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Commentary: Can Obama flip North Carolina?

Will North Carolina really be “in play” in the presidential race this year? Dr. Michael Bitzer, professor of political science and history at Catawba College, offers these thoughts at nc-politics.blogspot.com:
Several stories out there have started the rumor mill grinding away about whether presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama can “flip” North Carolina from its historic red state trend to blue this fall.
In fact, in his kickoff for the general campaign after Senator Clinton endorsed him this past Saturday, Senator Obama came to Raleigh to begin his economic-oriented tour of the country. Many talking heads and pundits have said “this signals that the Obama campaign will make North Carolina a targeted state for this fall.”
Well, what do the numbers tell us? Accordingly to some data provided by the NC State Board of Elections and some analysis that I have done:
1. Sen. Obama did win an impressive 14 percent victory over Sen. Clinton in the May 6th primary. But that was in the Democratic primary (granted, for every voter in the same date Republican primary, there were three voters casting ballots in the Democratic primary).
2. Over the past few presidential elections, North Carolina has been a fairly reliable red state. In 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush won the state by 13 percentage points. From 2000 to 2004, Bush increased his vote total by 300,000 votes, even with a Tar Heel on the ticket in ’04 (John Edwards).
3. Now, if it is true that both candidates (McCain and Obama) are going to go huntin’ in each other’s backyards, then things may be all over the place. North Carolina certainly would be one area to watch, with 20 percent of registered voters being black. More importantly, in the major urban counties, such as Mecklenburg and Wake, black voters make up 29 percent and 19 percent respectively.
4. In the May primary, with counties having over 29 percent registered black voters, Obama won 65 percent to Clinton’s 33 percent. Conversely …
5. In the same election and in counties with 10 percent or less registered black voters, Obama received 38 percent to Clinton’s 59 percent.
6. Again, same election, but in the 10 urban/suburban counties that made up 50 percent of the Democratic primary vote, Obama won 65 percent to Clinton’s 33 percent. Registered black voters in these counties range from 38 percent in Cumberland County, home to Fayetteville, to 6 percent in Buncombe County ó BUT also home to the UNC-Asheville, a well-known liberal area of the mountains and one of two mountain counties (the other being Watagua, home to App State) that voted for Obama in the primary.
So what does all this mean? Well, if Obama wants to carry the Tar Heel state this fall, he has to push his vote up significantly in those 10-15 major metropolitan counties that will decide this fall’s general election, as well as do better than 38 percent in those rural counties, especially in the mountains and along the Jessecrat region of the state.
In this analyst’s view, making all that happen will require some significant work to flip this state. But as this year has proven, odder things have happened.

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