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North Carolina voters weigh-in on competitive races for Congress, state legislature

Early voting in Wayne County
Jonathon Gruenke
for WUNC
A voter exits the Wayne County Public Library after casting their ballot during early voting in Goldsboro Friday morning October 21, 2022.

Binh Minh Nguyen typically only votes in presidential cycles. But the 46-year-old Wake County resident said she felt compelled to come out and cast her ballot on the first day of early, in-person voting for this year's midterm elections.

"I'm out this time not so much voting for anybody, but for voting against certain ideas that I don't agree with," Nguyen, a registered Democrat, said. She was accompanied by her 21-year-old daughter, Lauren, a biology major at UNC-Chapel Hill who is registered unaffiliated.

"Most of my friends are quite progressive and quite female, so we all, for the most part, agree and we were quite upset with the overturning of Roe v. Wade," Lauren Nguyen said.

The women were referring to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, in a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, that overturned Roe v. Wade and upended 50 years of precedence protecting a constitutional right to abortion.

The Nguyens voted in Holly Springs, a Raleigh suburb in southern Wake County. It's part of the 13th Congressional District. The 13th is a swing district that could factor into whether Republicans wrest control of Congress from Democrats, with Republican Bo Hines running against Democrat Wiley Nickel.

The area also sits in State Senate District 17, one of the seats seen as key to the GOP's hopes of regaining a veto-proof super-majority they lost in the 2018 midterms. In that race, Democratic incumbent Sydney Batch is running against Republican Mark Cavaliero and Libertarian Patrick Bowersox.

While registered Republicans and Democrats differ sharply on what the most important issues are this midterm election season, North Carolina's unaffiliated voters appear to hold the key to victory in this battleground state.

Carinne Mossa was at the Holly Springs early voting site accompanied by her 8-year-old daughter. Mossa said she recently changed her registration from Democrat to unaffiliated because of how rancorous partisan politics has become.

"I think the party system in our country is really detrimental," Mossa explained. "It needs to be updated because when you just vote for a side and not for a cause there's so much that's lost."

Mossa said she wants to see education in the state fully funded, including paying public school teachers more. Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly have sought higher teacher pay raises than the Republican majority has appropriated. But GOP legislators have provided increases in successive budgets.

For Ed Ward, a 67-year-old retiree and registered Republican, inflation and the economy top his list of concerns. Ward was sporting a t-shirt for the Holly Springs Food Cupboard, where he volunteers helping distribute supplies to people in need.

Early voting in Wayne County
Jonathon Gruenke
for WUNC
Linda Wilkins-Daniels stands outside of the Wayne County Public Library after voting early in Goldsboro Friday morning October 21, 2022.
Early voting in Wayne County
Jonathon Gruenke
for WUNC
David Snodgress stands outside of The Maxwell Center after voting early in Goldsboro Friday morning October 21, 2022.

"We see greater need now than we did a year and a half ago," Ward said.

Down east in Goldsboro — home to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the seat of Wayne County — the weather was fine on a sunny Friday in autumn, the second day of one-stop, in-person voting. Amid a steady flow of voters at the early voting site set up in the Wayne County Library, campaigners were greeting voters, offering them sample ballots and other election literature.

As bright as the skies were that day, 68-year-old Linda Wilkins-Daniels, a registered Democrat, expressed a gloomier view of what's at stake this election.

"I don't want to live in an autocratic society, I don't want to live in a fascist society, I don't want to live in a theocracy," she said. "I don't want the church to mandate how I live my life; that's what the Constitution does. And I defend it and I want to preserve it."

Wayne County has 75,432 registered voters, compared to Wake's 812,324.

Wayne went for Donald Trump by a wide margin in the 2020 presidential election, while Wake went for Joe Biden by even more.

Wilkins-Daniels — who resides in the 13th Congressional District — said casting her own vote was not enough.

"You have to ask your friends, your mother, your sisters, your siblings, your cousins — you have to bring everybody because we're at a critical moment," she said with a sense of urgency.

A moment made critical, she said, by Trump and his supporters' lies about the 2020 presidential election.

But Republican Karen Barkhurst also thinks the country is at a critical turning point. Barkhurst, who cast her ballot at another Wayne County early voting site last week, said she's concerned about the economy and undocumented immigrants.

"If we don't win this election, we don't have our country anymore," Barkhurst said gravely. "I refuse to let it be a socialist country."

It is this chasm between the left and right that frustrates Kate Snodgress, accompanied by her husband, David, a one-time registered Republican who — like his wife — is now unaffiliated. The Snodgresses reside in the 3rd Congressional District.

"There's such divisiveness that we're not accomplishing anything," Kate Snodgress said.

She expressed little hope there's a leader out there who can bring about political reconciliation but that didn't keep her from casting her ballot.

Rusty Jacobs is a politics reporter for WUNC.