McCrory, Dalton in eastern NC as early vote ends
GREENVILLE (AP) — The major party candidates for governor trolled for support in eastern North Carolina on Saturday's final day of early voting by two very different methods, reflecting the perception of the race on the campaign's final weekend.
While Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton scrambled to visit an early voting site in Greenville and festivals in Snow Hill and Wilson, a confident Republican Pat McCrory sounded just as interested in another contest — the East Carolina University football game he attended.
"First, we've got to get the Pirates to win today. That's the No. 1 goal," McCrory said after arriving at Pitt County GOP headquarters before the game holding two-dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts — decorated in the purple and gold of the ECU Pirates.
"The second goal is we've got to win Tuesday, right?" the former Charlotte mayor asked, urging volunteers to keep working hard.
"I've just got to get your commitment to work until the end — work until the end, and if we do that, we're going to change the leadership coming out of the executive branch, right?" McCrory told a few dozen Republicans crammed into a phone bank room. "We're going to fix our broken government, our broken economy."
McCrory met voters at the tailgate at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium before the game. Dalton, whose campaign faced a 6-to-1 cash disadvantage to McCrory in the final weeks of the race, noted McCrory's seemingly more relaxed schedule.
"I understand my opponent is going to be at the ball game," Dalton told reporters outside a Greenville early voting center. "I'm out today until these polls close, meeting the voters, talking about how important this election is and letting them know that this is more than name recognition. This is really substance in this race and asking that they vote for me in this election."
When asked if he's got a path to victory, Dalton responded simply: "We find out Tuesday night."
Libertarian Barbara Howe also is running for governor.
The 21/2-week early voting period ended in most counties at 1 p.m. Local election boards extended hours to as late as 5 p.m. in some Piedmont counties. People could register and vote on the same day — that's not allowed on Election Day.
The number of baIlots cast in-person during early voting reached nearly 2.44 million as of early Saturday afternoon, exceeding the record 2008 total of 2.41 million, according to State Board of Elections data.
It was unclear if overall absentee voting — mail-in and overseas ballots included — would exceed the record non-Election Day turnout of 42 percent of registered voters in 2008. There are 400,000 more registered voters compared to 2008. Mountain and coastal counties saw a drop-off in early vote totals last week because of bad weather due to Hurricane Sandy, state elections director Gary Bartlett said.
The campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney led early-vote activity Saturday with thousands of volunteers working polls and making personal contacts with voters. The Obama-led Democratic campaign operation boasted of 1,200 get-out-the-vote events, many with an eye toward Tuesday.
Both sides saw positives from early-vote totals — Democrats with an overall increase by their base and Republicans by narrowing the advantage Democrats had on a percentage basis compared to four years ago, when Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes among 4.3 million votes cast. Polls show the race very close again.
Democrats also prepared for political celebrities to help their cause for Election Day — former President Bill Clinton was to visit Raleigh on Sunday, followed by first lady Michelle Obama in Charlotte on Monday. Republican National Committee Co-Chairwoman Sharon Day campaigned in the state for a second day Saturday, but Romney's campaign had announced no other surrogates for North Carolina.
The bulk of campaigning was now resting on passionate volunteers, some of whom said they had never been this active politically until this year. Republican homemaker Dawn Brown of Ayden said she was calling registered voters from a Pitt County phone bank because she was worried about the country's future for her three children.
"I'm thinking down the road for them and what they're going to carry on their shoulders 20 years from now," Brown said. "Things have got to change or it's going to be a horrible place for them."
Democrat Cecilia Moore-Cobb of Greenville passed out campaign literature at a voting site in part because she's "never been more frightened" about Republican efforts to restrict abortion and, in her view, to harm women.
"This is the first time I have ever done this in my life, and I've never felt more strongly about an election in my life," said Cobb-Moore, a retired community college instructor.