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Fair and unfair 

It's a good thing for Al Gore that the presidential election doesn't hinge on the opinions of the 800,000-plus people who attended this year's N.C. State Fair. Throughout the 10-day fair it was obvious that George W. Bush was the candidate of choice among fairgoers. As always, the state Republican Party turned out in force to staff a booth in the busy commercial building where people could plaster themselves with free stickers bearing the names of various candidates. Bush/Cheney bumperstickers and "W" buttons went for a buck apiece.

The Democrats, on the other hand, had a more inconspicious booth along a narrow aisle in the education building. While the Republicans usually had five or more volunteers slapping stickers on passersby, the Democrats' booth was usually staffed by a single person. Sometimes it was even left unstaffed. By the final day of the fair, both camps had run out of small stickers for Gore and Bush, but stickers of donkeys and elephants were still available.

While the majority of fairgoers back the Grand Old Party, it's a different story in the second-floor office of outgoing Democratic agricultural secretary Jim Graham. After 36 years in office, Graham and his staff have cast their lot for Meg Scott Phipps, daughter of former Gov. Bob Scott. In the unlikely event that Republican Steve Troxler upsets Phipps, the jobs of many longtime Graham staff could be in jeopardy. GOP stickers were a rare sight in the lounge where Ag Department VIPs enjoyed drinks and snacks.

Phipp's campaign literature includes a picture of Phipps and Graham together, with a Graham quote endorsing the woman who will "build on what I have worked for these 36 years."

Graham's legacy, however, has its critics on both the right and the left. Council of State offices have been a stronghold for Democrats--especially males. This year will be different. The state will have its first female lieutenant governor--either Republican Betsy Cochrane or Democrat Beverly Perdue. Incumbent Secretary of State Democrat Elaine Marshall is running, as is GOP Labor Commissioner hopeful Cherie Berry.

While women politicians might be making gains, the same can't be said for third-party hopefuls. Not seen at the fair: any booths handing out stickers or buttons for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader or Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Barbara Howe.

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