Obama works to keep North Carolina blue

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The president’s polls are dropping fast in swing-state North Carolina, where Democratic strategy to save his 2012 vote appears to rely on establishing a base by helping local Democrats win local races.

On Wednesday, Obama is flying to the Raleigh-Durham region to promote his jobs plan. His itinerary includes a job-related stump speech at North Carolina State University and meeting with local high-tech firm WestStar Precision.

WestStar’s president, Ervin Portman, is a Democratic county commissioner for Wake County up for election on Nov. 8. (RELATED: Does a new DNC as violate House ethics rules?)

Obama’s campaign already has “a much higher level of paid staff and people on the ground” than in 2008, said Francis De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, a right-of-center advocacy and polling group. The campaign’s volunteers have busy making calls to assist Democratic candidates in local school-board races, De Luca said, and the president’s WestStae Precision visit will help Portman’s commissioner race.

Victories in local elections, he added, ”sets the stage for the following year.”

In 2010, the stalled economy helped the Republicans win majorities in the state House and Senate for the first time in 140 years. The Democratic governor, Bev Perdue, currently trails GOP challenger Pat McCrory by 45 percent to 41 percent.

“Obama’s approval rating in North Carolina has fallen to 43 percent, with 53 percent of voters disapproving of him,” according to an August poll by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in North Carolina. “If the election was today,” the poll concluded, “Obama would lose the state.”

The state’s upcoming battles also include a mayoral race in Charlotte, home city for the Democrat’s national convention in September 2012. On Sept. 8, the president used his joint-session speech to showcase a fast-growing Charlotte company, Hissho Sushi, which operates 400 sushi bars around the country. The company’s founder, Burmese immigrant Philip Maung, was seated alongside Michelle Obama during the Thursday speech.

The city’s incumbent mayor, Democrat Anthony Foxx, had already highlighted the company during his election campaign: “The City’s job is to create conditions that allow for entrepreneurship to thrive … we need to do everything possible to give them the tools for success,” reads a post on Foxx’s website carrying a picture of Foxx beside Maung.

The Democrats worries over the mayoral race are not unwarranted: Charlotte’s unemployment rate is at least 11 percent, and local Democratic voters are less energized than in 2009, when they narrowly elected Foxx. The city’s mood was also hurt yesterday with news that its major local employer, Bank of America, would cut 30,000 jobs nationwide over the next few years.

Voters will likely back the Republicans because the city’s “economy is worse than the rest of the state’s cities … [and] people are not investing in Charlotte like they were doing a few years ago,” Scott Stone, the GOP candidate challenging Foxx, told the DC. The city leans GOP, and has voted for a Republican mayor in 10 of the last 11 elections, Stone added.

Stone has raised $100,000 for his campaign, and is working to raise further donations from national GOP groups. “We would love for them to get engaged because [a victory in Charlotte] builds momentum for 2012,” he said. “You could have a Republican welcoming the Democrats to town next year.”

Foxx, whose election office is located in the same building as Obama’s local election team, is already using the impending Democratic convention to raise donations, and has agreed to only one candidate’s debate, Stone said.

But the national Democratic party is not stopping with Foxx in it’s effort to win the state for Obama in 2012.

On Monday, the Democratic National Committee rolled out an expensive, multi-state advertising campaign ostensibly intended to boost the president’s jobs bill. The ads, however, are targeted at important areas within swing-states, such as Florida, Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina.

“It is a campaign. The president is campaigning for growth and jobs. He is taking it across the land,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.

The pending state elections will be a test of Obama’s ability to win the state, concluded Stone. “We’re going to do a test run of what happens when you tie yourself to the president in a swing city in a swing state,” he said. “It could be a very big embarrassment to Democrats if they lose Charlotte, the host city of their convention.”

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