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Historic NC primary begins with voters casting 1st ballots

By GARY D. ROBERTSON and MIKE BAKER
Associated Press
RALEIGH (AP) ó North Carolinaís pivotal primary day arrived Tuesday and voters across the state began casting ballots that could sway a historic race for the White House and an equally competitive campaign for governor.
iIt was not a difficult decision. I voted for Hillary (Rodham Clinton),î said Jerry Grier, 55, a pastor at New Direction Church in Huntersville. In Durham, 49-year-old medical worker James Rainey went for Barack Obama.
iI voted for gas prices, food prices, the economy getting better, the troops getting back safely,î Rainey said. iI like his political views on social change and improving the economy and his views of how to go about change.î
Grier and Rainey were among the first to vote after polls opened at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, two of the millions of North Carolinians expected to set turnout records. Nearly half a million people voted early or cast an absentee ballots before Tuesday arrived ó more than half the total number of voters who cast a ballot overall during the 2004 primary.
iIt helps the turnout. Weíre real excited about the number of new voters,î Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue said as she greeted a steady stream of voters early Tuesday at a Durham elementary school. iItís good for democracy. In this country you have hard-fought political battles, and then you have people vote on a day like this and itís over.î
The boon at the ballot box appears to hold the biggest sway over the Democratic races, including the top-ballot match between presidential hopefuls Obama and Clinton. Gary Bartlett, director of the State Board of Elections, said 85 percent of unaffiliated voters were choosing the Democratic ballot.
iI canít remember a primary that had this much excitement,î Bartlett said. iItís truly fun to be part of making history, and I hope that this encourages voters to participate in all primary elections.î
Clinton had her No. 1 supporter ó former president Bill Clinton ó making four stops in North Carolina to help get out the vote. Obama, meanwhile, planned to hold his election night party alongside wife Michelle at Reynolds Coliseum at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Lower on the ballot, Democrats were picking a winner in the heated governorís race between Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore, who have been locked in a multimillion-dollar campaign for months.
iIt is good that we finally have finality in this,î Moore said. iItís time to move on to the next chapter, whatever that is.î
On the Republican side, an equally narrow race for governor has placed Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and state Sen. Fred Smith in a competition thatís too close to call.
iBy track record, McCrory has done an outstanding job,î said Kevin Csehoski, 46, of Huntersville, who voted at Francis Bradley Middle School before heading to work.
Brian Tremblay, 47, of Smithfield, said he chose Smith because he thinks the real estate developer will be able to use his business experience to fix the rising cost of health care.
iItís getting to the point where small businesses canít afford it,î Tremblay said. iRunning a business and having to employ people … with the rising cost of insurance, I think heíd have a better handle on the issue.î
Elsewhere on the statewide ballot, Tuesdayís primary will select a Democrat who will likely challenge Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole in the November election.
The two leading candidates in that race, state Sen. Kay Hagan and Chapel Hill entrepreneur Jim Neal, are strikingly different, but both are ending their campaigns with nearly identical schedules, with stops in Charlotte throughout the morning. Each planned to greet voters at Greenville Memorial AME Zion Church, with scheduled stops separated by only an hour.
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Associated Press writers Estes Thompson in Durham and Ieva M. Augstums in Huntersville contributed to this report.

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