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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Behind the NC Wins

Democrats who want to better understand President-elect Obama’s impressive victories in the southeast should spend some time at Facing South, where Chris Kromm provides an insightful discussion of the role of demographic change and strategy in the NC victory. Facing South was first to claim an Obama victory in NC, and provides much of the best reporting on southern politics found anywhere. Kromm will write an expanded analysis in the near future, so I’ll just clip some of his key points in this article:

How did Obama turn North Carolina blue? A number of factors gave him this victory:
*…Obama mobilized his core base in North Carolina in record numbers. At the forefront were African-American voters, who added over 300,000 registrations in 2008 and went to Obama by 95%. Obama also won over young voters by large numbers: 74% of those under 30 went Obama.
* …Obama won 66% of voters in the state’s growing urban areas — 64% in the Raleigh-Durham area alone). According to Public Policy Polling, urban areas made up 303,000 of the 436,000 votes Obama needed to gain relative to John Kerry’s performance in 2004.
*…Similar to national trends, 54% of those who were “very worried” about the economy in N.C. voted Obama; he also won 57% of those making less than $50,000 a year. The more the percentage of people worried about the economy went up, so did Obama’s numbers.
* De-mobilized Republicans:…The lack of excitement is reflected in the GOP’s lackluster registration numbers in 2008. Of the 629,000 new voters registered in North Carolina between January and November, 54% were Democrats, 34% Independents — and just 12% Republicans.
* Election Reforms:…Advocates successfully pushed for same-day voter registration and voting at early voting sites — and more than 185,000 North Carolinians took advantage of the law, especially newly-engaged voters who broke to Obama. Through aggressive publicity and education, the state also lowered the number of presidential votes “lost” due to the state’s confusing straight-ticket ballot, adding thousands of presidential votes.
* Obama Fought For It: Last but not least, Democrats won North Carolina because they fought for it. The Obama campaign was smart enough to realize that the above factors and others had made N.C. a battleground opportunity…Obama had more than 50 field offices fanned throughout the state, deploying an army of 21,000 some staff and volunteers that knocked on doors, made calls and mobilized massive chunks of the electorate. Obama had spent $5 million on TV ads in N.C. by early October. Obama and his surrogates made dozens of campaign stops in the state, including Obama himself coming to Charlotte on the last day before November 4. By the time McCain fought back to defend the state for Republicans, it was too late…Obama ignored the pundits and invested the time, resources and energy needed to clinch the deal — ensuring not only his own victory, but wins for Democrats all the way down the ballot and a chance to make history in North Carolina.

There you have it — an outline for the Dems’ southern playbook. Granted candidates with the skillset of Obama don’t come along very often. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from his campaign.
Kromm takes a poke at Thomas Schaller, who wrote in The New York Times On July 1 that “Obama can write off Georgia and North Carolina.” To be fair, I believe Schaller did change his position later on to include the possibility of an NC upset. But Obama’s success in NC, VA and FL pretty much lays to rest the blanket assumption that the southeast is arid territory for Democratic presidential candidates.
In another Facing South post, Sue Sturgis points out that Dems success in the NC Senate race was not about money:

In North Carolina’s U.S. Senate contest, Democratic challenger Kay Hagan spent just over $6 million to defeat incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole, who spent more than $15.7 million. Dole was hurt by the strong turnout for presidential candidate Barack Obama and by a decision to run a controversial ad late in the campaign implying that Hagan — a former Sunday school teacher — is an atheist. Hagan has filed a defamation lawsuit over the ad, which Dole refused to pull despite widespread criticism.

If anyone ever puts together a “Hall of Shame” for stupid, self-defeating political ads, I nominate Dole’s “Godless” ad for exhibit “A.”
Dems also had a particularly sweet pick-up in NC-8. As Sturgis explains,

In North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District east of Charlotte, incumbent Republican Robin Hayes spent more than $2.5 million only to lose to challenger Larry Kissell, who spent just shy of $1.1 million. A former textile plant manager turned social studies teacher, Kissell focused on trade issues in a district that’s been hit hard by textile job losses, hammering multimillionaire textile heir Hayes for reversing stated positions to cast key votes in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the Trade Act of 2002. Hayes also created trouble for himself by declaring at a heated McCain rally that “liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.”

It appears that religious McCarthyism is all the rage in some NC GOP circles.
And the capper: NC also elected its first female governor, Beverly Perdue — a Democrat.

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