Current Date: Sat, 08 Mar 2014 02:11:27 -0500
For months, analysis by pundits and polling data appeared to indicate that North Carolina would again be a battleground state in this fall’s presidential election.
But after President Barack Obama’s narrow victory in 2008, a consensus has emerged that the state will likely swing back to Republicans in favor of presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Romney leads Obama by 3.8 percentage points in an average of state polls compiled by Real Clear Politics, an organization that aggregates polling data.
Analysts attributed Romney’s advantage to his emphasis on the economy and strong performance in the first presidential debate.
“More so than any election in the past several decades, these debates have mattered,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State University.
“If these debates hadn’t ever happened, I think Obama would be a really strong favorite leading into Tuesday — but he isn’t,” he said.
Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University, said the debates altered the narrative of the race.
“The first debate created a vivid contrast between the cartoon image of Romney created by the Obama campaign and the man voters saw in that debate that won decisively,” he said.
But many voters often dwell on what Michael MacKuen, a UNC-CH political science professor, called the “irony of American politics.”
“Presidents win and lose elections on the economy when they have practically no control over it,” he said.
Regardless of economic conditions, analysts say Obama’s chances in the state will hinge on his campaign’s ability to generate turnout— particularly young voters.
Feaver noted that the substantial influx of Latino voters into the state could help close the gap caused by the lack of enthusiasm.
Democrats typically have an advantage in early voting due to their focus on get-out-the-vote operations, but that isn’t panning out this year. Republicans have narrowed the gap in early votes by more than 100,000 ballots compared to 2008 numbers.
Obama won the state by about 14,000 votes in 2008, the first Democrat to win N.C. since 1976.
Greene said Obama still has a chance in N.C. since his base of support is composed of African-Americans and highly educated voters, as opposed to white, working-class voters who are turning against the president.
But registered Republicans are statistically more likely to vote than registered Democrats, MacKuen said.
Feaver said Obama’s record might be at the forefront of undecided voters’ minds as they head to the polls.
“What is most likely is that undecided voters have doubts about Romney but a strong negative assessment of the last four years,” he said.
Analysts disagree on the effect Obama’s presidential record will have on the election.
“The president is running under very difficult circumstances. Many people have already forgotten what the president has done and are in a, ‘What-have-you-done-for-me-lately?’ mood,” said Rob Schofield, director of research and policy development for N.C. Policy Watch.
But all agreed that Romney will need to win N.C. to win the national election.
“Obama seems to have an easier path to 270 electoral votes,” said Brent Laurenz, executive director for the N.C. Center for Voter Education. “He has the luxury of not having to win N.C. to win the election, where Romney has to win North Carolina and Virginia to get to that 270,” he said.
Mitch Kokai, political analyst for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, said there are signs Obama is giving up on N.C.
“It is interesting that the Obama campaign was still talking about winning the state while they are sending third and fourth-tier surrogate leaders,” Kokai said.
“You can pretty much put N.C. in Romney’s column.”
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