Monday, September 3, 2012

Is N.C. a tossup state? Well.....

A panel of political experts agreed today that while North Carolina is a technically a toss up state in the 2012 election, it's actually sort of maybe not.

The panel was at the O to discuss the latest Elon University poll, which has Republican Mitt Romney leading 47-43 in North Carolina. The poll, conducted last week, also had former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory with a wide lead, 52-37, over Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton in the race for N.C. governor.

(A Public Policy Polling survey released Monday morning has Obama and Romney tied at 48 and McCrory leading Dalton 45-39.)

The Elon panel of experts featured Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report, CNN analyst David Gergen, NBC News deputy political editor Domenico Montanaro, McClatchy White House correspondent Anita Kumar, Raleigh News & Observer political writer Rob Christensen and the O's editorial page editor, Taylor Batten.

Some background: Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, in large part due to winning 35 percent of white voters, which Batten noted is historically the threshold for black candidates to win in N.C. At least part of that 35 percent for Obama came from a steady influx of voters moving into North Carolina from other places, said Cook.

"North Carolina is a transitional state," said Cook. "It was a Southern state. It's in the process of becoming a Mid-Atlantic state."

Still, the panelists said, while North Carolina is technically a tossup state, it's more realistically leaning toward Romney based on indicators that include high unemployment and the women's vote. The latter is much closer in the Elon poll, where women favored Obama by a point, than in national polls that show the president with a wider margin.

The strategy for Obama, then, in North Carolina? "Make the Romney camp spend money," said Montanaro. "When they stop spending money here, we'll stop saying it's a swing state."

As for the national election, the panelists were unified in that Republicans missed an opportunity at their convention in Tampa last week. Instead of using the prime time Thursday spot to show the nation speakers who offered moving testimonials to Romney, the key slot was given to Clint Eastwood's bizarre empty-chair speech.

Also, said Gergen, the Romney campaign may have spent too much energy trying to warm voters up to their candidate. "They did not deal well with substance," Gergen said, and that could give Democrats an opening to attack what Romney stands for.

The missteps are emblematic of a campaign that should be leading, given economic indicators, but isn't.

Said Cook: "On almost every dimension, the Obama campaign is crisper, sharper more thought-through."

Peter St. Onge