Returns from the early voting period pushed Democratic challenger Larry Kissell to a big lead Tuesday night over Republican incumbent Robin Hayes in the hotly contested North Carolina 8th Congressional district race.
Meanwhile, GOP incumbent Sue Myrick barely led Democrat Harry Taylor, by a 51 to 47 percent margin, in the race for the 9th District seat.
Analysts said a big majority of the early voters were Democrats, so Democratic candidates were expected to fare well in the early results Tuesday night.
The race between Hayes, 63, and Kissell, 57, was among the most closely watched in the country, as national Democratic leaders saw it as a strong opportunity to take a House seat from the GOP.
Kissell, from the Montgomery County town of Biscoe, lost to Hayes, of Concord, by just 330 votes two years ago.
Kissell said Hayes' votes on trade policy sent jobs overseas and contributed to the deteriorating manufacturing base in the district.
"I will support a moratorium on all free trade deals until our district gets back the thousands of jobs it has lost due to the deciding votes cast by Robin Hayes," Kissell said.
Hayes, meanwhile, hit Kissell for failing to pay workers' compensation for campaign employees.
"Mr. Kissell has built a record of saying one thing and doing another -- with no issue more clear than his record denying basic benefits to his workers like unemployment and workers' compensation for years, so he could save himself money," Hayes said.
The two disagreed on drilling for oil off the N.C. coast. Hayes supports the idea; Kissell doesn't.
"Gaining energy independence is an important goal for our nation, and it also directly affects our national security," Hayes said. "As part of a compromise bill I sponsored with Democrats and Republicans, there was a 25-mile limit (offshore, for drilling). I could potentially support a closer distance with appropriate protections."
Kissell said a number of existing wells in the Gulf of Mexico are capped.
"Before oil companies are allowed to drill off the N.C. coast and risk destabilizing our tourism economy, they must first show a desire to maximize production where they already hold leases or own wells," he said.
Hayes is a Duke University graduate who was elected to the N.C. House in 1992 and to Congress in 1998, replacing the late Bill Hefner, a Democrat who represented the 8th District for several decades.
Kissell is a Wake Forest University graduate who was a school teacher and textile worker.
The district contains more registered Democrats than Republicans, so analysts said a strong turnout for Obama could help bring Kissell into office.
Part of the district takes in east Charlotte, where Emily Ferrell voted for Kissell at Albemarle Road Elementary. "I like what he had to say and I liked that he was a teacher -- I'm a teacher," said Ferrell, 24.
At Windsor Park Elementary, voters were divided. Doanman Nguyen voted for Hayes as part of a straight-Republican ticket.
"With my family, they go for Republicans, so I did, too," he said.
Mark Belk, 35, a truck driver from east Charlotte, said he picked Kissell despite voting for other Republican candidates, including presidential candidate John McCain. "I feel like since Hayes has been up there (in Washington), with the way things are going for Republicans ... he's had his chance," Belk said. "I'm not saying he did something wrong, but I felt it was time for something different."