It’s a good thing, for an upset win by Hillary Clinton in North Carolina could shake up the presidential campaign if paired with a Clinton victory in Indiana.
For insight into how North Carolina will be won, here’s a guide to where and what to watch Tuesday:
Check the polls. Officially, the polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. But insiders here check the polls at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., after the early morning and lunch hour rushes, to gauge turnout.
Keep an eye on Raleigh-Durham area turnout. Before more than 350,000 ballots were cast during the early voting period, analysts were forecasting a turnout of about 800,000 voters in the presidential primary.
That number should now top one million, said Morgan Jackson, a North Carolina political consultant.
“The key will be the Raleigh-Durham market,” Jackson said. It usually makes up between a quarter and a third of the overall turnout vote. “If that is creeping up to 40 percent that spells good news for Obama,” he said.
Big cities vs. small towns. North Carolina voters are concentrated around the I-40/I-85 corridor through the central region of the state, where Obama will look to drive his margins above 55 percent in the metropolitan areas of Charlotte, Winston-Salem (part of the Triad) and Raleigh-Durham (part of the Research Triangle).
North Carolina has 100 counties, and “usually the top 14 counties in the metropolitan areas cast more votes” than the rest combined, said Ferrel Guillory, a former political reporter who lectures at the University of North Carolina. “So Hillary is counting on those other counties to maximize her vote. She needs an extra margin out of those counties.”
Former President Bill Clinton has been busy working the less populated areas to the west of Charlotte and to the east of Raleigh. He made 14 stops on Sunday and Monday alone in towns that have never seen a former president.
All in all, the former president has made more than 40 campaign stops in small town North Carolina, where analysts say Hillary needs to pull in more than 60 percent of the vote.
Can she do it? Bill Clinton bragged to at least one North Carolina crowd that he boosted his wife in Pennsylvania, visiting 20 rural counties where she won at least 60 percent of the vote.
Hillary Clinton will also need to be competitive in the suburbs and exurbs of the major metropolitan areas because a pure rural strategy will not be enough, analysts said.
Follow the African-American vote. The higher the black turnout, the higher the Obama margin of victory.
African Americans have made up 40 percent of the early voting turnout and are expected to comprise anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the vote today.
Most polls show Clinton picking up about 10 percent of the African American vote. If she can claw her way into the range of about 20 percent—which would be on the high side for her in a Southern state—she would get some breathing room.
Places to watch. Check out a medium-sized city such as Fayetteville where there is a mix of African Americans and rural white conservative Democrats. Clinton has made overtures to the military voters around Fort Bragg, but Obama could draw strength from historically black Fayetteville State University, said Doug Heye, a Republican political strategist and North Carolina native.
Durham, which is 44 percent African American, could provide a gauge on turnout among one of Obama’s most loyal constituencies. Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, all at least one-third black, are also worth watching. Obama needs strong turnout in towns with black colleges and universities, such as Elizabeth City in the northeastern corer of the state, Heye said.
The counties around Raleigh and Durham could provide clues as to whether Obama can rebound with suburban white voters after turning in a lackluster performance in Philadelphia’s upper-income suburbs.
Asheville could be an island of Obama strength in rural western Carolina.
Avi Zenilman and Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.