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The North Carolina Barometer

11:50 AM, Oct 16, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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I have to leave town before Sarah Palin speaks near Greensboro today, at Elon College, which is a shame because she's appearing with Hank Williams, Jr.

Her visit will be the third this week from the candidates in what has been a solidly Republican state in presidential elections for decades. John McCain will be here again on Saturday.

It's by no means a good sign that they're having to spend this much time in the Tarheel State just a couple weeks before Election Day, but I'm heartened by the fact that they're still spending significant time in Pennsylvania, and popping up in Maine and N.H.

Barack Obama still faces challenges in North Carolina. Parts of the Sandhills and the Appalachians are full of blue-collar Democrats who have been in play in presidential politics since Reagan turned them into Reagan Democrats. The polls are close here, but they were also close pre-Democratic primary, when Obama beat Hillary by 14 points.

It's not inconceivable that Obama's support is being underestimated once again, but in a tour of several counties that fit the blue-collar, Southern Democrat profile this week, the Obama apathy was palpable. These places went for Kerry in 2004, though not happily or overwhelmingly, but the number of signs and stickers posted for the Democratic candidate this time around were far fewer than I remember in the last presidential election year.

"The lesser of two evils again," they griped. "I don't see what people see in him (Obama). He's an empty suit."

Most of the folks in these counties will likely vote for Democrats for governor, but they haven't been reliable Democrats for presidential candidates for years. Obama's liberalism and his well-publicized comments about rural voters combined with McCain as a known and admired quantity made for much more overt support for him than Obama among people I spoke with, and along the roads I drove.