. Hayes says his deciding vote on CAFTA - the Central America Free Trade Agreement, turned out pretty good.
Mr. ROBIN HAYES (Republican; 8th Congressional District, North Carolina): I'm looking to do things that are going to help you, our district. Keep our jobs here, bring more jobs.
NAYLOR: He's got some unwanted attention earlier this month when warming up the crowd at a John McCain rally - he said liberals, quote, hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God. His staff at first denied Hayes' comments, but after tapes of the event emerged, Hayes apologized.
Mr. HAYES: It came out totally wrong. It's the opposite of how I feel. I was telling someone that I got some friends who are incredibly liberal who are dear friends.
NAYLOR: Whether Hayes' comments will affect the outcome of his race remains to be seen. But they illustrate the tough year Republicans are having in a state that has been reliably red on the federal level. Ted Arrington teaches political science at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
Professor TED ARRINGTON (Political Science, University Of North Carolina, Charlotte): The Republicans just a - they can't catch a break this year, that's all there is to it. They just can't catch a break.
NAYLOR: Arrington faults John McCain and Elizabeth Dole for failing to organize good ground campaigns. If there's not evidence of activity on the ground, there's plenty of it in the air. TV ads have become increasingly negative. Dole has been airing this spot accusing her Democratic challenger, state Senator Kay Hagan, of taking money from a group called Godless Americans.
(Soundbite of Dole campaign ad)
Unidentified Announcer: A leader of the Godless Americans PAC recently held a secret fundraiser in Kay Hagan's honor. Godless Americans and Kay Hagan, she hid from cameras, took godless money. What did Hagan promise in return?
Unidentified Woman: There is no God.
NAYLOR: By the way, that's not Hagan's voice at the end. Hagan has responded with this spot.
Senator KAY HAGAN (Democrat; North Carolina): I'm Kay Hagan, and Elizabeth Dole's attacks on my Christian faith are offensive. She even faked my voice in her TV ad to make you think I don't believe in God. Well, I believe in God. I taught Sunday school. My faith guides my life, and Senator Dole knows it.
NAYLOR: The fact that the presidential race, a Senate seat and a Congressional seat are all too close to call with just a few days to go illustrates the trouble Republicans find themselves in this year in North Carolina. Bryan Naylor, NPR News.
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