Democrats are increasingly bullish about the chances of their presidential and U.S. Senate candidates in North Carolina. It's the governor's race that worries some.
“I wouldn't say nervous, I'd say a little bit concerned,” Charlotte Democrat Tom Chumley said Saturday.
He's among several hundred N.C. Democrats in Asheville for the party's annual Vance-Aycock gathering, a flurry of receptions and events highlighted by a gala dinner Saturday night.
Presidential candidate Barack Obama was expected to arrive hours later for a Sunday rally and two days of preparation for Tuesday's debate with Republican John McCain. It will be his third visit to the state in two weeks and underscores his push to make North Carolina a genuine battleground.
Some surveys show Obama running even in the state, and Democrat Kay Hagan with an edge over Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
In the governor's race, a poll last week for Raleigh's WRAL-TV found Republican Pat McCrory had erased Democrat Bev Perdue's lead from August. It showed him leading among independents 61 percent to 33 percent. Other surveys have shown the Charlotte mayor running strong in many urban areas.
“Obviously, there is some concern,” state party chairman Jerry Meek said Saturday. “On the other hand, Bev is a seasoned campaigner. Plus we have a ground operation of a magnitude we've never seen before.”
The Obama campaign has registered thousands of new N.C. voters. Last weekend, it boasted of knocking on more than 100,000 doors.
Regardless of whether Obama wins the state, Democrats are counting on that effort to help Perdue and others.
“In my gut, I think we're winning,” Perdue said last week.
“Everywhere I go, I think we're winning. I'm working hard, and I believe the people of North Carolina are going to elect me the next governor.”
Some Democrats grumble privately that Perdue's campaign has yet to hit on an effective message to counter McCrory's mantra of change and reform.
“I don't believe at this point in time that she's exposed herself for what she is,” Senate Leader Marc Basnight of Manteo said last week. “She's a much better candidate than has shown up at times in these (TV) ads. I believe her handlers have not done the best job. But they're tuning it around.”
Perdue, a two-term lieutenant governor, has argued that she, not McCrory, is the candidate of change.
“Anybody who knows me knows pretty clearly that I've taken on the status quo for a hundred years, and will continue to do it,” she said.
Perdue has stepped up her campaign in McCrory's backyard, opening a Charlotte headquarters and making several appearances in the city recently.
Because she's from New Bern in Eastern North Carolina, she also could face a geographic hurdle.
Democrat Davy Lowman, a teacher and state House candidate from Cleveland County, said he's talked to voters from both parties who believe western parts of the state get short shrift from Raleigh. Gov. Mike Easley grew up in Rocky Mont and lives in Southport.
“So many people don't know who to vote for,” he said Saturday. “Do you vote your region or do you vote your party?”
Perdue told Democrats at the gathering that she will “skin” her Republican rival on Election Day.
Perdue slammed both McCrory and GOP's vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
The lieutenant governor joked that she may not know how to field dress a moose like Palin, the governor of Alaska, but she vowed to skin McCrory in November.