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Presidential Ground Game Could Be Key In NC

It’s one week until election day. Candidates for offices at all levels are crisscrossing the state, looking for any last stray votes they can find.   But the two major-party candidates for President, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, are not, as of now, scheduled to appear in North Carolina before next Tuesday.  However, that doesn’t mean their campaigns in the state are slowing down.

Four years ago, North Carolina was a player on the national political scene for the first time in decades. John McCain, and Sarah Palin drove their straight talk expresses across the Piedmont and Barack Obama and Joe Biden preached Hope and Change at massive outdoor rallies. Enthusiasm was high. A day after the first debate in September of 2008, then-Senator Obama spoke to tens of thousands of people in Greensboro.

President Barack Obama: "Thank you, North Carolina. It’s good to be back. I love North Carolina.
The Obama Campaign pulled out a very slim victory in 2008 by just three-tenths of one percent. Four years later, North Carolina is still very close. But the massive in-person rallies featuring the Democratic and Republican candidates have been replaced by Alicia Keys concerts and Chris Christie pig pickins. None of President Obama’s recent multi-state tours have included stops here, and that has some pundits, like democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala, writing North Carolina off."

Wolf Blitzer: "Has he given up on North Carolina?"

Paul Begala: "Yes. I’m not supposed to say that, Wolf, but I work for the Pro-Obama SuperPac so I’m being paid to help re-elect the President, but if you look at where’s he going and where he’s spending money, yes, it looks like Governor Romney is going to win North Carolina."

David Axelrod: "Anybody who thinks those states are in the bag are half in the bag themselves."

Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod disagreed with that assessment, in a conference call with reporters last week.

Axelrod: "We are doubling down, we are not pulling back at all. North Carolina is a competitive state.
Axelrod says the ground operation the Obama Campaign has built here - including 53 field offices across the state - is worth 2 to 4 points by the time voting ends election night. Statements like those are like shots of espresso to the volunteers working in North Carolina’s Obama field offices."

Linda Ward: "You actually leave this at the door, you leave the door knocker at the door, and you leave this only if you speak to someone."

Linda Ward is training volunteer canvassers at the Obama Field office in Cary. Western Wake County was extremely close in 2008, so an experienced operation could make a difference here. Volunteer Hazel Slocum says a message tailored to every individual is the reason it will.

Hazel Slocum: "The enthusiasm rate is still high. We stayed together as a Cary organization after 2008, so we had a groundwork already in place for 2012."

This time around, the Republicans aren’t ceding the ground game to the Democrats in North Carolina. Even though the Romney Campaign has opened fewer field offices than McCain did in 2008, they say they have knocked on nearly 200 times more doors.  The Romney Campaign didn’t return repeated requests from WUNC for comment on its efforts in North Carolina, but the lynchpin of their strategy here is pretty clear to anyone with a TV.

Mitt Romney (TV ad): "The President began with an apology tour of going to various nations and criticizing America. I think they saw that and saw weakness."

Of course, the campaigns aren’t the only ones spending money on ads. SuperPacs, most of them supporting Governor Romney, have spent millions in North Carolina.  All of it comes down to simple math. Governor Romney must win North Carolina to realistically get to 270 electoral votes. President Obama has multiple paths to that number, with or without the state’s 15 electoral votes. So Romney is making a more audacious bet by not being here. Most, but not all, of the most recent polls show him ahead in North Carolina, enough that he feels he can spend his valuable time elsewhere. Of course, with a week still to go, the math, and the strategies, could change.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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