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Editorial: Many races on ballot

With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama barnstorming the state for last-minute campaign appearances this week, it’s obvious that North Carolinians are thoroughly pumped up about the fact that their votes may actually matter in determining the next Democratic presidential nominee.
But are they equally excited about the slugfest between Fred Aikens and Beth Wood?If those names aren’t familiar, welcome to the campaign for state auditor. Aikens and Wood are the Democratic candidates vying to unseat Leslie Merritt, the Republican incumbent who currently serves in this important office that conducts annual audits of the finances of state agencies such as the DOT and Health and Human Services.
And what about Janet Crowell, Michael Weisel, David Young and Bill Daughtridge?
They’re the three Democrats and lone Republican vying for state treasurer, the post currently held by gubernatorial candidate Richard Moore. State treasurer is a pretty important job, too. The treasurer could be considered the state’s chief financial planner, with responsibility for the investment of all state funds, including state pension money.
How many of the candidates for lieutenant governor can you name? (To check your answers, see today’s John Hood column).
This is the flip side of all the enthusiasm generated around the presidential race. There’s a danger voters may give even shorter shrift than usual to the so-called “down ballot” state offices, or even to decisions about who’ll serve on local boards or in the state legislature. While presidential contests always tend to overshadow other contests, the historic nature of this election raises the risk that lower profile races will get totally swamped ó and not just in North Carolina. Shortly before the Pennsylvania primary, for example, a poll found that only 18 percent of Keystone State voters hadn’t made up their minds about their presidential choice, but 70 percent hadn’t yet decided whom they’d support for state treasurer. You can’t blame local candidates for feeling as if they’re trying to paddle along in canoes while a tidal wave of national politics is bearing down on them. As one Rowan County candidate put it, “To hear people talking, they don’t think they’re voting for anybody else except Obama or Clinton.”
Political observers aren’t sure how this will play out next week in North Carolina, although the surge in voter registrations suggests a heavy turnout. Let’s just hope that voters whose main motivation is the presidential race spend some time studying other races on the ballot by reading newspaper articles, digesting the candidates’ pitches (most now have their own Web sites) and using other readily available resources. A few weeks ago, most N.C. residents received a voters guide that offers thumbnail sketches of candidates for state auditor, insurance commissioner, superintendent of public instruction and appellate judicial seats. The N.C. Center for Voter education (www.ncvotered.com) also has a lot of good information on statewide candidates, as well as links to congressional and legislative races for each district.
It’s good to be a fired-up voter, but even better to be an informed one.

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