‘Undecideds' may decide this election

Patty Fish of Matthews knows she doesn't fit any predictable pattern when it comes to this election.

She's not political. She considers herself “pretty liberal.” And she's not religious.

Yet she decided to vote for Republican John McCain for president because she couldn't get past the controversial comments of Democratic nominee Barack Obama's pastor.

“Before then, I was on the fence, but that was too much for me,” the former hotel manager said. “I couldn't handle anyone who felt that way about the United States of America.”

It's Carolina voters like Fish who make this election fascinating in its unpredictability. The Obama factor, the Sarah Palin factor, the Wall Street factor, the gas price factor, and, in this particular case, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright factor. Wright shocked folks by damning America in one of his sermons.

Nobody knows for sure what swing voters' decisions will turn on. It's no wonder the candidates keep coming back to North Carolina.

Unaffiliated Charlotteans Leann Bowdoin, a personal chef, and Ian Edwards, a restaurant server, were leaning McCain, and watched the presidential debates together.

They voted for Obama in early voting last week.

Obama “follows my beliefs more closely,” Bowdoin concluded.

“With the budget and the way the world looks,” Edwards said, Obama inspired more confidence.

Polls have tightened in North Carolina, and Democrats seem within striking distance in this state for the first time since fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter won their confidence. But the influx of new voters, and the difficulty in measuring folks who have cell phones instead of land lines, make polls a little less certain this time.

Rep. Mel Watt, a Democrat from Charlotte, says he can't help but think about when he ran Harvey Gantt's Senate campaign in 1990, with Gantt ahead of Jesse Helms in the polls, with 47 percent, and a large number of undecided voters before Election Day.

“Harvey got 47.6 percent – he just didn't get any of the undecideds,” said Watt, an Obama advocate who is seeking re-election against Republican Ty Cobb Jr. of Salisbury.

Watt sees reasons to be hopeful, though – among them “18 more years of attitude improvements on race” and an economy he refers to as “big sucking wind.”

With so many unknown factors to consider, it's one of the reasons politicians have spent so much time in recent weeks wooing their base, preaching to the faithful at party-sponsored rallies and events. They just want to make sure those folks show up at polls, not take anything for granted – and, most importantly, try to talk their friends, neighbors and relatives into coming out, too.

“E-mail every person in your computer and ask them to work for and support John McCain,” one of the only politicians whose own job isn't on the line this year, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told attendees at a McCain rally in Cabarrus County this weekend. “And one more thing. Ask everyone in that e-mail to go into their address book and do the same thing.”