North Carolina swing voters are likely to be white men

Larry Phillips
CBS News

(CBS News) CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In North Carolina, the Obama campaign should be on alert for "switchers," particularly white men who cast their ballot for the president four years ago but have resolved not do to so again.

Computer system installer Larry Phillips is among those Tarheel State voters who bought into Obama's message of hope and change, but now has buyer's remorse.

"I guess what he promised -- we never got those promises," Phillips said.

The 34-year-old registered Republican had voted for a Democrat before - Bill Clinton - but he is frustrated by how the federal debt and gridlock have grown during Obama's time in office.

"I think a leader should be able to come in -- it doesn't matter what party you're on -- you should be able to compromise with the other side and to get something accomplished," Phillips said.

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Explaining his switch to Mitt Romney, Phillips said: "We need somebody with a business background, somebody that knows that if you've got a million dollars to work with, you can't spend two million, because that falls back on the American citizens to pay for that."

The Democratic Party hopes staging its national convention in Charlotte has a ripple effect through North Carolina enabling President Obama to win the state again in November.

His 2008 victory in the traditionally Republican state came by the slimmest of margins: 14,000 votes out of 4.3 million cast, or just three-tenths of one percent.

While there was a record turnout of black voters, and 96 percent of them voted for Obama, his performance among white men was also key.

In North Carolina, in 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won only one in four white male votes. Four years later, Obama improved to one in three white male votes.

He became the first Democrat to carry North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Now, with the president struggling to hang on to those voters, he's counting on people like John Galles, the publisher off Greater Charlotte Biz, a magazine about the city's burgeoning small business community.

Galles, a Democrat who has voted Republican for president on occasion, is sticking with Obama.

"He saved the banking community from a collapse, and that saved many small businesses from having their lines of credit eliminated," Galles said.

A former president of the National Small Business Association, Galles' office wall is lined with photos of meetings at the White House with former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

Of Obama, Galles said, "When he took office, he was facing a catastrophic economy, an economic downturn that was likely to become a depression, and he kept it from becoming a depression. It still is a great recession, and we're all struggling with that, but I think he's worked for very hard to soften the impact of that economic downturn, and I think he's actually turned the corner on it."

Investment advisor Sam McNeil, who worked 30 years for a major bank in Charlotte, sees Obama's performance differently.

"Our unemployment rate is still above eight percent, and we're still running trillion dollar deficits. It's hard to understand how the economy is getting better," McNeil said.

McNeil, a registered Republican who voted for Bill Clinton's reelection, says Obama's new rules for the financial industry are stifling economic growth.

"I know a large bank that operates in the Carolinas that tells me when they approve a real estate loan, within two or three weeks after they approve it, they have federal regulators that they have to sit down with and go through every aspect of the loan," McNeil said. "They have put too many restrictions in place for banks to lend to companies, and it's been very difficult for small businesses to get money to expand their businesses and hire people."

Josh Brown, 22, from Greensboro, N.C., was hired as a bank analyst in Charlotte right after graduating from UNC-Charlotte. Brown is among the five percent of "undecided" voters in North Carolina, but as a first time voter in 2008, he was among the legions of first-time voters to go with Obama.

"I believed that he had the better economic plan at the time, in that government spending could help prop up the economy, and during the first two years of his presidency, it seemed as that was working, and now we've sort of stalled out and stagnated," Brown said.

But Brown isn't yet persuaded by Romney. Even after the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week, he wants to hear more about his plan for the economy.

Brown said: "When it comes down to the election, what are you going to decide? Do you want a CEO, or do you want someone who inspires you and could inspire our nation to greatness?"

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.