Who will end up with North Carolinas 15 electoral votes?
The polls suggest itll be Republican Mitt Romney. Early voting totals say it may be Democrat Barack Obama.
Two weeks before Election Day, both presidential campaigns are sounding bullish about their chances and resolute about their willingness to fight on in the Tar Heel State.
We are doubling down, we are not pulling back at all, David Axelrod, senior staffer in the Obama campaign, said Tuesday about North Carolina and the two other battleground states in the South, Florida and Virginia. Anybody who thinks those states are in the bag (for Romney) are half in the bag themselves.
But Republicans say things are trending upward for Romney, including 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. Thats why were building some serious Mitt-mentum in North Carolina.
The view from an independent source?
My head is spinning, said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College.
On the one hand, he said, most polls and a lot of the spin make it sound like its leaning to Romney and its a done deal.
But after five days of early voting in North Carolina, he added, 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.
Unless were badly misjudging what these Democrats are doing, Bitzer said, this race seems much closer than what were hearing outside (the state).
Outside North Carolina, pundits, national reporters and even some top Democrats have argued this week that Obama is writing off North Carolina at a time when RealClearPolitics says the average of recent polls of North Carolina voters put Romney 5.6 percentage points ahead.
Paul Begala a Democratic pundit and adviser to a pro-Obama Super PAC said yes on Monday when CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asked him if Obama was giving up on North Carolina.
If you look at where (Obamas) going and where hes spending money, yes, it looks like Gov. Romney is likely to carry North Carolina, he said.
Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama have visited North Carolina in recent weeks. But Obama hasnt been here since early September, when he gave his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. And there is no North Carolina stop included in the presidents upcoming barnstorming tour of six battleground states.
But Axelrod and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina rejected the idea that they were easing North Carolina onto the back burner.
Democrats: N.C. still very close
The state is absolutely still in play, Messina said Tuesday. We have a huge operation on the ground, were airing great TV ads (in the state). North Carolina is going to be what it was (in 2008): Very, very close.
The campaign just unveiled a new 60-second TV ad in the state. Romney has a new one on-air, too.
And Messina said the Obama campaign in North Carolina registered hundred of thousands of new voters beating even our own expectations.
Messina also pointed to early voting in the state, which started last Thursday and is now above 2008 totals. It was Obamas big lead among those who voted early in North Carolina that enabled him to narrowly defeat GOP Sen. John McCain the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Bitzer, who has been tracking state early voting numbers, said about 559,000 North Carolinians voted through Monday up from the 422,000 who voted through the first five days of early voting in 2008.
All three major voting groups registered Democrats, registered Republicans and those registered as unaffiliated are outperforming their 2008 totals so far, Bitzer said.
Republicans swore after the 2008 loss that they would not be caught napping again in 2012. Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party and other prominent Republicans have embarked on a Conservative Comeback Tour theyll be in Charlotte on Wednesday to encourage early voting.
Through Monday, about 150,000 registered Republicans had voted up from about 94,000 the first five days of early voting in 2008 a jump of almost 60 percent.
But the number of votes cast by registered Democrats through Monday was 300,000, Bitzer said. Thats also above the comparable 2008 total of 258,000.
The one question mark: Just how many of all those early-voting Democrats are casting their ballots for Obama?
Lockwood pointed out that more than 20 percent of those who voted in this years Democratic presidential primary chose no preference instead of Obama.
But Bitzer said that 35 percent of those who have voted early this year are African-Americans voters that overwhelmingly support Obama. In 2008, blacks made up 29 percent of early voters overall.