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North Carolina moves to “Lean Romney” in Fix electoral map

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For months, we’ve struggled with how to rate North Carolina in the 2012 race between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

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In our first electoral map predictions, we put it into the “toss up” category but the longer we looked at the states with which it shared that rating, the more it looked like the one state that didn’t belong. And so, we are moving North Carolina from “toss up” to “lean Romney” today.

(Check out the full map — with historical data and tons of other cool stuff here.)

Here’s why.

President Obama was the first Democrat since 1976 — and the first non-Southerner since 1960 — to win the Tarheel State at the presidential level.

And he won it by .3 points or roughly 14,000 votes (out of more than 4 million cast). That narrow victory was in spite of the fact that Obama heavily outspent Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the state — as he did in virtually every swing state — and rode one of the best Democratic years in North Carolina ever. (In 2008, Democrats won the governorship and ousted GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole.)

Four years later, North Carolina looks likely to revert to its past support for Republican nominees. (Between Jimmy Carter’s win in North Carolina in 1976 and Obama’s in 2008, the Democratic presidential nominee averaged a measly 42.9 percent in the Tarheel State.)

For starters, the state’s unemployment rate (as of May) stood at 9.4 percent — more than a point higher than the national average and 48th nationally.

Then there is the alleged sexual harassment scandal surrounding the North Carolina Democratic Party that has led to the resignation — and unresignation — of the party’s chairman. (Not kidding. That happened.) And then there is the indictment of three aides to retiring Gov. Bev Perdue’s (D) campaign. And the ongoing tensions between organized labor and the Obama campaign for the decision to put the Democratic National Convention in a right-to-work state.

Polling — and there hasn’t been all that much of it — suggests a close race with a slight edge to Romney. The Real Clear Politics average of North Carolina data puts Romney at 47 percent to 45 percent for Obama.

There are counter-arguments to the Republican tilt of course. Obama and his team — as well as most Democratic pollsters — are absolutely convinced that the North Carolina electorate has undergone a fundamental shift and that Obama’s strength among young voters, black voters and affluent, highly educated whites makes North Carolina very much in play.

And, Obama’s campaign has spent nearly $11 million on ads in North Carolina so far in the race, a massive sum that they would not be throwing at a state they didn’t think they could win.

And they may be right. (The Fix rolled our collective eyes in 2008 when the Obama team predicted they could win North Carolina.) But, at the moment, North Carolina looks more like Arizona and Indiana than it does like Florida, Ohio or Colorado. (As always, this is a fluid campaign — and we reserve the right to move North Carolina back into the “toss up” category.)

Moving North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes means that there are now 237 electoral votes either solidly or leaning toward Obama and 206 electoral votes either solidly or leaning toward Romney. There are 95 electoral votes in the seven toss up states combined.

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