Barack Obama plans to rally in North Carolina on Monday as his campaign begins to expand operations in the state, hoping to become the first Democratic presidential winner here in three decades.
Raleigh is Obama's first stop on a two-week national tour to talk about the economy, a strong indicator that he considers the state one he might be able to swing to his side. North Carolina, which holds 15 electoral votes, hasn't voted for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976, but its large black population and bloc of new voters change the election outlook this year.
N.C. Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a longtime Obama backer and surrogate, said the state's growth has included an influx of progressive voters. And he argued that North Carolina isn't as reliably red as the GOP claims, noting that former President Bill Clinton lost it by one percentage point in 1992.
“There's no question that North Carolina's in play,” Butterfield said Sunday. “We intend to win North Carolina, and you don't win North Carolina without working hard.”
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Butterfield said Obama operations are just beginning to ramp up now, one day after rival Hillary Clinton conceded the race and endorsed the Illinois senator. Obama won a 15-point victory over Clinton in the N.C. primary just a month ago, but his campaign operatives left the state after the victory, moving on to work in later primary contests.
Republicans, meanwhile, aren't ready to concede that the state will be that competitive. President Bush won North Carolina by 12 percentage points in 2004, and that was when former N.C. Sen. John Edwards was a vice presidential candidate on the ticket of Sen. John Kerry.
Presumptive GOP presidential candidate John McCain launched his first general election ad campaign last week by targeting 10 key states, but his list didn't include North Carolina.
Ferrell Blount, a senior McCain adviser and former chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, said Sunday that McCain will be able to appeal to North Carolina's conservative Democrats.
“Obama played well to the Democratic base here (for the primary), but when you start talking about the general election, I'm not exactly sure Obama's going to be as strong as they think he'll be,” Blount said.
That's not to say that McCain is going to skip a campaign in North Carolina, Blount said.
The GOP expects that Obama will make a hard run in the state because McCain advisers believe he'll need to win some Southern states to mathematically secure the presidency.
“We will take North Carolina very seriously,” Blount said. “We will have a full-blown campaign in North Carolina until we feel secure that North Carolina is locked down.”
Obama's invitation-only event today will be at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.