Has President Barack Obama written off North Carolina?
Some pundits think so. And there are polls of North Carolina voters showing Republican Mitt Romney at least five percentage points ahead.
The president recently completed a campaign tour of eight swing states, including California, Virginia, and Ohio, states that could conceivably be carried by either party. North Carolina was not included.
But Democrats in Scotland County and across the state say the postmortems for the Obama campaign in North Carolina may be premature.
Cameron French, the Obama campaign’s North Carolina press secretary, told The Laurinburg Exchange this week that the campaign is still fighting for the state’s 15 electoral votes.
“The First Lady and vice president have made several trips to North Carolina in the last month,” French said. “That signals the commitment we have here.”
Republicans say opinion polls show Romney leading in North Carolina.
“The more voters get to see Mitt Romney, especially in the debates, the more they like him,” said N.C. GOP spokesman Rob Lockwood. “That’s why we’re building some serious ‘Mitt-mentum’ in North Carolina.”
Regardless of what the polls say, early voting could be helping Democrats. After five days of early voting in North Carolina, registered Democrats are out-voting registered Republicans 2-1 – and are casting many more ballots than they did after five days of early voting in 2008.
According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, the number of registered Democrats who had cast ballots statewide through Monday of this week was 300,000. That is above the 258,000 who voted during the same period in 2008.
By contrast, about 150,000 registered Republicans had voted by Monday – up from about 94,000 the first five days of early voting in 2008 – a jump of almost 60 percent.
The first day of early voting in Scotland County — Oct. 18 — saw 913 voters — the largest number to date to head to the polls.
A total of 3,543 Scotland County residents had voted as of Wednesday. Jerry Johnson, county assistant elections director, said that 2,652 of that number were registered Democrats and 495 were unaffiliated, with 390 Republicans and five Libertarians.
“Unless we’re badly misjudging what these Democrats are doing,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College. “This race seems much closer than what we’re hearing outside (the state).”
Kenton Spencer, chairman of the Scotland County Democratic Party, agreed.
“It’s a very, very close race,” Spencer said. “In North Carolina you have different polls, Rasmussen, Gallup. The polls are really all over the map. Gallup had a national poll where there’s a seven point differential. Other polls it’s much, much closer and you’re only talking about a point or two.”
While more Scotland voters are registered Democrats rather than Republicans, Scotland County Republican Party Chairman Bill Owens said that Democratic candidates for state and national races will not necessarily win the vote here.
“A lot of Democrats who are registered as such do so in order to vote in the primaries,” Owens said. “Most people here run as Democrats in the primary. A lot of Democrats are going to be voting the Republican ticket, I think.”
Owens said the presidential race was trending toward Romney, but election is still to close to call.
“I’d be willing to make a call based on whatever the trend is this weekend,” Owens said. “Right now I think the trend is toward Romney, but it’s too early to say who it’s going to be. There’s a small percentage of undecideds out there. Most polls show a tie or a three or four point difference, and that’s within the margin of error.”
Owens said that he does expect Republican candidates to make a good showing in North Carolina’s state level races, as the state has the fifth highest unemployment rate nationwide and citizens are likely to vote for a shift in power. North Carolina had a 9.6 percent unemployment rate in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lower only than California, Nevada, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.
“I think the Republican Party is going to do quite well in this election in North Carolina,” Owens said. “Part of it’s driven by the fact that we have one of the highest unemployment rates in any state in the country. The economy is behind a lot of this.”
Spencer said time will tell if the president can successfully recreate the momentum among college-aged and minority voters that gave him an edge in 2008.
That year, Obama carried Scotland County with 57.5 percent, while Sen. John McCain got 42.3 percent of the vote. According to Scotland elections officials, 8,968 people participated in early voting in Scotland County four years ago.
Since this summer, representatives from the re-elections campaigns of Obama and Rep. Larry Kissell have registered a steady stream of first-time and relocated voters at the Democratic headquarters.
“The issue is whether he can hold to that pattern or if we’re going to the more traditional red and blue with the battleground states making the actual decision,” said Spencer. “This is more reflective of Bush and Gore, when you had that kind of energy on both sides. It’s really a street fight.”
Both Republicans and Democrats said they are looking forward to Election Day.
(People) see the nation and our way of life at a crossroads and that it may be changing in directions that some want it to and others don’t,” said Owens. “We’re so narrowly divided; I’ve never seen it more divided in my lifetime that I can remember. I think we’re sort of polarized on both sides. There’s a lot riding on which way this election goes.”
French said in the end it will come down to “voters talking to voters, neighbors talking to neighbors, whether they’re small business owners, members of the military returned from Iraq, or college students …”
McClatchy Tribune Services contributed to this article.