North Carolina: A southern state with a large military population, a state thats voted red in every presidential election since 1976, a state that Republicans have generally considered a given, is now either partys for the taking.
This election, North Carolina is a battleground state for the first time in more than 30 years. In the final week before the election, Republicans and Democrats are locked in a fierce battle for the states 15 electoral votes.
The last Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina was Jimmy Carter in 1976, but recent polls have revealed consistently close margins between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. According to a mid-October Public Policy Poll, Obama leads McCain 51 to 44 percent, his largest lead yet.
If Obama wins, its a huge upset, said Mike Cobb, associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University. I dont think theyre counting on it. I dont think theyre expecting it. I think what in part is happening is that they are forcing McCain to spend time and resources in states where he otherwise wasnt expecting to do so.
Obama operates 50 campaign offices in North Carolina, according to his campaign Web site. McCains Web site says there are 35 campaign offices in the state. Obama is also spending more money in North Carolina than McCain, according to a University of Wisconsin study found that for the week spanning Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, Obamas campaign spent $1.23 million on political ads in the state while McCains campaign spent $148,000.
North Carolina Republican Party spokesman Brent Woodcox said the party is not taking North Carolina for granted.
Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin visited North Carolina three times in three weeks, her most recent visit a trip to Asheville on Sunday and McCain held a rally in Fayetteville Tuesday. Outside groups have donated more than $20 million to North Carolina campaigns, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.
At the Senate level, Democratic challenger Kay Hagan is fighting Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole for her Senate seat. While Andrew Taylor, associate professor of political science at NC State, said that Dole is still the clear favorite, Hagan is making a better-than-expected run.
An Oct. 10 Rasmussen poll has Hagan with 49 percent of the vote and Dole with 44, similar to the previous weeks results of 48 to 49 percent.
Hagan may be picking up on an anti-Republican sentiment sweeping the country, Cobb said.
Theres a growing partisan self-identification balance thats helping Democrats, Cobb said, noting that the trend is most clearly visible among people ages 28 and under. Fewer people are calling themselves Republicans, even in the South.
Doles campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said Dole has supported the Republican agenda only when it directly benefited North Carolinians and has criticized the administrations mistakes in Iraq and its attempted Medicaid cuts.
Cobb said Democratic candidates in local elections, like Hagan, could benefit from Obamas campaign.
You typically have coattails where, as a new president takes over, members of his party tend to be advantaged at the congressional level and then trickling down to state races as well, Cobb said.
This effect is not about conversion, but turnout, Cobb said. If voters head to the polls to vote for one partys presidential candidate, they may vote down the ticket for that partys state candidates as well.
As of Oct. 21, of the 545,004 North Carolinians who voted early, 306,493 were registered Democrats and 147,276 were registered Republicans.