Election-map history drives Mitt Romney back to NC

Romney back in N.C. today as analysts call state a must-win

tfunk@charlotteobserver.comAugust 14, 2012 


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands with supporters after a campaign rally at the NASCAR Technical Institute in Morresville, N.C. on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012. The stop in Mooresville was part of Romney's "The Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class" bus tour.

ADAM JENNINGS — adamjennings@charlotteobserver.com

  • Protest planned for Romney event Guests at Wednesday’s fundraiser for Republican Mitt Romney could be picking up checks as well as giving them. A group called Action NC plans to offer attendees fake checks for $250,000. That’s the amount that protest organizers say millionaires would get in tax cuts if Romney is elected. They base their claim on a study by Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal think tank. It reported that millionaires would benefit that much from an extension of President Bush’s tax cuts and other Romney proposals. The protesters plan to gather near the site of the Duke Mansion fundraiser. Jim Morrill

Three days after he and his new running mate galvanized crowds in two N.C. cities, Mitt Romney will be in Charlotte Wednesday to raise money for a GOP presidential campaign that needs North Carolina for any chance of victory in November.

At noon Wednesday, the former Massachusetts governor will chat and pose for snapshots at the Duke Mansion with donors from the worlds of NASCAR and business.

It’s hardly the last time North Carolina voters are going to see the GOP ticket.

Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman named to the GOP ticket last weekend, is tentatively scheduled to make his own fundraising foray into North Carolina on Aug. 22. And, just after the Republican convention late this month in Tampa, Romney may return to North Carolina yet again.

Said North Carolina campaign spokesman Robert Reid: “You’re going to see plenty of Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan here in North Carolina between now and November.”

There’s a reason: Many political analysts can’t envision Romney reaching 270 electoral votes without taking the state.

“North Carolina is a must-win state for Romney,” said Charlie Cook, director of the Washington-based Cook Political Report.

Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer agreed: “There’s no Electoral College route for Romney that does not include North Carolina.”

These and other analysts also agree that President Barack Obama, who narrowly carried the state four years ago, can win the White House again without repeating his victory in North Carolina.

But Romney and Obama are neck-and-neck in most North Carolina polls, and the signs are clear that the Democratic president’s more seasoned operation in the state will make the GOP team fight for every vote.

On Monday, a day after the Romney-Ryan bus tour, Vice President Joe Biden was in Durham, casting the race as one between GOP defenders of the rich and Democratic protectors of the middle-class.

“The differences could not be more clearly laid out,” he told supporters. “They have a different value set than we have.”

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign has hammered at the anemic economic recovery – a message that could resonate in North Carolina, where unemployment of 9.4 percent is the fifth-highest rate in the U.S.

To date, according to a National Journal analysis of spending on TV ads in battleground states, the Romney campaign and its super PAC allies have dished out $20.8 million. The Obama campaign: $13.5 million.

But while Romney has had an advantage in the airwaves – and probably will in the fall, too – the Obama campaign is ahead on the ground. It has opened 40 field offices statewide – twice as many as the GOP – and has recruited thousands of volunteers.

Obama campaign never left

Carrying North Carolina used to be a quadrennial given for the Republican running for president.

But in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama caught Sen. John McCain’s campaign sleeping.

Backed by a ground game that has come to be a model, Obama rode a record turnout by African-Americans and younger voters to become the first Democrat to carry the state since Southerner Jimmy Carter in 1976.

The president’s campaign organization never left North Carolina. It’s now busy reaching out to its young people and black voter, but also Latinos, women, veterans, newcomers and seniors.

“We’re going to run the most sophisticated grass-roots campaign this country’s ever seen,” Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, said in a video pep talk to staffers and volunteers this summer that highlighted North Carolina. “Organizing on the ground, talking to voters, getting you involved – that’s how we win.”

Will Ryan add momentum?

But the addition of Ryan, a conservative hero, may fire up a GOP base in the state that seemed lukewarm at times about Romney. Their new enthusiasm could bring more volunteers in the door and swell GOP turnout in November.

“Before, the conservative base just didn’t like Obama. Now there’s a reason to work for something, rather than just against,” said Francis DeLuca, director of polling at the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute, a Republican leaning outfit that had Romney leading Obama by one point – 49 percent to 48 percent – in its most recent poll.

Tom Jensen, director of Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling, a group that leans Democratic, agreed that Republicans might get a turnout boost because of North Carolina conservatives’ excitement about Ryan.

But he said a PPP poll in June 2011 found that Ryan’s budget plan – to slash federal spending and remake Medicare – was opposed by 47 percent of voters in this state and supported by only 24 percent. (The rest had no opinion).

“But most of the people who really dislike the Ryan plan are already for Obama,” he said. “So, the big picture in North Carolina remains the same.”

That picture, he said, is a tossup, though the most recent PPP poll in North Carolina (Aug. 2-5) put Obama ahead 49 percent to 46 percent.

Winning the state’s 15 electoral votes will not guarantee a Romney inauguration – Republicans won the Tar Heel state, but not the White House, as recently as 1992 and 1996. But not since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 has a GOP presidential candidate lost North Carolina and still won the election.

News & Observer staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.

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