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So this is what it's like to be in play? No thanks.

The dead bear was a prank. But the rest of it is real.

“We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation,” GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said, speaking at a fundraiser in Greensboro.

“Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God,” Congressman Robin Hayes said, appearing at a McCain rally in Concord.

“Socialist, socialist socialist – get out of here!” barbecue patron Diane Fanning said in Fayetteville when Barack Obama walked in a restaurant to order lunch. Later, in an interview with Politico.com, she said this: “I still think he's a closet Muslim.”

Here in North Carolina we had no idea a front-row seat for a presidential election would be so ugly.

Trick or treat!

For the first time in a generation, North Carolina is in play for an election that will make history, one way or another. That has meant a steady stream of visits to the state from the candidates at the top of the ballot.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden will be in Charlotte Saturday. John McCain was in Concord last week. Palin has visited so many times we're starting to mistake her for Mary Easley, the governor's wife, if not for those glasses.

But along with the limelight has come an eyeful and an earful. We've heard things we did not want to hear in the Tar Heel state – things that have no place in decent political dialogue. It's one thing to sling mud and half-truths the way outside groups have on behalf of Democratic Senate candidate Kay Hagan, for example, shoveling personal insults at Republican Elizabeth Dole.

It's another when top of the ballot candidates use rhetoric that divides us by class, region, beliefs or political persuasion. That's more than personal. It's harmful. It plays to anger and fear.

This is no treat. Just tricks.

Pro-America areas of America? Who gets to make that list, I wonder?

Liberals hate people who believe in God? Answer me this: Who knows who believes and who does not, except maybe God? Certainly not a congressman.

As for the Democrats, let those missteps be a lesson. Don't say things about people that you can't possibly know – things that play on ready prejudices.

Take it somewhere else

Passions run high in this election. The faces on the tickets – an African American Democrat seeking the White House and a woman with a small-town background seeking the Republican second chair – rub up against long-standing prejudices that stir emotions.

Case in point: Someone slashed the tires on at least 30 vehicles parked at a rally for Obama. Was it kids' mischief or someone intent on sending a more sinister message?

Please, take the divisiveness and the meanness elsewhere. We don't want it staining North Carolina soil.

Dumb and dumber

When workers at Western Carolina University found a dead bear cub covered with Obama campaign signs dumped at the campus entrance, everyone assumed the worst. But it turned out a bunch of college guys found the dead bear, hauled it to campus as a prank and grabbed the first campaign signs they found to cover the blood.

The chancellor, John Bardo, called it “dumb.”

Yep. But no dumber than dividing us into those who love America and those who don't based on where you live and your political leanings.

This is what it's like to be in play in a presidential election? No thanks.

Palin has apologized for offending people with her pro-America remark. Congressman Hayes has said he was sorry for what he said, too.

We accept their apologies. After all, we're pro-America here in North Carolina. We're in the circle.

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