In 2008, Barack Obama not only won the expected key battleground states but swiped some that were assumed to be Republican strongholds such as Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia as he racked up a huge Electoral College win. While not even Democratic insiders think the president can win Indiana this year, they have held onto hope about North Carolina and are feeling very confident about Virginia. Their confidence about the president’s prospects in these two key southern states whose combined 28 electoral votes could make the difference in November stems in large measure because they believe changing demographics have permanently altered the GOP’s traditional edge in both.
But while polls show that the Democrats are continuing to nurse a small yet significant lead in Virginia, North Carolina seems to be slipping away. A PPP poll there published this week makes it unanimous, as all of the surveys of the state now show Mitt Romney in the lead. The four outfits that have polled the state differ on the margin that ranges from one percent to eight, but for the first time Romney leads in each of them. North Carolina may not be the same state that repeatedly sent Jesse Helms to the Senate a generation ago, but it appears that it is not ready to vote for Barack Obama again.
Like Virginia, North Carolina has become more urban and diverse since the days when it was one of the cornerstones of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The influx of northerners into the technology centers of the Tar Heel state made it more competitive and led to Obama’s 2008 win.
What ought to trouble Democrats most is that the president’s problems there this year are reflective of national trends, not a reversion to the politics of the old south. North Carolinians have as much reason as Americans in the rust belt states in the north to worry that the economy has not recovered on the president’s watch and may get worse. If North Carolina, a state where the Democrats’ hold on the voters’ affections is shakier than in true blue states is slipping away, then the chances of the president holding other battlegrounds may also be declining. Though Romney’s advantage is slight, if by the fall North Carolina reverts to being a pink “leaning Republican” state rather than one that is up for grabs, it will be an ominous portent for the president.