North Carolina poses challenge for Democrats

September 3, 2012

By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY

After President Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976, Obama’s advisers and Democrats vowed to keep a laser-like focus in the state where the president eked out a 14,000-vote win.

But on the eve of the national convention in Charlotte, several polls show Obama in a close race with GOPpresidential nominee Mitt Romney for North Carolina, and many political analysts say the state is now tilting to Romney as Democratic voter enthusiasm dims and the former Massachusetts governor and GOP-aligned groups have nearly double the president’s television advertising spending in the state.

“It took nearly a perfect situation for Obama to pull out a slim victory in 2008,” says John Davis, a Raleigh-based political analyst. “Now all the momentum is going the Republicans’ way.”

Indeed, it’s been a tough 3½ years for Democrats in the state.

North Carolina’s economy has languished behind much of the country, and unemployment stands at 9.6%. A former North Carolina Democratic Party staffer filed a defamation suit against the state party after alleging earlier in the year that he was sexually harassed by the party’s former executive director. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue saw her approval rating nose dive and isn’t standing for re-election.

In May, North Carolinians voted in favor of inserting a prohibition against gay marriage in the state constitution — just a day before Obama announced he changed his position and endorsed same-sex marriage. The state’s Republicans — who in 2010 took control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction — have also reveled in the fact that 20% of North Carolina Democrats voted no preference over Obama in the May primary.

More independent voters

There are 116,000 fewer North Carolina voters registered as Democrats than there were at this point in 2008. Republicans are down 13,000 registered voters in the state, while independent voters have shot up by 270,000.

Jen Psaki, the Obama campaign’s national press secretary, notes that in 2008, more than 50% of registrations in key states happened between August and November.

The Obama campaign is also planning a major voter registration and neighborhood organizing push in North Carolina that will coincide with the convention. “In clear contrast to the Republican convention, ours will be a working convention,” says Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager.

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