Republicans are poring over the details of how Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since Jimmy Carter. They are trying to pass laws in the legislature to restrict the early-voting system that Obama used to such remarkable effect. And Republicans are preaching to anyone who will listen that those who think Obama couldn’t possibly win here again had better wake up and get to work.
“They turned out voters in record numbers last time, and we need to be ready,” said Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina GOP and a former congressman who was defeated in the 2008 wave that Obama led. “We expect them to be as good and probably better. We know they’ll have more money. And if you think that’s not the case, you’re making a foolish mistake.”
The dynamics in North Carolina that worry Republicans — a booming minority population, an influx of more moderate voters and a changing set of priorities — are on display across other parts of the South as well, notably in Virginia and Florida, where Obama also won in 2008.
This time around, his campaign hopes to make a play for Georgia and Texas, seeing in those states the same sorts of economic and cultural changes as elsewhere in the South. An Obama victory in either would be a long shot, but a win in any of those Southern states would make it difficult for Republicans to capture the presidency.
In North Carolina, the changing nature of the state is on display regularly. At a recent forum on education, executives with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and IBM, which have big presences in the Raleigh area’s Research Triangle Park, pleaded with Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) to oppose service cuts proposed by a new GOP majority in the state legislature.
In rural Wilson, 40 miles east of Raleigh, business and civic leaders seem to reflect the changing values and priorities of voters.
Sitting around a table at the local Chamber of Commerce to discuss the region’s economic struggles, business leaders lamented that they can’t find enough qualified workers to fill vacant jobs. Plant managers and farmers pleaded with state leaders to protect funding for schools, job-training programs and crime-prevention programs that the legislature is threatening to cut.
“This state is a pretty moderate state,” said former governor James B. Hunt Jr. (D). “An awful lot of people have moved in here who, whether they’re Democratic or Republican, are fairly middle of the road kinds of voters.”
Many Republicans worry that their party hasn’t entirely grasped the evolving nature of the South. To them, that means fully giving up on what was known as the “Southern strategy,” an approach to winning elections based largely on appeals to rural whites on cultural touchstones such as abortion and race.