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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Demographic Destiny

With all the talk about the consequences of Barack Obama’s big victory in NC, there’s been less analysis than usual about how, exactly, he did it.
Tuesday morning, there were a lot of people who believed that the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in North Carolina would be close. There were rumors that Obama’s support among white voters had plummeted, speculation that turnout among African-Americans might be down, and just days before Clinton predicted that North Carolina would be a “game changer.”
Then, the polls closed and the networks immediately projected Obama as the winner. On MSNBC, the language used to describe the victory was “decisive.”
So what happened?
A Democrat needs a biracial coalition to win just about any race in North Carolina — particularly a primary. Clinton’s support among blacks was just 7 percent. As Matt Yglesias cheerfully pointed out, George Allen got 15 percent of African-American voters in neighboring Virginia in 2006. In the exit polls, black Democrats made up a third of the electorate on Tuesday. To offset that advantage Clinton needed to get better than 70 percent of the white vote, and it didn’t happen.
For a big part of the state’s history, by agreement, the governor’s mansion rotated back and forth between politicians from the east and politicians from the west. Each governor was limited to a single term and the state party was often controlled by a machine, so the transition was easy. But modern political history has been dominated by the eastern part of the state, which has provided a political base for governors like Jim Hunt and Mike Easley, senators like Jesse Helms and John Edwards, and even legislators like Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight. Obama won the east easily, and that region made up a quarter of the state’s vote.
Everyone know that Obama was going to do well in North Carolina’s urban areas. To offset that advantage, the Clinton campaign dispatched the former president on a tour of the state’s rural areas, hoping to drive up the vote there.
It didn’t work.
The vote was so high in some cities that voters were still standing in line and waiting to vote even after CNN had called the race for Obama. Obama won the Charlotte area by 11 points, the Greensboro area by 16 points, and Raleigh/Durham by 30 points.
By the way, Obama also won the rural part of the state by a 52-45 margin.
There’s been a lot said about Obama’s need to win “beer track” voters, but in North Carolina, those with at least some college education made up 70 percent of the electorate last night. Those with college and post-graduate degrees made up almost half of all voters. Obama won every single education group by double digits, but his margins among the college educated allowed him to run up the score.

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