In this wild election year, one thing’s certain: North Carolina will again be among the 10 to 12 battleground states in the presidential election.
Republican Donald Trump will return to the Tar Heel state on Tuesday for a rally in Greensboro. And Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign is busy building an organization in the state, complete with a headquarters in Raleigh and, still to come, field offices in Charlotte and around the state.
Most of the Southern states are as red (Republican) as New England is blue (Democrat). But in recent elections, North Carolina has emerged as the purplest of purple (swing) states, with its urban counties going Democratic and most of its rural ones voting Republican.
In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to carry North Carolina. It was also the closest state battle in the country that year, with Obama beating Republican John McCain, 49.70 percent to 49.38 percent.
Four years later, President Obama lost North Carolina – barely – to Republican Mitt Romney, even after the Democrats had their convention here. It was among the closest contests in the country, with Romney winning 50.39 percent of the vote to Obama’s 48.35 percent.
The polls in the state suggest it could be another nail-biter this year, when North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes will again be the prize. Trump is a few points ahead in the most recent polls, from last month. But the lead has gone back and forth all year. RealClear Politics, a website that tracks state polls, says the average so far is 43.8 percent for Trump and 42.8 percent for Clinton.
One last thing: Democratic presidential candidates – including Bill Clinton and Obama – have managed to win the White House while losing North Carolina.
But no Republican since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 has been elected president without carrying North Carolina.