An old-time showdown in North Carolina's Senate raceBy Candy Crowley/CNN
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (October 20) -- North Carolina's roots are in the countryside, but its growth is high-tech. Half urban, half rural -- this is the story of the two North Carolinas that need to elect one senator.
"Where should I stand?" Sen. Lauch Faircloth, the season's most uncomfortable Republican, asks at a recent campaign stop.
Faircloth is an exception to the theory that the political constellation in 1998 favors the GOP. This freshman Republican is in a dead heat.
"When it comes to our enthusiasm and our determination to make it happen, we are 50 points ahead and with that we're going to win an election," Faircloth emphasizes to supporters at another campaign gathering.
He may have a point. Faircloth's core support -- the people who will vote for him come hurricane or high water -- are the true believers, traditionalists and conservative Christians, voters to whom politics is about the soul of the nation.
"We have to have a man with his conservative values," says one female Faircloth supporter.
"The things that Lauch stands for are the things that we still believe in," another woman explains. "Basically god, country and family."
The tempo and the tone are purely Southern as Faircloth preaches what he has practiced in the Senate for six years: solid, traditional, christian conservatism, lower taxes, more work, less welfare a strong defense and resurrection of the "L" word.
"The choice is extremely clear. It's between a conservative and a liberal," Faircloth says.
The "L" word is a "two-fer" really. Faircloth's opponent, Democrat John Edwards, is also a lawyer, a personal injury lawyer. Not that there's anything wrong with that, is there?
"Newspapers say he (Edwards) has the lawyer's habit of stretching the truth," a deep-voiced announcer authoritatively tells voters in one Faircloth ad.
"It's not a question of not (liking) what he does for a living. But when you hear these massive awards of $30 million," Faircloth explains.
But Edwards wears the "L" word proudly -- at least the lawyer part.
"If you look at what I've done, basically what I've done is represent regular people against powerful interests and that's exactly what I'll do in the United States Senate," Edwards casually defends.
But Edwards has never run for public office, so he started from step one: get your name out there.
"How are you? Nice to see you. Hi, how are you doing? Nice to meet you," Edwards says happily greeting a long stream of young people walking into school.
Where Faircloth is often awkward, Edwards performs like a political pro, presenting his case like a polished trial lawyer seeking a favorable verdict in a David and Goliath contest.
"If they want somebody who represents the powerful and the powerful interests they've got that in Lauch Faircloth. If they want somebody who speaks for regular people and won't cow-tow to these people who raise large amounts of money and give large amounts of money -- that's me," says Edwards
Edwards is a Clintonesque Democrat, moving easily along the campaign trail. He has energized the party base.
"I think he brings to the race this time, new blood. He's young enough to cope with today's changes," says one male voter at an Edwards event.
But what makes Edward's a contender is his appeal to the state's progressive newcomers with an agenda straight out of the party's 1998 playbook.
"The issues that matter to me are the issues to the people of the state of North Carolina -- education, health care, social security, the environment," Edwards says.
Edwards has put a song in the heart of the party and it has poured money into the airwaves for him, going negative so he doesn't have to.
"He's got one of the worst attendance records in the Senate and when Lauch Faircloth shows up for work he voted to cut Medicare by $270 billion. The largest Medicare cut in history," a Democratic State Party campaign ad proclaims over a picture of an empty desk with Faircloth's name on it and the sound of a ringing telephone.
But it is manpower on election day that Edwards needs most and his constituent core is making plans. "We'll organize a phone bank all over the county in every precinct and hope to call all the Democrats," an Edwards campaign worker explains.
Both men are millionaires. Edwards made his money in the courtroom, Faircloth on hog farms. Between the two self-made men they have poured about $11 million -- much of it their own money -- into the race.
Older vs. younger, conservative vs. progressive, an old pro vs. a neophyte who's learning very fast, Faircloth vs. Edwards proves to be a North Carolina classic -- a good, old-fashion political showdown along traditional party lines. Everything is pretty predictable, except of course, how it will end.
Tuesday, October 20, 1998
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