Obama sees N.C., and Charlotte, as crucial

For a week, Charlotte has found itself in the spotlight of the presidential race – at least from Barack Obama's campaign.

Obama's visit Sunday will mark the third time this week that he, his wife or his running mate will stump in the Queen City.

“Winning North Carolina is critical to this campaign, and winning Charlotte is critical to winning North Carolina,” Obama spokeswoman Susan Lagana said Friday. “People in Charlotte have experienced a lot of these problems he's seeking to address.”

Obama is scheduled to appear at 1 p.m. at Fourth and Davidson streets in uptown Charlotte, near the government center.The visit comes as new polls suggest a close race in North Carolina. Surveys released this week by CNN/Time and the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute showed Republican John McCain with a 1-point lead, well within the margin of error.

Elon University released a poll Friday that showed McCain looked at favorably by 54 percent of North Carolinians, compared to 37 percent for Obama. Unlike the other surveys, the Elon poll measured the opinions of all N.C. adults, not just registered or likely voters.

The Obama campaign has called North Carolina a battleground state. Biden, who appeared in Charlotte on Sunday, said there are 20,000 Democratic volunteers here. The candidate's wife, Michelle, was in town Thursday. On Friday, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius stumped for the ticket in Asheville, Hickory and Greensboro.

And on Monday, former Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri will campaign in Eastern North Carolina and the Triangle.

“It tells us what we already knew – you don't spend millions of dollars and hire 400 people if you're not serious about winning the state,” said state Democratic chairman Jerry Meek.

Mecklenburg and eight surrounding counties account for about 1 in every five N.C. voters. In 2004, Mecklenburg was one of few big N.C. counties that went for Democrat John Kerry, who carried it with nearly 52 percent of the vote while losing the state.

Obama was scheduled to visit in July until plane trouble forced him to divert. To county Democratic chairman Joel Ford, Sunday's visit is a payback.

“We were anticipating him coming back because he said he would,” said Ford. “I'm glad he's honoring and keeping his word.”