RALEIGH - Republican presidential candidate John McCain will make his first public appearance in the state since the May primary today, trying to lift his party's prospects in Eastern North Carolina — a culturally conservative rural region that has been struggling economically.
McCain, who will appear at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, is trying to win over many of the conservative Democrats who have cast their ballots for Republicans in the past. His visit follows a similar one in Greenville last week by his vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin.
"The demographics of Eastern North Carolina is that it has a lot of working-class white voters," said Peter Francia, a political science professor at East Carolina University. "Republicans have an opportunity to win those and have proven that in past elections."
President Bush carried the East over Democrat John Kerry by a 60 percent to 40 percent in 2004, according to exit polls.
The East is an area that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton -- and her husband, former President Clinton -- worked heavily in the May Democratic primary. And it is a region where Democrat Barack Obama showed some weakness, even while he was winning the state.
But with the economy struggling, Obama's prospects have much improved, and polls indicate he is now competitive in the region. An average of three polls conducted in the East by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh survey firm, shows a near deadlock -- Obama 47 percent to McCain's 46 percent.
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