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North Carolina Decides

Will this once reliably red state go blue?

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina-Thirty-seven-year-old Terrance Johnson had never voted before. “It never really mattered to me,” he says, after casting his vote for Barack Obama on Election Day Tuesday. But this year Johnson started to pay attention to the issues. The out-of-work electrician says he “is hoping that Obama can fix the economy.” Johnson cast his ballot at Billingsville Elementary School at 7:30 Tuesday morning, where the line was not long and moved quickly.

The once-booming Charlotte economy-which lured Johnson from Baltimore four years ago-has started to slow down. “There are no houses being built,” says Johnson, who hasn’t worked since August. His 2-year-old son, Tyreese, is on Medicaid. How does Johnson manage? “I try not to get sick.”

The history of the moment took a backseat to his hope for a better time, when he can start working again and start his son’s college fund. Obama “could be a White man,” he says. “I just like what he’s saying.” As she prepared to vote-for Barack Obama- Samantha McKinney was also thinking about health care. McKinney, 34, is a unit secretary at Presbyterian Hospital, working with patients with kidney problems. “I see people coming in to be medicated, not treated, because they don’t have the right kind of health care.” She says she would be for any candidate “running for what’s beneficial for all Americans.”
“McCain? We’ve seen it before,” McKinney adds.

Many of the thousands who came to hear Barack Obama in Charlotte last night raised their hands when he asked who had already voted. An emotional Obama appeared before a diverse crowd at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He paid tribute to Madelyn Payne Dunham, the grandmother who helped raise him. She had died earlier that day, one day before the election. “She has gone home,” Obama said. He called Dunham a humble person, one of the “quiet heroes we have all across America,” who work hard “each and every day” and “try to do the right thing.”

It was the eighth North Carolina visit for Obama, proof that the once reliably red state has become a toss-up. Obama lent support to a list of state Democratic candidates who had come out, including Kay Hagan, locked in a tight race with GOP Senator Elizabeth Dole. He gave a shout-out to NASCAR pioneer and Obama backer Junior Johnson. Catherine Flood, 47-a perfect name “for all this water,” she said-planned to visit the polls early on Election Day. On Monday night, the school bus driver brought her two grandsons to UNC Charlotte to witness history. Nine-year-old Jahtyice Miller said he would like to be president to “change the things in the world, help people who don’t have food.” Trenton Flood, 8, was excited to see Obama, the “Black man running for president.”
Polls remain open until 7:30 P.M. in North Carolina, and until 7 P.M. in South Carolina. African-Americans make up slightly more than a fifth of the state’s registered voters, and were about a quarter of early voters.

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