Burr, Bowles race to wire in N.C. Senate bid

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Sylvia Pinyan, a retired high school teacher who has lived in North Carolina for the last 36 years, is not fond of unions. But while disdain for organized labor drives many to vote Republican, Pinyan is supporting Democrat Erskine Bowles over Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) in the tight race for Sen. John Edwards’s seat.

“Burr says he’ll protect North Carolina from unions, but I don’t think he will,” she said.

North Carolina is only about 550 miles from union-heavy Pennsylvania, but the states are worlds apart politically. North Carolina is a right-to-work state, and many voters here want to keep it that way.
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Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.)

Pinyan added that Burr reminds her of former Vice President Dan Quayle: “Not well-spoken, but good-looking.”

The stakes are enormously high for both candidates in this high-profile and politically charged race. Polls show Burr and Bowles at a statistical dead heat, and today’s results will likely make or break each man’s political career.

Burr and Bowles spent the waning 48 hours of the campaign holding last-minute rallies and courting crucial voters.

Sunday evening, Bowles was greeted by a standing ovation when he was one of several featured speakers at a get-out-the-vote rally held at Mount Calvary United Church of Christ in Durham, N.C. Roughly 300 supporters attended the event, which was hosted by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Other speakers included Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), who is running for reelection in the 4th District, and Vernon Jordan, who chaired former President Bill Clinton’s transition team in 1992.

Waiting outside the church at dusk for the speakers to arrive, voters weighed in on what issues mattered most to them.

“Jobs are really affecting us around here,” said Pernell Canady, a retired African-American. “There is a lot of job loss in our state and its not getting any better.”

Canady was among several undecided voters at Sunday’s event who said they had stopped by to hear Bowles’s message.

Meanwhile, Burr spent Sunday rallying voters at a Baptist church in Indian Trail, N.C., a small community just 15 miles southeast of Charlotte.

Bowles yesterday embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Tar Heel State energizing voters and making appearances at local restaurants in Wilmington, Greenville, Raleigh, High Point, Charlotte and Asheville, according to his deputy press secretary, Lance Mangum.

Burr spent Monday stumping across parts of western North Carolina.

He began the day making a short stop just outside of Asheville. He was joined by gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine, who is running to unseat first-term Democrat Mike Easley.

It would seem a candidate would spend the final day before the election campaigning in an area he felt particularly weak among voters.

Yet Burr’s press secretary, Doug Heye, insisted the western part of the state remained a stronghold for the Republican and expressed confidence in today’s outcome.

“We are thrilled with the level of support we have received from both President Bush and Senator Elizabeth Dole [D-N.C.] throughout this race,” Heye said.

“President Bush is certainly going to win with a comfortable margin, and he has been very eloquent in telling voters why we need Richard Burr elected to the Senate.”

When asked about the North Carolina Senate race in particular, many here refer to the slew of recent television ads, saying it could be a deciding factor in how they will vote.

Bowles has run ads criticizing Burr for voting against bills that would have funded breast cancer programs and research. Burr countered with his own commercials in which he boasts of speeding up federal approval for a silicone-filled piece of plastic known as the Sensor Pad, which manufacturers say would help women detect breast lumps.

The challenge this year for Bowles is whether he can reach the 50 percent mark in a state that has not elected a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Bowles — who notes that no Democrat has secured a North Carolina Senate seat in a presidential election year since Sam Ervin in 1968 — ran and lost to Dole in 2002, 54 to 45 percent.

The amount of money each candidate has raised is adding to the gravity of this race’s outcome. Federal Election Commission reports through Oct. 13 show Burr having raised over $11.5 million while Bowles has raised just over $10.3 million.

Bob Cusack contributed to this report.