Cover Story: Campaign 2009 Charlotte mayor

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's a mayoral race that's being watched around the country, the race between Anthony Foxx and John Lassiter.  Who will become Charlotte's next mayor?  In our Cover Story, PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson looks at what it takes to win.

The race is essentially a dead heat.  A Public Policy Poll taken over the weekend of 791 likely Charlotte voters shows John Lassiter ahead 50 to 46.. an outcome that's still within the poll's margin of error.

But if Lassiter does indeed end up as the winner.. it will be his overwhelming support among white voters that made it possible.. he's moved up five points with them in the last week.

At this point it's all about turnout.  And the two mayoral candidates.. working the phones at their headquarters today.. know that.

Early voting.. which ended on Saturday.. bested vote totals from Early Voting in the mayor's race two years ago reflecting interest in the open seat and apparent excitement about the possibility of the city having its first black Mayor since the 80s..

Democrat Anthony Foxx says, "You look at the overall numbers and you're seeing a trend line of increased support in parts of the demographics that help us."

Early voting turnout in predominately African-American neighborhoods.. at the Beatties Ford Library and West Boulevard Library was double what it was two years ago.

At Early Voting sites in traditionally Republican parts of town.. Morrison Library and South County Library.. turnout numbers there was about what it was in '07 when Pat McCrory won.

Republican John Lassiter says, "I feel good our message is resonating with voters all across this city."

Of those who voted early.. 51-percent were registered Democrat.  33-percent Registered Republican  17-percent unaffiliated.  That reflects the basic makeup of the Charlotte electorate.

For Lassiter to win.. he has to hold on to all the Republicans.. take most of the independents and peel off some of the city's registered Democrats.. which is how Pat McCrory was able to win seven consecutive elections.

Political scientist Ted Arrington says, "What he really did was make the Republicans enthusiastic about turning out and the Democrats depressed about turning out."

That's unlikely to happen this year with Foxx on the ballot.  But it is worth noting while Barack Obama took the city by a landslide last year, of those likely to vote in the Charlotte mayor's race responding in the latest Public Policy Poll.. just 53-percent voted for Obama in 2008.. John McCain got 44-percent, meaning if Lassiter beats Foxx on Tuesday the Charlotte electorate this year is skewing Republican.

"It's been a good campaign for us," says Arrington.  "I mean they've talked about real issues.. they have not sniped at each other.. a little sniping.. nothing much. It's been good for the city."

Since there are more registered Democrats on the election rolls in Charlotte.. for Anthony Foxx to win.. he needs to hold onto all of the Democrats.. and claim a good number of independents and undecideds to beat back a Lassiter takeover.

In a race this close-- it's all about getting out your people to vote.

Could be a long night?

It depends on turnout and how fast they count the vote.

Turnout's expected to be about 27-percent.. which is typical for a city election.. not like the 66-percent we had last year for the presidential race.

This is the first million dollar mayor's race, each candidate raised and spent about $500,000.