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WILLIAMSTON, N.C. _ From Interstate 95 and the Atlantic Ocean lies the part of North Carolina where politicians talk about peanut prices, candidates campaign at courthouses as much as on TV and Democrats tend to vote for Jesse Helms.
Down East is where many rules of modern campaigning don't apply _ and where thousands of undecided Democrats could hold the key to this year's U.S. Senate race to replace Helms. That's why the candidates traverse this territory almost weekly.
Last week, Democrat Erskine Bowles stopped in seven eastern towns. Fellow Democrat Elaine Marshall stopped in Wilson and Grifton, and Democrat Dan Blue campaigned in Wilmington and Robeson County this week. Republican Elizabeth Dole stumped in 14 eastern counties.
Registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the East and so are crucial in the Democratic primary. Both parties will court those same Democrats in the fall because Senate elections in North Carolina often turn on the battle for the Jessecrats.
"The East tips the balance," says Ferrel Blount, a Republican National Committee member from Greenville. "You …