Rob Christensen

NC will be an early test for Hillary Clinton

North Carolina will likely provide one of the first presidential tests for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a state that has not been kind to her in the past.

Under a new law, North Carolina will hold one of the country’s first primaries in 10 months. Although no date has been set, the new law would make North Carolina the fourth state in the nominating process, behind the Iowa caucuses and primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina. The most likely date is Feb. 23, although it’s subject to change.

This is far different from past North Carolina primaries held in May when, in most cases, the nomination fight has been long settled.

As in the rest of the country, Clinton, who announced her candidacy Sunday and appeared in Iowa Tuesday, begins in North Carolina as the Democratic frontrunner.

The former First Lady and New York senator is favored by 53 percent of Tar Heel Democrats, according to a statewide survey conducted April 2-5 by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning polling firm based in Raleigh.

No other candidate is close and none seems to have a natural political base from which to challenge Clinton. Vice President Joe Biden, who campaigned here frequently for the ticket in 2012, is at 13 percent. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is at 5 percent. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who campaigned in North Carolina in 2012 for gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton, is at 5 percent. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb is at 3 percent.

The Clinton campaign has not begun organizing in the state, instead focusing on fundraising.

Clinton was ‘toast’

Although she would never say this, Clinton cannot have warm memories of North Carolina. In her previous bid for the White House in 2008, Clinton made her last stand in North Carolina against Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Clinton saw North Carolina as her last chance to derail Obama from winning the nomination.

It was a state where a lot of small-town and rural whites were still Democrats and two-term Democratic Gov. Mike Easley had endorsed her. Clinton loaned her campaign $6.4 million to help pay for her 20 campaign offices and 50 staffers. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned in at least 58 towns and cities.

Obama and his advisors were sweating the race, worried about a white backlash resulting from controversial remarks of his Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

But Obama won decisively by a 56-42 percent margin, leading the New York Post headline to declare that Clinton was “toast.”

While Clinton seems to be in a commanding position for next year’s Democratic primary, the general election is likely to be an uphill fight for her.

Must-win for GOP

While the state has historically leaned red – the GOP has carried the state in 10 of the past 12 elections since 1968 – it has been trending purple recently.

In the last two elections, no state in the country has been closer than North Carolina. The state went for Obama in 2008, and in 2012 it went for Republican Mitt Romney. In both instances, it was the closest states won by the two men.

Early polling suggests another close election. On average, Clinton trails her prospective Republican opponents by 1 percentage point in North Carolina, according to the Public Policy Poll. Such polls are not particularly meaningful, because many voters have never heard of the Republican candidates.

The Clinton campaign is expected to make a major effort in North Carolina’s general election.

North Carolina is viewed as a must-win if a Republican is going to secure the necessary 270 electoral votes, while the Democrats tend to view it as a potential pick-up if things break their way.

Either way, North Carolina looks like a battleground state again.

Christensen: 919-829-4532;

Twitter: @oldpolhack