Democrat Harvey Gantt got a boisterous push Monday into Election Day as he told about 650 screaming Forsyth County supporters that the state was going to vote for a change in the U.S. Senate.
Gantt took aim at Republican incumbent Jesse Helms' advertising blitz of the past week, which has focused on race and political labels.``It didn't matter to me that Senator Helms bothered to make the point - that Harvey Gantt is extremely liberal,' Gantt said in a jesting tone. ``You've got it right. I want you to know that this extreme liberal has North Carolina values.'
Gantt said Helms' campaign has been aimed at raising fears and discouraging people, while he has looked for the best in voters.
``I have met the people of this great state, and I've found them to be affectionate, generous, tolerant, willing to listen, hard workers and, most of all, they have been civil,' Gantt said.
Gantt repeated his campaign-long theme that Helms' emphasis on attack ads are an ``insult' to voters' intelligence.
``I would never insult their intelligence (but) that's exactly what I think my opponent is doing today,' Gantt said. ``He is not going to get away with it this time. We're going to send a real message to the world - that North Carolinians care about people. They care about bringing people together. Not dividing them up.'
Gantt was introduced by Winston-Salem Mayor Martha Woods, Forsyth County Sheriff Preston Oldham and U.S. Rep. Steve Neal of the 5th Congressional District.
Woods praised Gantt for his conduct through the campaign. ``He's been a model for all of us on how to handle a campaign that really puts hair on your chest,' she said.
Earlier Monday, Helms accused Gantt of running a negative campaign. ``I regret his tone,' Helms said during a stop in Raleigh. ``We had hoped we could run a positive campaign, but from the beginning they came with those slashing commercials.'
Gantt's supporters jammed the balconied lobby of the Sawtooth Center for the Visual Arts, decorated in bunting and red-white-and-blue balloons.
They gave Gantt a two-minute ovation before he spoke. After his talk, as more balloons filled the center, the crowd flooded Marshall Street, slowing the evening rush-hour traffic.
Earlier in the day Gantt made appearances in Gastonia and Raleigh.
At a noontime rally in downtown Raleigh, Gantt told a crowd of about 1,000 that he'd campaigned on issues that are important to the state.
``We've said it was important to care about our children, to care about the human condition,' he said. ``We've kept on the high road. We're going to win tomorrow - that's right, how sweet that's going to be.'
At the rally in Winston-Salem he stressed education, the environment, the needs of senior citizens and farmers.
``What is the message that we will send to the rest of the world tomorrow?' Gantt asked the crowd. ``In North Carolina, won't we choose progress over standing still ... unity over divisiveness ... hope over fear?'
Gantt said he isn't concerned that Helms' ads might have dampened excitement about his candidacy.
``We haven't seen any dampening enthusiasm all day or last night,' he said as he got into his car to head back to Charlotte.