Mooneyham column: Why Obama came calling in N.C.
By Scott Mooneyham
RALEIGH ó At first blush, North Carolina seems a rather odd place for Barack Obama to pretty much begin his general election campaign.
But Obama came to Raleigh just two days after Hillary Clinton finally conceded, recognized the inevitable: he will be the Democratic nominee for president.
Obama and his campaign decided to begin their assault on John McCain here by trying to tie his views on the economy to the country’s current economic woes. About 900 people gathered to hear Obama call McCain’s economic proposals a “full-throated endorsement of George Bush’s policies.”
It was a nice little sound bite that we’ll surely hear over and over.
But why here?
North Carolina voters last sent their electoral votes to a Democratic presidential candidate in 1976, when Jimmy Carter rode the Watergate scandal into office. In 1992, Bill Clinton toured small mill towns and burgeoning cities; he still lost the state to George H.W. Bush, even if narrowly. Four years later, while Clinton was mopping the floor with Bob Dole in most states, he lost here again.
In 2000, Al Gore, despite being a favorite son from a neighboring state, didn’t bother contesting North Carolina. While winning the overall popular vote, Gore lost by 13 percentage points here. .
Obviously, Obama and his campaign advisers know all this.
But they also know, having run in a contested primary in the state just a month ago, that the campaign has a well-established organization here. Obama’s decisive primary win over Clinton showed strong support. And North Carolina, like Virginia, is an upper southern state that can’t be willy-nilly dismissed by any presidential candidate.
Maybe, just maybe, for this groundbreaking candidate, the past can be thrown out the window.
Obama, not surprisingly, has said that he plans on contesting North Carolina and other states that have been reliably red in recent years. Some of that talk will prove to be hyperbole.
Still, if North Carolina is a long shot but not a complete impossibility for Obama, what better place to throw a scare into McCain and the Republicans?
Right now, the Republicans are probably trying to figure out how serious the Obama camp is about North Carolina, and whether they need to spend time and money in the state.
Initially, at least, the scare seemed to be working.
The state Republican Party sent out a missive challenging the party affiliation of a self-proclaimed Republican who spoke at the rally. The GOP noted the absence of prominent Democrats running for statewide office, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and state Sen. Walter Dalton. Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr got on the phone with reporters.
You have to wonder whether Obama’s folks got a good chuckle out of the commotion. “They think we’re really going to run there,” perhaps someone said. Or, maybe they busily poured over poll and focus group results, trying to see if it really is doable.
If it’s the latter, and the state really is in play, John McCain’s troubles won’t be confined to North Carolina.
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Scott Mooneyham is a columnist for Capitol Press Association.