North Carolina has the potential to join the ranks of Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida as a permanently purple, battleground state, say several political observers and pundits in the state.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have been neck-and-neck for months in statewide polls.
Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning polling firm based in Raleigh, recently published a poll showing Obama leading Romney by 49 percent to 46 percent in the state, a virtual tie within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.
“We have polled North Carolina 22 times, and Obama and Romney have been within three points of each other 21 of those times,” said Tom Jensen, director of the polling firm.
He added that permanent demographic changes in the state could cause this trend to continue far beyond the upcoming election.
“The combination of young voters being so Democratic-leaning in North Carolina and so much of the population growth coming from more liberal states such as California, New York and New Jersey could make this long-term,” Jensen said.
Obama narrowly won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes in 2008, but a sputtering economic recovery has prevented the president from gaining more of a foothold in the state. North Carolina’s unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, tied for fifth-highest among states, ranks higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent.
The president’s victory in the state, which holds 15 electoral votes, was considered a surprise to the Obama campaign in 2008, said Mitch Kokai, political analyst for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation.
“(The campaign in) 2008 was the big campaign for hope and change, and in a lot of respects he was the unknown factor,” Kokai said. “At this point, there is a three to four-year record, and the economic recovery is nothing much to speak of.”