Three days after he and his new running mate galvanized crowds in two N.C. cities, Mitt Romney is in Charlotte Wednesday to raise money for a GOP presidential campaign that needs North Carolina for any chance of victory in November.
The former Massachusetts governor is at the Duke Mansion, chatting and posing for snapshots with donors from the worlds of NASCAR and business.
His midday appearance was preceded by a Republican Party news conference, which Romney did not attend but many other local GOP officials did.
The news conference set the stage for Romneys visit, with Aldona Wos of the N.C. Women for Mitt criticizing the Obama administrations economic policies.
Answering charges by Democrats that GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryans budget plan would do away with Medicare, Wos countered, It is President Obama and his policies that are putting an end to Medicare as we know it.
This is hardly the last time North Carolina voters are going to see the Romney ticket.
Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman named to the GOP ticket last weekend, is tentatively scheduled to make his own fundraising foray into North Carolina on Aug. 22. And, just after the Republican convention late this month in Tampa, Romney may return to North Carolina yet again.
Said N.C. campaign spokesman Robert Reid: Youre going to see plenty of Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan here in North Carolina between now and November.
Theres a reason: Many political analysts cant envision Romney reaching 270 electoral votes without turning the state red again.
North Carolina is a must-win state for Romney, said Charlie Cook, director of the Washington-based Cook Political Report.
Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer agreed: Theres no Electoral College route for Romney that does not include North Carolina.
These and other analysts also agree that President Barack Obama, who narrowly carried the state four years ago, can win the White House again without repeating his victory in North Carolina.
But Romney and Obama are neck-and-neck in most N.C. polls, and the current signs are clear that the Democratic presidents more seasoned North Carolina campaign operation will make the GOP team fight for every vote in the state.
On Monday, a day after the Romney-Ryan bus tour, Vice President Joe Biden was in Durham, casting the race as one between GOP defenders of the rich and Democratic protectors of the middle-class.
The differences could not be more clearly laid out, he told supporters. They have a different value set than we have.
The words on the stump are mild compared to those in the attack and counterattack ads blanketing the states airwaves.
The Romney campaign, for example, has hammered away at the anemic economic recovery a message that could well resonate in North Carolina, where unemployment is 9.4 percent, the fifth-highest rate in the country.
To date, according to a National Journal analysis of spending on TV ads in battleground states, the Romney campaign and its Super PAC allies have dished out $20.8 million. The Obama campaign: $13.5 million.
But while Romney has had an advantage in the airwaves war and probably will in the fall, too the Obama campaign is ahead on the ground. Its opened 40 N.C. field offices so far twice as many as the GOP and has recruited thousands of volunteers.
Obama campaign never left
Carrying North Carolina used to be a quadrennial given for the Republican running for president.
But in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama caught Sen. John McCains campaign sleeping.
Backed by a ground game thats come to be a model, Obama rode a record turnout by African-Americans and younger voters to become the first Democrat to carry the state since Southerner Jimmy Carter in 1976.
The presidents campaign organization has never left North Carolina. Its busy reaching out to groups Obama is counting on in November: not only young and black voters, but also Latinos, women, veterans, newcomers to North Carolina and especially after Romneys Ryan pick put the Medicare issue front and center seniors.
Obama even chose Charlotte to host next months Democratic National Convention in hopes of using it as a massive organizing tool to re-take the state a strategy that worked four years ago in Colorado.
Were going to run the most sophisticated grass-roots campaign this countrys ever seen, Jim Messina, Obamas campaign manager, said in a video pep talk to staffers and volunteers this summer that highlighted North Carolina. Organizing on the ground, talking to voters, getting you involved thats how we win.
But the addition of Ryan, a conservative hero, may fire up a GOP base in the state that seemed lukewarm at times about Romney. Their new enthusiasm could bring more volunteers in the door and swell GOP turnout in November.
Before, the conservative base just didnt like Obama. Now theres a reason to work for something, rather than just against, said Francis DeLuca, director of polling at the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute, a Republican leaning outfit that had Romney leading Obama by one point 49 percent to 48 percent in its most recent poll.
Tom Jensen, director of Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling, a group that leans Democratic, agreed that Republicans might get a turnout boost because of North Carolina conservatives excitement about Ryan.
But he said a PPP poll in June 2011 found that Ryans budget plan it would slash federal spending and remake Medicare was opposed by 47 percent of N.C. voters and supported by only 24 percent. (The rest had no opinion).
But most of the people who really dislike the Ryan plan are already for Obama, he said. So, the big picture in North Carolina remains the same.
That picture, he said, is a tossup between Romney and Obama, though the most recent PPP poll in North Carolina (Aug. 2-5) put Obama ahead 49 percent to 46 percent.
In a few weeks, the presidential race will take center stage in North Carolina when the president delivers his acceptance speech before a crowd of thousands and a TV audience of millions at Charlottes Bank of America Stadium.
Romneys latest stop in the state Wednesday is only the beginning, his campaign says, of a high-profile push by their side to woo N.C. voters. On Sunday, the Romney-Ryan ticket visited Mooresville and High Point.
Winning the states 15 electoral votes will not guarantee a Romney inauguration Republican candidates won the Tar Heel state, but not the White House, as recently as 1992 and 1996. But not since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 has a GOP presidential candidate lost North Carolina and still won the election.
John Frank of The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.