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The Ties That Bind: McCain and Obama supporters square off in Charlotte

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina-On the Sunday before Election Day, Danny Covington is the person to see at John McCain's headquarters. In southeast Charlotte, on the second floor of an office building, through the door that displays the slogan "Momentum is strong and getting stronger every day," Covington is in charge of the 20 or so volunteers who will call, knock on doors and do everything they can to get out the vote.

Covington, a field marshal for the Republican National Committee, was dispatched two weeks ago from Washington to the battleground state of North Carolina to seal what he believes will be a close McCain victory in the state and the nation. "The polls don't mean a thing," he says, referring to recent assessments that have Obama in the lead.

Maybe that is why the candidates have treated the state as their home away from home. For the eighth time, Barack Obama plans to return here November 3, for a rally at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. He'll be following Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin who just visited the state fairgrounds in Raleigh on Saturday, November 1.

North Carolina has become a place where Democratic and Republican campaign workers live in two different realities.

Covington, a 53-year-old Mississippi native, has been a loyal Republican all his life. He's worked for the Bush elections, both father and son; ran a losing GOP congressional race in his home state; and counts conservative Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran and former Senator Trent Lott as mentors.

Covington is also an African-American, who admires Barack Obama "for being a true trailblazer," he says, but disagrees with the Democratic candidate on practically every issue. "I'm not begrudging the brother; he's just not my cup of tea," he says. "It's political, not personal."  But then Covington seemingly changes his tone, calling Obama "a smooth talker," who "hasn't been running anything but his mouth." The "media has made him and anointed him," says Covington.

On the issues, Covington says he has always been "conservative on everything" including crime, taxes and the economy. "I've never been broke since I made my first penny." While he says society should help those who cannot help themselves, the University of Mississippi criminal justice graduate says others use the system unfairly. The sign on the wall reads "A Safer World," and that is what Covington believes Americans will have with a McCain-Palin win.

Closer to downtown, Obama headquarters is easy to spot, with banners and posters plastering every wall and volunteers streaming in and out. It's larger than the McCain crowd, more diverse in age and ethnicity. In one cubicle, some are assembling yard signs, in another, they are manning the phones.

"Dig Deep" is the candidate's mantra, written on the wall just in case anyone forgets.

Lelia Hoover, who just turned 18 on September 25, is one of the greeters. On Monday the Myers Park High School senior will canvas for voters and on Tuesday she plans to drive them to the polls. She says she is drawn to liberal views on issues such as gay rights, and is against the Iraq war. But she admits it was the addition of Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket that led her to work for the Democrats. "She's a nice lady, but not prepared to lead the country," said Hoover.

Reginald Blackmon, 51, was also at the Obama headquarters making calls and was impressed with how the Chicago senator is inspiring young people, "so long out of the political process," he says. Blackmon, a seminary student, counselor and personal trainer, has three sons of his own. As an African-American, he appreciates the way Obama has shown "what we can do as a people if we prepare ourselves." His oldest, 29-year-old Reginald, Jr., has told him that every time he hears Obama speak, it gives him goose bumps.

Russell Crandall, a political science professor at Davidson College, has been an Obama adviser on Latin American policy for two years. "He wants smart people to come up with ideas, and he listens to them," he says of the candidate.

"I think we're going to win," Crandall says. "We have the momentum, the energy, the optimism."

 Supporters of Barack Obama and John McCain believe that their respective candidate will be the next president of the United States. It may actually be the only thing they have in common.

Mary C. Curtis is an award-winning columnist and editor who has written for the Charlotte Observer, the Baltimore Sun, and the New York Times. She was a 2006 Nieman Fellow.    

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