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Scott Mooneyham: Running to or from Obama

RALEIGH ó By most accounts, Democratic activists expect Barack Obamaís focus on North Carolina and Charlotteís hosting of the Democratic National Convention to be a big plus for their partyís political fortunes here next year.
The expectations are understandable.
In 2008, when Obama carried the state by 14,000 votes, his popularity and a well-oiled army of campaign volunteers was seen as key in helping Democrats down the ballot, especially Gov. Beverly Perdue.
For 2012, North Carolina is again seen as critical to Obamaís candidacy.
Despite the sluggish economy, the president remains relatively popular here, particularly when compared to some other battleground states that he won in 2008.
In head-to-head match-ups, polls in North Carolina continue to put Obama ahead of the current Republican presidential candidates except Mitt Romney. Romney and Obama are neck-and-neck in the same polls.
So, North Carolinians can look forward to the good and bad of presidential politics in 2012: The president will be showering plenty of attention on the Old North State; so will the national parties and their political consultants intent on filling the airwaves with creative descriptions of the opposition.
An interesting aspect of this campaign season will be watching how many Democratic candidates run away from the president and how many run to him.
For so long in North Carolina, Democratic politicians have played a game of presidential appearance hot potato.
When a Democratic president or presidential candidate came to town, sometimes the state candidates would show up. Sometimes they would find a convenient scheduling conflict sending them to a far corner of the state.
When North Carolina voters went 30 years without giving the stateís electoral votes to a Democrat, the reluctance to appear side-by-side with a presidential candidate of the same party wasnít surprising.
For several decades, the stateís electorate viewed federal and state candidates differently, demanding more conservatism from its federal officeholders while being comfortable with the business-progressives typically nominated for state office by Democrats.
Until recently, the dichotomy had only rarely presented a problem for Democrats.
Bill Clinton made a real effort to win the stateís electoral votes in 1992, but after failing to do so, ignored the state in 1996. Al Gore and John Kerry followed suit.
Obama, of course, has changed the calculus. So has an electorate that is a little more independent, a little more pocketbook focused and a little less socially conservative.
With a national convention here and the president making the state a priority of his re-election efforts, it will be hard for Democratic candidates to come up with enough excuses to avoid him.
Maybe they wonít want to.
Candidate Perdue seemed happy enough to make it to Obamaís appearance in Raleigh before 25,000 people in 2008. So did other prominent Democrats.
Still, donít be surprised if some popular state Democrats find that itís more convenient to appear with the president in metropolitan areas of the Piedmont, but just canít make that event in the rural East.
Politics hasnít changed that much.

Scott Mooneyham writes about state government for Capitol Press Association.

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