RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's time to speak out in the historic race for the White House arrived Tuesday as voters steadily cast ballots for the presidential nomination, a race that overshadowed primaries for governor, Senate and statewide office.
In interviews at a handful of North Carolina's nearly 4,000 polling places, voters often cited the economy and the war in Iraq as the top issues on their mind.
"I'm interested in a change, because of high prices, the boys overseas," said Christine Hines, 84, as she walked out of Pearsontown Elementary School in Durham. She and friend Vivian Samuel, 78, both voted for Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary.
They arrived as Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue greeted a steady stream of voters at the school. She and fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Moore, the state treasurer, worked the polls Tuesday morning to catch up with any last undecided voters.
"We have run a good campaign. We have worked hard to get our message out across North Carolina," Moore said outside the polling station at Pullen Arts Center near N.C. State University. "It's really ... in the hands of the voters."
Nearly half a million people voted early or cast absentee ballots before Tuesday - more than half the total number of voters who cast a ballot overall during the 2004 primary.
"It helps the turnout. We're real excited about the number of new voters," Perdue said. "It's good for democracy. In this country you have hard-fought political battles, and then you have people vote on a day like this and it's over."
The boom at the ballot box appeared to hold the biggest sway in the Democratic races, including the top-ballot match between presidential hopefuls Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Gary Bartlett, director of the State Board of Elections, said 85 percent of unaffiliated voters who cast early ballots had chosen the Democratic ballot.
Bartlett predicted a modern-day record for primary turnout, with more than half of registered Democrats casting a ballot. He expects GOP turnout to be under 30 percent. There are 5.8 million registered voters and he expects turnout should exceed 2 million, he said.
State turnout is "just steady. It's not tremendously heavy," Bartlett said. He said turnout was more brisk Tuesday morning in the state's eastern counties.
Bartlett said late Tuesday morning there have been fewer than 10 instances of unaffiliated voters complaining they were not offered a Democratic ballot. There were less than a dozen issues with voting machines, and all but two had been resolved as of midday, he said. The state experienced about 120 voting machine problems in the 2006 primary, when most precincts switched to using new machines.
One precinct in coastal Pamlico County will remain open until 8:30 p.m. because the polling place opened one hour late when the chief judge didn't arrrive for duty. Bartlett said the delay should not affect the timely release of Pamlico County results.
Jim Ellis, 73, a retired architect from Raleigh, said he chose Clinton in part because he doesn't feel Obama has enough experience to be president. He also cited Obama's reaction to the statements of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
"I came here not to vote for somebody but to vote against somebody," Ellis said. "I don't think he's qualified and when the cream comes to the surface ... if he's elected president I think he's going to be a disappointment."
Clinton had her No. 1 supporter - husband and former President Bill Clinton - 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.
On the Republican side, an equally narrow race for governor has placed Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and state Sen. Fred Smith in a competition that's too close to call.
"By track record, McCrory has done an outstanding job," 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.
"It's getting to the point where small businesses can't afford it," Tremblay said. "Running a business and having to employ people ... with the rising cost of insurance, I think he'd have a better handle on the issue."
Elsewhere on the statewide ballot, Tuesday's primary voters 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 ended their campaigns by making stops in Charlotte. Each greeted voters at Greenville Memorial AME Zion Church, separated by only an hour.
"The voters have won as a consequence of having the presidential contest come to North Carolina," Neal said. "It's galvanized and brought more people to the process."
But, he admitted, "It sucks some oxygen out of the air for those of us running down ballot."
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