I've offered an analysis of how NC might be in play in the presidential race this fall. Political consultants John Anzalone and Jeff Liszt also suggest this could be a Democratic year in NC -- lots of new voters, an energized Democratic Party base, with particularly high African American turnout, extremely low voter approval for George W. Bush (58% disapproval in the state), and widespread perceptions of a negative economy.
Gary Pearce, a longtime adviser to former governor Jim Hunt and other Democratic candidates, is skeptical of Democratic chances to take the presidency, according to a Boston Globe article. He says Democrats generally need high African American turnout, and at least 42 percent of the white vote to win a statewide race in NC. Whites still represent an overwhelming majority of 75 percent of the state's voters, he says. Gov. Mike Easley got 43 percent of the white vote in 2004, while Senator John Kerry received only 27 percent of the white vote in the state (he lost NC by 13 percent to George W. Bush).
Obama's presence on the ticket could boost the Democratic turnout by five percent, or tens of thousands of votes for Democrats up and down the ticket, Pearce noted. That could be the difference in close races like the 8th congressional district, where Republican Robin Hayes squeaked through in 2006 by a few hundred votes.
But Pearce doubts the Democratic presidential candidate will take North Carolina. Pearce says national Democrats would be wiser to invest more of their limited time and money in Virginia, which is leaning more strongly in a blue direction.
If Obama carries the state, it would probably be by a very thin margin. A squeaker. The Democrats do tend to win the governorship in North Carolina. At this early stage (June 2008), the governor's race is almost tied, with 47 percent for Beverly Perdue and 46 percent for Pat McCrory.
If Perdue runs strong, she could pull Barack Obama and Kay Hagan, the Democratic candidate for Senate, over the top with her. But if, as I suspect, Perdue will face a very strong challenge from the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, Perdue, Hagan and Obama could all lose their statewide races. Hagan has some work to do as she introduces herself to the public. Dole is viewed favorably by 62 percent compared to Hagen's 45 percent.
Pearce thinks McCrory would be favored to win the governorship "by using Obama's strategy: be the candidate of change. Attack "a culture of corruption and mismanagement in Raleigh." He suspects Perdue could be a "brittle candidate, who may not stand up to smart, sustained attack." McCrory, says Pearce,
doesn’t have to overstate things. Stating the facts will do: A Speaker in prison, legislators forced to resign, a state lottery conceived in sin, mental health care in disarray, a probation system in disarray, etc.
And he can exploit the poisonous relationship between the press and government.
Perdue has to somehow neutralize those issues, and prove that she'll do a better job than McCrory. Her best chance is to galvanize the public around education and the health care issue, which "she owns," Pearce observes.
McCrory would probably lead the Republican ticket in North Carolina, with coattails for McCain and Elizabeth Dole, who is running for re-election. Or Dole could be the top vote-getter, with coattails for McCrory and McCain.
In my view, only if Perdue runs strong and beats McCrory would Obama and Hagan have a chance to win their races.
One can understand why Obama is already focusing on historically Republican Virginia as a potential swing state this year. Former Democratic governor Mark Warner is very popular and expected to win the U.S. Senate seat -- he could provide coattails for Obama. With the Virginia GOP still smarting from Democratic Senator Jim Webb's defeat of George Allen in 2006, the Democratic Party in Virginia is feeling its oats.
North Carolina's Democratic Party is not in as strong a position as Virginia's Democratic Party. If North Carolina is truly in play, Obama would probably win a landslide nationally.
An essential question may be how many straight party voters and ticket-splitters there are in North Carolina in 2008. North Carolina has a long history of ticket-splitting in gubernatorial races -- the state usually elects Democratic governors while voting for Republican presidential candidates, Republican senatorial candidates, and Democratic state legislators. Still, it's very difficult to imagine the state electing a Republican governor in 2008, while also defeating an incumbent Republican senator like Dole and somehow voting for Barack Obama for president. In other words, the results of the three top statewide races are likely to be tied together.