STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This election looks very different from the top and the bottom of the economy. We saw that when visiting the richest county and the poorest county in North Carolina, which is a presidential swing state. The poorest is a rural zone. We visit elsewhere on today's program.
The richest is Wake County, where the median household income is $66,000, far above that of the nation as a whole.
TODD MASINTER: And we're going to make our way out of here and go explore some of Raleigh...
INSKEEP: Todd Masinter was our tour guide through the state capitol, which is Wake County's largest city. We joined a tour group riding two-wheeled Segway scooters downtown.
MASINTER: Watch your wheels. There's a small pothole here to your right.
INSKEEP: We're rolling past a restaurant. We're actually going through the outdoor tables on these Segway scooters.
MASINTER: We are in the middle of a massive housing boom right now. Behind you, if you're feeling comfortable, pivot around - it's a 22-story sky house apartment building. That's brand new.
INSKEEP: This old city, with its buildings from before the Civil War, is also part of a region filled with new tech firms and universities. Businesses all over Wake County share in that prosperity, like the rock climbing gyms co-owned by Joel Graybeal.
Wow. How high is the ceiling in here?
JOEL GRAYBEAL: So the tall walls go to 55 feet.
INSKEEP: And there is someone very near the top, climbing up a vertical...
GRAYBEAL: There is someone quite near the top.
INSKEEP: Graybeal is one of many people who've moved from elsewhere to the Research Triangle region. He was a banker and then changed careers.
If you're looking across the country, what would make Raleigh the smart place to open a business?
GRAYBEAL: Lots of smart people.
INSKEEP: He says his customers include engineers and software designers.
GRAYBEAL: This sport appeals to them because it's not just the physical aspects of the sport. It's the mental and the problem solving aspects.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right, you got it. Let's go for it. Oh, [expletive].
INSKEEP: When asked to name the area's problems, Graybeal mentions traffic. That's a symptom of Wake County's rapid population growth.
Yet for all the positive signs, Graybeal is not entirely satisfied. He's bracing for higher insurance costs. His small business offers health benefits to employees. And if he continues that, he says, Obamacare will soon require him to change to a more expensive plan.
GRAYBEAL: Our insurance carrier today told me that our rate, if we were on an ACA-compliant plan today, Steve, 70 percent increase in premium.
INSKEEP: Seventy, seven-zero?
GRAYBEAL: Seven-zero percent increase.
INSKEEP: Graybeal told us he'd rather not reveal how he's voting this fall. He has business associates and relatives on both sides. That is one way that North Carolina's richest county resembles the poorest. In both places we found people who grew anxious when discussing politics.
When you come from the poorest county in North Carolina to this county, the wealthiest, you just notice the signs of prosperity everywhere. We're on the campus of North Carolina State University, lovely tree-lined campus. The parking lots are jammed. And early voting is underway just up the way here in this building.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You have ID?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: OK.
INSKEEP: This is a line. I mean, this is going to be a little while.
During the half-hour wait, we talked with three NC State seniors.
What do you guys want to do when you graduate?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: We're figuring that out (laughter).
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Yeah. We're seniors.
INSKEEP: The voters wore Hillary Clinton stickers. They were Taylor Jones, Anna Arroyo and Kelly Hillsgrove, who's voted one time before.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: This time I feel like I've really made this decision myself.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: We've watched all the debates together.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: We've been really informed and really made this decision for ourselves without letting each other influence us or our friends or family.
INSKEEP: What difference does it make if there's a woman president?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: It opens a lot of doors for us.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: And honestly, I mean, I'm not voting for Hillary because she's a woman. I mean, she's the most experienced candidate. And, yeah, I agree with everything she wants to do.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: She's moving forward instead of back.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Yeah. It's just moving forward, like, it's...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: I think you got to move forward and you got to stay progressive. And there's only one that really does that.
INSKEEP: You mean Trump seems backward-looking to you?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I think we would be going back in time.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: He wants a wall. You don't do that anymore (laughter).
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I was born in Mexico so that, to me, is just absolutely absurd. There's just no - there's just no way I could ever vote for somebody so backwards.
INSKEEP: So many younger people have moved to Wake County that it's median age is now 35, below that of the nation as a whole. Younger voters helped to explain why the county has voted Democratic for president in recent years.
It is an open question though how big the county margin could be in 2016. Near the university, we met people who embrace their changing home but are also conservative and must now decide.
UNIDENTIFIED TRAIN CONDUCTOR: All right. Everybody ready to go on a train ride?
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED TRAIN CONDUCTOR: All aboard.
INSKEEP: Step across the tracks of the kids-size train in Raleigh's Pullen Park...
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN WHISTLE)
INSKEEP: ...And you arrive at a playground, which is where we met Justin and Sarah Leonard. They had a 3-year-old son and a newborn in a stroller under a blanket.
How old's the baby in there?
SARAH LEONARD: He is just over a week old.
INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness. Wow.
LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: Oh, my gosh. Congratulations.
INSKEEP: That's our producer Lauren Migaki. Justin pushed the older child on a swing as we talked. The Leonards are young and religious.
S LEONARD: We struggled with infertility for several years, and I just think that life begins at conception.
INSKEEP: They're also part of Wake County's high-tech economy. Justin is a patent lawyer whose clients are often from Europe.
You're part of the global economy.
JUSTIN LEONARD: Oh, that's very, very true.
INSKEEP: Which is part of his struggle with the presidential election. He's not sure he can rely on Donald Trump in foreign relations...
J LEONARD: To be respectful of the other nations involved and, frankly, any other people involved.
S LEONARD: He brings Trump up specifically because we've always voted Republican for president in the past. And this is our first year that we're really still not quite sure how we're going to vote on Tuesday (laughter).
INSKEEP: They might cast a third party vote as a protest. Or they might just vote for Trump after all.
Hillary's not coming up as a choice for you, it doesn't sound like?
S LEONARD: She would not be a choice for us.
INSKEEP: They don't agree with her support for abortion rights. They don't agree with her support for same-sex marriage. They fear their conservative views are becoming less socially acceptable. Yet their views on life, which have made them Republican, also make it harder to vote for Trump.
S LEONARD: That is one of our struggles with Trump, that he is pro-life but his view of refugees and immigration doesn't really feel like it's valuing life to me because those are people, too. And to not care for people that are trying to escape war is just - it's falling flat on valuing life.
INSKEEP: North Carolina's most prosperous county has taken in hundreds of refugees, including some from Syria. The Leonards don't view them as much of a threat. Once their newborn is older, they say they plan to volunteer to help refugees. Before that, they must make the agonizing decision of how to reconcile their values with their votes.
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INSKEEP: So that's the richest and the poorest county in a swing state. Remember, on Election Day and the day after, NPR News will have live coverage with the NPR Politics team and reporters from our member stations around the country. Listen live on this station and follow the races at npr.org.
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