Race is significant in North Carolina

Color matters in Johnston County North Carolina, says Russell Cotten, a tall, broad shouldered African American minister, employment counselor and Democratic volunteer.

Since the break of dawn, Cotten has been greeting people outside the polling place at the Town of Clayton Fire Department and handing out Democratic voter information in the morning cold. He stands alongside Priya Erpenbeck, a diminutive, stay-at-home mom of South Asian descent who has been handing out Republican ticket info. They keep up a friendly banter as voters stream into the polling place.

Johnston County has a split personality. It’s historically rural and conservative, but increasing numbers of its residents work in Raleigh and live close to the Wake County line. Formerly rural towns look much more like suburban bedroom communities. More than 60 percent of the 71,000 votes cast here in 2008 were for Republican John McCain, but Cotten thinks the votes cast in Johnson and Wake counties for Obama helped him win the state by just 14,000 votes.

This year the fault lines that make North Carolina a tossup in the presidential election remain color-coded: Red, blue and purple; white, black and brown.

As one white couple walks past, Erpenbeck and Cotten try to hand them literature. The woman stops but the man brushes past them. “You good? You know what you going to do?” Cotten asks.

“Yeah, I'mma undo what the idiots did four years ago,” the guy answers as his wife rushes to catch up.

“Well how about the idiots from eight years ago, or 12 years ago?” Cotten yells after them. “How about them?”

“I knew which way he was going,” Cotten says. “NASCAR,” he whispers, a reference to the decal on the guys jacket.

Another guy heading in is cordial to Cotten on his way in, but says “You’re confused,” to Bruce Roach, a white volunteer handing out Democratic campaign literature.

“You know what you’re going to do?” Cotten asks one African American woman.

“Yes, Lord,” she murmurs, and the two start to laugh.

Kimberly Laney, who is rushing to work in downtown Raleigh, says she voted for Romney because she likes his business approach. Patricia Lane, who works as a medical tech at a county health clinic, says she’s a single parent and voted for Obama.

Erpenbeck worked outside the same precinct last year and says this year, people are rushing right by the campaign volunteers. “Last time people at least took the information,” she says. But this year, they are very sure of who they want to be the next president.

Brooks Remencus, 34, who does IT sales training, doesn’t take any literature heading into the polls either, and explains why after he's cast his vote.

“Are you familiar with Richard Pryor?” he asks. Pryor starred in a 1985 movie called “Brewster’s Millions” in which his character encourages people to write in "None of the Above" on their ballots. “And that’s just what I did," said Remencus, who has been disappointed in Obama's performance but couldn't bring himself to vote for Romney. "I wrote in 'none of the above' for both of them.”

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Josh Hicks | November 6, 2012