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North Carolina in the 2012 Presidential and Gubernatorial Elections

Who Will Win the Tar Heel State?


In 2008, Barack Obama pulled off a bit of an upset in North Carolina, what is typically a reliable state for conservatives. Like Indiana and Virginia, Obama was able to put this into the win column then and it remains one of the most interesting battleground states for 2012.

Presidential Battle

How important is North Carolina in 2012? Important enough that President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee have opted to hold their 2012 nominating convention in the state. Like in Virginia, Barack Obama broke a multi-decade trend of North Carolina voting solidly for Republicans in presidential elections. Before voting for Obama, North Carolina had voted for the GOP nominee in every election since 1968, except for one post-Nixon vote in 1976. Obama scored a slim victory over McCain, 49.9% to 49.5%.

North Carolina would almost seem like a sure thing for a GOP victory given the slim victory for Obama in a huge pro-Democrat year and the reality that George W. Bush twice won the state by double-digits. But Obama is making a huge play for the state once again and making Romney work hard for a state that used to be an easy win for Republicans.

Gubernatorial Battle

In 2008, Democrat Beverly Perdue rode the Democrat wave that swept the country and took the Governor’s mansion with 50% of the vote. After becoming one of the least popular governor’s in the state, she opted to not run for re-election in 2012. Republican Pat McCrory, a former popular Charlotte Mayor and businessman, has led in almost every poll against his Democratic opponent, Lt. Governor Walter Dalton.

Recent Electoral Trends

Before voting for Obama in 2008, North Carolina had voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential contest since Ronald Reagan in 1980. Former President George W. Bush twice won the state with 56% of the vote.

The US Senate delegation is split with one seat going to each party. Democrat Kay Hagan took advantage of the blue wave in the state and won a narrow victory over Republican Elizabeth Dole in 2008. But since the 1970’s, Democrats have been unable to win second terms in the state. Democrats actually hold a 7-6 lead in the congressional delegation, thanks mostly to a handful of “conservative” Democrats like Heath Shuler and Larry Kissell who held off 2010 challenges. Both congressmen voted against Obamacare, pointing to a reason for their survival in the state. In 2010, the tea party revolution saw big gains in the state legislature. Republicans picked up 11 seats in the NC State Senate and 16 seats in the NC State House of Representatives to take a commanding lead in both chambers of the general assembly.

Democrat Blues

Despite winning three big statewide races in 2008, North Carolina as a battleground often almost seems a fluke. That the DNC is holding their nominating convention there shows how key they believed that victory was. But Democrats have seen all sorts of problems. Labor Unions have shown dissatisfaction that the nominating convention is being held in North Carolina, a right-to-work state. The influence of Big Labor is almost non-existent for the convention and the party has had difficulty raising funds.

Meanwhile, supposed moderates ion the party are jumping the Obama ship and refusing to endorse Obama, stating that they will not go to the convention. Two North Carolina Congressman, Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre, have already announced their intentions to avoid being associated with Obama at all costs. Add to this the embarrassment of having the state Governor being one of the least popular figures in the state, and Obama is running out of advocates from the very state meant to bolster his image as a moderate.

Major Issues

Now that Obamacare has been ruled constitutional, it will undoubtedly be the second biggest issue behind the economy. Voting for Mitt Romney is the only way to potentially stop the bill, and North Carolinians were receptive to tea party challengers in the 2010 mid-term elections when they returned control of the state assembly back to Republicans. But the economy will be the top issue as North Carolina has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, coming in at 9.4% as of May 2012 and ranking 48th overall.

While gay marriage may not be a major issue in North Carolina compared to the economy, unemployment, and Obamacare, the topic does offer an awkward moment for the Obama Campaign in 2012. In May, 2012, North Carolina voters overwhelming approved a gay marriage ban to the state constitution by 61-39%. The vote prompted Obama to announce his disappointment in the vote and immediately afterwards he announced his support for gay marriage. If Obama chooses to tackle the issue at the nominating convention, it could turn out to be a huge negative for him there and it adds to his liberal persona.


Many have predicted that North Carolina will be very close, and indeed both campaigns have already invested a great deal of time and money in the state. But the decision to hold the convention in the state was probably made when times seemed better for Democrats. Now, it has almost become an awkward move. It would be like Republicans holding their nominating convention in Vermont. However, the state has been Republican for a very long time and Obama’s under-1% victory in 2008 happened in the best of circumstances. A repeat performance would be a very difficult task.

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