N.C. voters weigh in on election, which issues matter

To Becky Herring, it's about the economy.

For Deb Eveland, it's about America's foreign policy.

Terrence Morrison is looking for change.

With 44 days until Election Day, voters across the Carolinas are still sorting through this fall's ballot.

Reporters from the Observer and the (Raleigh) News & Observer interviewed dozens of N.C. residents in recent days about how they might vote.

The presidential race between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama seems to capture everyone's interest. But many voters are also paying attention to tight state races for U.S. Senate and governor.

Some Republicans indicated they are considering voting for Obama. A few Democrats indicated they may cross party lines to vote for McCain.

Not surprisingly, the economy concerns many voters. Health care, energy policy, education and Iraq were among other issues that voters discussed.

And while many say they have made up their minds, residents such as Matt Hawkins of Charlotte say they are struggling to decide on the presidential race.

Hawkins said he's leaning toward McCain because he believes McCain foresaw the fiscal crisis and could assemble a better team of economic advisers than Obama. Yet the Bush administration's bailouts this week has soured him on Republicans, and he says, “I wish the wealthiest people would be taxed more.

“I don't think either party has an answer. You have to be the best in math and science, and we're losing out to China and India. They're going to beat out a lot of Americans for the good tech jobs.”

Becky Herring, Republican, Charlotte

Herring is one of the most successful brokers at one of Charlotte's biggest real estate firms.

But she's watched home sales nosedive. She expects to stick with Republicans Elizabeth Dole for the Senate and Pat McCrory for governor. But the woman who twice voted for George W. Bush plans to cast her ballot for Barack Obama for president.

“The economy is what's really frightening us,” she said.

Herring believes Obama would do more to fix the economy than John McCain. There was also Obama's selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate – “a wise choice” – and McCain's pick of Sarah Palin.

The more she has read about the Alaska governor, the less she likes.

“I'm glad she's a woman,” Herring said, “but she sounded almost scary.”

Phillip Brown, Republican, Charlotte

Brown calls himself “a capitalist at heart.”

That's why he's voting for McCain.

“I'm very afraid that if Obama gets in, we'll be taxed to death,” says Brown, 39, who works for Mecklenburg County parks. “And being a capitalist, that looks like socialism to me.”

He likes what he calls McCain's maverick spirit. That was only reinforced by his selection of Palin as a running mate.

“She's a bulldog,” he said.

Karen Gaddy, unaffiliated, Charlotte

It's been eight years since nerve disease left Gaddy confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk.

“So the stem cell research is important to me, not for my health and well-being, but for others who find themselves with this kind of problem,” said Gaddy, 63.

Gaddy has seen the ads. McCrory, they say, favors school vouchers and opposes embryonic stem cell research.

She knows she agrees with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beverly Perdue, not only on stem cells but on issues such as opposition to school vouchers.

But Gaddy wants to hear where McCrory stands, as if looking for a reason to vote for him.

“There are a lot of people like me in Charlotte who are really proud of what Charlotte has become under McCrory's leadership,” said Gaddy, who plans to vote for Obama and Democratic Senate candidate Kay Hagan.

John and Connie Winstead, Republicans, Greensboro

The Winsteads, both 52, plan to vote for McCain and McCrory, in part because they believe the tax plans of both are better.

“Anybody who would lower taxes is OK with us,” said John, a self-employed graphic designer.

They say McCain has their support even though Obama, not McCain, supports direct tax relief for middle-class Americans. McCain would make permanent Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthy. “Those are the people who go out and make jobs,” Connie said.

Connie said she believes Beverly Perdue is part of a high-tax, underachieving, ineffective state government. “Everything in North Carolina's a mess,” she said. “We need somebody new, and McCrory's done a wonderful job in Charlotte.”

Danielle Grisby, Democrat, Fort Mill, S.C.

Grisby, a 25-year-old teacher, said she believes Obama's tax plan would lead to a stronger economy.

“You need an educated working class,” she said, “and you can't have an educated working class if they're not able to go to college.”

The financial crisis of the last week has strengthened her support of Obama.

“The lack of regulation of Wall Street is part of the problem,” she said. “They wouldn't have gotten there if not for bad policy from the beginning.”

Doug Vick, Democrat, Wilson

Vick has never focused so intently on an election or seen stakes as high as in this one. When the broadcast networks ended their coverage of the Democratic National Convention each night, he flipped to C-SPAN.

“We can see in America how things are going downhill, especially with Wall Street the other day,” said Vick, a 61-year-old retiree from the Bridgestone-Firestone tire plant in Wilson.

It's not right that gas is 49 cents a gallon in Saudi Arabia and $4 a gallon here, he said. The Iraq war is “killing off a generation.”

So he supports Obama.

“The message about change, you see it everywhere,” Vick said, “that it's time.”

Donna Upchurch, Republican, Elm City

Drilling for oil off the coast of North Carolina makes sense to Upchurch.

Upchurch and her husband, Milton, own an independent car dealership.

They have to put gas in the cars on the lot and the tractor-trailer car hauler they use to pick up vehicles. She sees friends get $20 or $30 worth of gas instead of filling up.

“People are having to make choices (on spending.) Living in a rural area, we don't have public transportation like the big cities,” said Upchurch.

So she's voting for McCrory, who says he would be ready as governor to green-light offshore drilling.