With President Obama’s visit to Mount Holly to visit the Daimler plant, we continue to see the courtship that the Democrats are making to North Carolina. But why not go to a Democratic-safe bastion, like the heart of deep blue Charlotte for a campaign appearance?
Obama’s appearance in a reliable Republican suburb like Gaston County is smart for two reasons: one, it begins to frame the campaign narrative that the Obama camp is creating.
Manufacturing still plays a significant role in North Carolina’s economy. According to NC State University’s Industrial Extension Service, manufacturing is a leading contributor to the state’s overall economy, providing over $72 billion to the state’s $398 billion gross domestic product. With over 14 percent of North Carolinians employed in manufacturing, the 2008 economic recession took a significant toll on that workforce.
But the Obama campaign is pointing to some key indicators that the economic well-being of the state, and the nation, is beginning to turn the corner. Case in point: Daimler Trucks North America’s Mount Holly plant, which hired more than 1,000 workers in 2011.
Obama will highlight Daimler’s productivity and expansion as part of his campaign’s economic narrative for this fall’s bruising contest.
But the second reason for the visit to Charlotte’s suburbs is more political, and that’s in terms of voter turnout.
In the Democratic heart of Mecklenburg, Obama’s ground campaign in 2008 resulted in a 14,000-vote victory. Just four years earlier, President Bush carried the state by more than 440,000 votes.
A large portion of Obama’s victory was due to his grassroots mobilization that brought new voters to the polls.
In Mecklenburg, the voteswing for the Democratic presidential candidate is striking when comparing 2004 to 2008.
In the Great State of Mecklenburg, 2004 saw a fairly close presidential election, with Kerry separated from Bush by 11,000 votes. But when Obama’s grassroots mobilization campaign came in 2008, Democrats not only increased their vote by 52 percent, but McCain slightly lost votes in comparison to Bush vote in Mecklenburg.
Go out into the suburbs, which many North Carolinians are doing more and more today, and the political numbers change, but a pattern tends to emerge as it did in Mecklenburg.
Overall, the Charlotte suburbs are staunchly Republican; so why would a Democratic president go into the heart of GOP territory?
In Gaston, home to Mount Holly, Republicans won handily in the 2004 and 2008 presidential contests, as they did in all the surrounding Charlotte suburban counties. But what Obama was able to do was similar to what he did in Mecklenburg—increase vote totals.
Obama was able to increase the Democratic vote in Gaston County by 55 percent, in comparison to a 22 percent increase in Republican votes from 2004 to 2008.
In Cabarrus County, Obama performed another dramatic upsurge, increasing the Democratic vote by 59 percent, in comparison to a 13 percent increase in Republican votes.
In Union County, one of the fastest growing counties in the United States in recent years, Obama was able to increase Democratic votes by 74 percent, compared to a 26 percent increase for Republican votes.
In Iredell County, Democratic presidential votes increased 51 percent from 2004 to 2008, compared to a 17 percent increase for Republican presidential votes.
Finally, Lincoln County saw the smallest increase for Democratic presidential votes from 2004 to 2008, increasing only 24 percent, compared to an 18 percent increase in Republican presidential votes.
So does it pay for a candidate to enter the opposition’s strongholds? Sure, when it takes literally every vote to cut a 440,000 opposition advantage down to a slim win of 14,000. If Obama wants to win North Carolina again, every vote, even in Republican strongholds, will matter come November.