Political and star power enveloped Wake County on Saturday as campaign surrogates for President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney sought to rally voters and inspire volunteers.
Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor who is rumored to be on Romneys short list of vice presidential picks, held a roundtable discussion at an ice skating rink in Cary and addressed volunteers and Romney supporters at a Raleigh campaign office.
Campaign volunteers warmed up the Obama campaign office in Raleigh with the rallying cry Fired up, ready to go, as they waited for actor Don Cheadle, who encouraged them to work hard for another Obama win in the state.
That the campaigns are investing time and money to woo voters here is testament to North Carolinas new status as a swing state. Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008 after years of dominance by Republican presidential candidates.
North Carolina is a pivotal state in the presidential elections and in many ways a bellwether state, Pawlenty said in an interview.
With 100 day to go until Election Day, the campaigns are revving up the battle for voters attention and support.
Nearly all those who participated in the discussion with Pawlenty said they wanted less government and the national debt reduced.
Pawlenty hammered the message that Obamas policies are hostile to business and that he is not the man to lead the nation out of its economic malaise.
Small and medium-sized businesses arent expanding because the burdens of government on their business is discouraging them, is starting to price them out of the market where they will feel that they cant take more risks and deploy more capital or invest in their businesses, he said.
Waffle fries on agenda
The smaller government message was sure to resonate with Ethel Radmer, 76, an unaffiliated voter from Cary.
A self-published author, Radmer said she voted for Obama in 2008, but is now leaning toward Romney because she believes in the Republican philosophy of less government. Radmer said she thought Obama would govern as a centrist, but he has turned out to be more liberal than she thought.
She liked Romney more than the other Republican primary candidates, because she thought the others too conservative on social issues.
Romney has more give in that area, she said.
The discussion gave Pawlenty the chance to tee-off on topics of the week, including Obamas You didnt build that comment about businesses and the flap over the president of Chick-fil-A saying his company opposed same-sex marriage. Pawlenty said several times he had Chick-fil-A for lunch and liked the waffle fries.
Tax returns, tax cuts
Giving the Democrats response, state Rep. Jennifer Weiss of Cary continued the call for Romney to release his tax returns.
The GOP candidate has refused to release returns other than the 2010 and 2011 years, rejecting calls from Democrats and some Republicans to do more.
His father, George Romney, released 12 years of tax returns in his run for the GOP presidential nomination more than 40 years ago, Weiss said. Other candidates have followed that example, she said, and Mitt Romney should, too.
I think the question we all have to ask is, Why? Weiss said. What is he hiding?
Cheadle, an Oscar-nominated actor who campaigns against genocide, called Obama inclusive. He touched on another controversial topic, the tax-cut extension.
Obama wants to extend the tax cuts for most Americans, but exclude those making more than $250,000 a year. Romney wants to extend the tax cuts to all. The tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
We can see that this president is about pulling people together and working for all of us, Cheadle said. We already know what the other candidate is talking about doing. He wants to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. We need a president who represents the nation, not just the special interests of a very few.
Coming to the political debate from opposing ends, Pawlenty and Cheadle ended the campaign stops same way, shaking hands and posing for pictures.