When the Democrats kick off their convention Tuesday in Charlotte, it will be, among other things, a naked attempt to hold on to North Carolina in the electoral college. The prize is 15 electoral votes which, in a close election, can make or break a candidate’s quest.
Just to give you a sense of how difficult that might be, consider that in 2008 President Barack Obama won here by 0.3 percent margin of victory -- only about 14,000 votes.
Now consider that Bill Clinton, son of the south and keynoter at this week’s convention, was never able to claim victory in North Carolina. In fact, the last Democrat to come out ahead in the presidential sweepstakes here was that other southerner, Jimmy Carter -- and only the first time around, in 1976.
Right now, both Talking Points Memo’s "Polltracker," which combines various polls, and Nate Silver's "Five Thirty Eight" blog in the New York Times, tip North Carolina to Mitt Romney by one or two percentage points. Silver gives Romney a better than 60 percent chance of taking the state.
So what will it take for Obama to win here? Believe it or not, Obama’s best bet is to appeal directly to North Carolina’s Latinos and to hope that, working in tandem with African-Americans, they can provide a heavy block against the GOP, whose candidates are currently ahead in the governor’s race (Pat McCory leads Walter Dalton by about 7 points) and dead even with the Democrat in the senate. Any movement in either of those races could affect the top of the state ticket.
Now, keep in mind Obama’s razor thing 14,000 vote 2008 margin and consider these numbers:
- North Carolina’s population grew by more than 18 percent since 2000, and a good chunk of those new residents are African-Americans and Latino, who doubled their population in a decade. Together, blacks and Hispanics constitute 61 percent of the 1.8 million new residents in the state. Non-Hispanic whites are only 65 percent of the population.
- About 100,000 Latinos are registered voters in North Carolina (that’s the conservative estimate -- some say twice that) -- more than 40,000 since 2008, which should make Obama’s team optimistic. A third of all registered voters in North Carolina are people of color.
- Sixty percent of North Carolina’s Latinos are of Mexican descent, and about 13 percent are Central Americans, according to the U.S. Census. More than 80 percent are under 40 years of age -- meaning that immigration, healthcare and education are strong issues here. Whatever Obama’s abysmal deportation numbers, his DREAM Act executive order, the Affordable Care Act and the Pell Grants move should all play well to Latinos here. (But working against him is a Latino unemployment rate here of 10.2, above the national average.)
- In 2008, African-Americans mirrored their population on the voter rolls at 21 percent, and about 38 percent of Democratic voters. This year, the Obama campaign has launched a massive voter registration drive in the African-American community to preserve that block of voters, but they’re also looking at 19 percent black unemployment here, which could dampen some enthusiasm.
North Carolina is about as toss-up as a state gets, and though the numbers suggest the future belongs to the Democrats, this election is just two months away. It’s absolutely anybody’s game.
This is the first in an occasional series. In the next few weeks, ’ll be looking at how Latinos -- the so-called swing vote in this year’s presidential election -- play in each of the states where the race is within a few percentage points.