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North Carolina's Swing County Is A Coin Toss

Brianna Sacks, Cortney Riles |
November 6, 2012 | 9:10 a.m. PST

Staff reporters

President Barack Obama hasn't spent much time late in the campaign season in North Carolina, but Vice President Joe Biden visited a month ago. (Obama for America/Flickr)
President Barack Obama hasn't spent much time late in the campaign season in North Carolina, but Vice President Joe Biden visited a month ago. (Obama for America/Flickr)
Jimmy James Bosco the Batman, also known as the Bass Fisherman, or simply the owner of Wake County’s Five Points Barber Shop, is on the fence about who he’ll be voting for in Tuesday's election, though he voted for President Barack Obama last year.  

James does not consider himself a Republican or Democrat, and while he believes Obama is the best choice this time around solely because of the four years of experience he holds over Romney, the Southern barber is not thrilled to vote for either candidate. 

“I’ve never been on either side, I think they need to get rid of all that," he said. "The North Carolina state board is always arguing and can’t get nothing done. I think Obama, since he’s in there right now knows what’s going on. I voted for him last year, but this time I want neither one.”

Wake County, North Carolina went red in 2004, blue in 2008, but which way this swing county will lean in Tuesday’s election is anyone’s guess. Wake County has been dubbed one of those crucial areas that could decide its state’s, and the president’s, fate on Tuesday.

James watched some parts of the three presidential debates, in hopes of making his decision more clear, but was still left unsure. 

“I watched parts but every time I paid more attention to the highlights the next morning. Obama didn’t come for the first one, they both tied for the second one and Obama had the last one but I don’t believe in that either,” he said. “I’m on the fence post, on the tight rope. I’m on the edge of things I might fall out on both sides. I just don’t know.” 

Wake County is comprised of 15 municipalities and has the second largest municipal population in the state. Wake County is the fastest growing county in the state, and second fastest growing county in the nation. 

Why is this important? Wake’s foreign-born population has risen by almost 60,000. And the Wake County Obama campaign thinks this surge could help this battleground region stay Democrat. 

“The Hispanic population has definitely increased over the last couple of years. There are a lot of Latinos moving to North Carolina,” said an Obama For America North Carolina (OFA NC) spokeswoman, located in Wake County. “Our field organizers have reached out to that community and told them how and where to go vote.”

Lindsay Siler, the North Carolina State Director for Obama for America, explained that the Latino adult citizen population in North Carolina has grown by 84 percent since 2008 and registered Latino voters increased by 64 percent; adding 168,000 new registered voters in North Carolina. 

Siler also said that the U.S. Census Bureau shows that number of African-Americans in North Carolina has increased by 11.7 percent since 2008. 

“The historically high turnout among African Americans in North Carolina four years ago was one of the reasons President Obama carried the state by just 14,000 votes,” said Siler. “But what’s even more impressive is what’s happening this year: 48,289 more African Americans have already voted this year than had at this point in 2008.” 

Field operators in Wake reported that they have seen really strong support from African Americans in the grassroots campaign movement, utilizing communities already in place, like barbershops, beauty salons, and churches as tools to register voters. 

Matt Jonsdotter, a 28-year-old Assistant Manager at Café Carolina in Raleigh, said it's not all Obama though.  

“It seems like it is very neck-and-neck,” he said. “There is a lot of tension in the air and it is a bit more bitter between the two [parties] than 2008. There is more at stake and no one knows what to expect.”

Jonsdotter said he interacts with a lot of people throughout the day and most are tired of the persistent ads. 

“I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff on TV. There are very aggressive commercials from both sides, a lot of banners and fliers, and a lot of people trying to get people to vote,” Jonsdotter said.  

Jonsdotter voted early, a rising trend in Wake.  But he said the energy for the president is not the same as it was four years ago. 

“The political planet is different now, a lot of issues have come up. Republicans thought they would win easily [in 2008] and it was a big upset that Obama won; it was really thrilling,” he said. “But now it is much more serious and I couldn’t predict this one even if I wanted to.” 

Both parties have touted that their on-the-ground/grassroots campaign strategies will swing Wake County.

Drew Schenck, President of the Western Wake Republican Club, said that Wake Republicans were not excited about 2008 Republican nominee John McCain, but Romney has re-inspired.

“There are a whole lot less Obama yard signs out,” Schenck said. “It’s the exact opposite from 2008. We have helped the Romney campaign put out signs, commercials and voter guides, and it’s been great.”

Schenck also commented on the county’s changing energy, saying that a lot more Republican clubs are popping up all over the county.

“We have seen an explosion of Republican clubs since 2008,” he said. “Over the last few years we have funded and launched three new clubs, including APEX.” 

Western Wake Republican club, a 235-member organization launched in the 1980s, is the “seed organization” of the Republican clubs and played a very active role in campaigning for Romney. 

Obama field directors, however, believe that the Romney campaign’s confidence might be the slight edge they need to get ahead. 

“It’s still anyone’s game right now," Siler said. "There has been a lot of talk the past couple of weeks saying that North Carolina is going Romney, but we have a really good foundation and we feel great. Right now it’s a matter of turning the folks out to vote.” 

Schenck said the reason Romney pulled out of North Carolina is because Republicans no longer consider North Carolina a critical battleground state.

“They [Romney Campaign field offices] basically pulled out of the state six weeks ago,” Schenck said. “They pulled out their 30 staffers with our blessing because Romney has this locked up. They had to go work the battleground states.” 

Wake Republicans even have grassroots strategies in place on Election Day. Schenck said they are using a system that enables them to check who voted in the middle of the day and who has not. 

“We can contact people who usually vote and who have not yet voted during Election Day and try and get them to go vote,” said Shenck. 

And when it comes to Wake’s rising minority population and strong African-American voter turnout, Schenck said Wake’s large military and veteran population could help counteract that. 

“I am a veteran and that population is taking the Benghazi situation very seriously,” Schenck said. “It is a much more serious on the local level than the media is showing.”  

Christopher Cronin, Assistant Professor of Government Studies at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., is a registered Democrat who lives within Wake County and believes Romney will take his state easily. 

Cronin explained that North Carolina’s politics have trended more Republican and conservative since 2008. Unlike the Obama campaign officials report, Cronin said that the partisanship of early voters has not been as heavily Democratic as it was in 2008. 

North Carolina Republicans have coined the term “Mitt-mentum” to describe the difference between voters’ attitudes towards Romney and McCain, and much like Obama field operators, local GOP members like Schenck are working every day to turn the voters out.

And like 2008, it may come down to only a few votes to determine which way Wake County, and North Carolina lean after Election day, despite the heavy minority, disillusioned, or military voter groups that both sides claim to dominate. 

But Schenck is not too worried. 

“I am not feeling any tension here, he said. "I own a sports bar and we are throwing a huge party on election night. We are ready to celebrate. I pre-bought a case of champagne. I would say it is the opposite of tension.” 

Reach Brianna Sacks here.



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