In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win North Carolina. He did so just barely — by less than one percent — but more than a few overzealous pontificators cited Obama’s win as evidence of a fundamental demographic shift heralding the imminent demise of the Republican Party. We all know how bogus that claim turned out to be (see: midterms, 2010). And in North Carolina, while the GOP knocked off only one Democratic incumbent in the House — Rep. Bob Etheridge — Republican Sen. Richard Burr cruised to reelection, winning by 12 points despite a relatively low approval rating.
That said, a new survey from Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling indicates that the Tar Heel State will likely be in play once again in 2012. President Obama isn’t very popular (45 percent approval rating, 51 percent disapproval), but neither are any of the leading GOP contenders for 2012. Only Mike Huckabee has a better favorability spread — 44 percent view him positively, 31 percent negatively. Sarah Palin (36/55), Newt Gingrich (34/43), and Mitt Romney (33/38) fare much worse.
The former Arkansas governor is also the only Republican who leads Obama in a hypothetical contest. Obama trails Huckabee 44-48, but draws with Romney (44/44), and edges both Gingrich (46/45) and Palin (48/43).
PPP concludes that Obama’s number in the state are actually quite positive in light of the midterm results:
Obama trails by 4-13 points with independents in all four of the match ups but that’s really not bad given that most Democrats in competitive races across the state this year lost those folks by about a 2:1 margin. The bigger problem for Obama might be that he’s polling in the low to mid 70s with Democrats against all of the Republicans except for Palin, an indication that he still has some work to do with conservative Democrats between now and 2012.
Still in the big picture these are good numbers for Obama. Some were quick to look at the 2010 results in North Carolina and say Obama would have no chance to win here again in 2012 but the reality is that a huge part of the Republican victories was Democrats staying at home and that’s not likely to happen again the next time around. If Republicans can’t get a better candidate than Palin, Romney, or Gingrich and the Obama wave voters from 2008 get reenergized he has at least a 50/50 chance of starting a Democratic winning streak at the Presidential level in North Carolina. [emphasis added]
Of course, it’s really way too early for this kind of speculation, but Republicans — understandably giddy after Nov. 2 — ought to be reminded that, barring some unforeseen catastrophe, making Obama a one-term president won’t be easy. And you can be sure that if North Carolina goes for the Democrats in 2012, they will almost certainly have failed in doing so.