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Obama Competitive in Republican Stronghold North Carolina

With just days before the U.S. presidential election, opinion polls indicate growing support for Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama. Even traditionally conservative North Carolina is now considered a "toss up," where both Obama and Republican nominee Senator John McCain are virtually tied in the polls. This is a surprising development in a traditionally conservative state where in 2004 President George W. Bush won by 12 percentage points. VOA's Brian Padden reports from North Carolina that the state is now in play because of the economy, an energized Democratic organization, and Republican neglect.

At the North Carolina State fair, there are always rides for the kids, games of skill and fried delicacies like funnel cakes. This year, both political parties are also here, drawing big crowds of supporters.

In the past, North Carolina overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates for president. The news that Barack Obama is now virtually even with John McCain in the polls has given Democrats hope and has left some conservatives like Eric Lundberg distressed.

"We need a strong conservative leader in this country," Lundberg said. "And that's why North Carolina, I think is fluctuating because we don't have a very strong conservative."

When North Carolina-based Wachovia bank nearly went bankrupt, the economic crisis struck close to home. Hunter Bacot, a political scientist with Elon University, says economic fears are changing the political landscape here.

"The economy being the issue that it is, it's so pronounced that people are seeking things that they probably would not otherwise seek in a traditional election setting," Bacot said.

The Obama campaign is active and energized in North Carolina.

"This is what people are going to be talking about for years to come," Democratic activist Grady Bussey said. "It's the ordinary people doing extraordinary things."

Bussey organized a rally of over a thousand Obama supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina. He says the close race is motivating more people to get involved.

"I think that's what makes people energized is the fact that anybody can play. Anybody can get involved in it," he added.

Even in rural areas like Franklin County, the race is competitive. Stephen Phillips, the Republican candidate for County Commissioner says the Democrats are better funded and organized.

"They've had paid staffers for the last two months," Phillips said. "We've got one staffer in from Raleigh now for the last two weeks. They are working harder to get out their message."
Bacot says opportunity and preparation are making a Barack Obama victory in North Carolina a real possibility.

"So we have the headwind of the economy behind him, his strength of his organization and McCain's inability to come in and realize this state was in play," he said.

Strong voter turnout by African Americans, which make up 26 percent of the electorate, women and students, all groups that favor Obama, could make the difference. This year Democrats have dominated Republicans in early voting by a margin of two to one.

Tavia Clemendor just cast her vote for Barack Obama.

"Now that I really got into it, I feel like I did something good today," she said.

While North Carolina is too close to call, a surge of Democratic enthusiasm has made this presidential election competitive here for the first time in over 30 years.