Barack ahead in North Carolina
NEW YORK POST
RALEIGH – The campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are treating North Carolina as though the presidency depends on it.
In recent days, the campaigns began assembling ground operations that instantaneously dwarfed the efforts of candidates for governor, the U.S. Senate and dozens of other North Carolina offices.
Obama has opened 15 campaign offices in the state, a number expected to grow. The Clinton campaign dedicated its headquarters near the Glenwood South section of Raleigh on Wednesday with about a dozen more offices to come.
Then there are the television advertisements and visits by candidates, their families and a parade of surrogates. Chelsea Clinton has been a frequent visitor to North Carolina campuses. Actors Shawn and Marlon Wayans are coming this weekend for Obama.
The campaigns have been coy about how many organizers are moving into the state. But there are already dozens, and more out-of-state license plates are arriving daily. The campaigns expect hundreds of volunteers, particularly from South Carolina and Virginia.
Both campaigns have brought in some of the Democratic Party’s top guns to run their operations.
Sen. Clinton, of New York, has literally sent her ace – Ace Smith, a soft-spoken Californian who headed winning Clinton campaigns in California and Texas. Craig Schirmer, Obama’s man, handled the Illinois senator’s campaigns in South Carolina and Wisconsin and is an old North Carolina hand, having run Erskine Bowles’ 2002 Senate campaign.
The activity reflects the growing importance of the May 6 Democratic primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.
Neither Obama nor Clinton can win enough delegates in North Carolina to clinch the nomination, but an Obama victory could be a knockout blow. A Clinton victory could re-energize her campaign and give her a strong argument for continuing her candidacy up to the Democratic convention in Denver in August.
“She is very much against the ropes,” said Peter Francia, an East Carolina University political science professor. “If she wins North Carolina, she’s back in this thing. If she doesn’t win, she probably drops out.”
Seeking new voters
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, a key Obama supporter, has been heavily involved in Tar Heel politics since 1968. Butterfield said he has never seen anything like the scope of Obama’s operation.
“They are young, intelligent and visionary,” Butterfield said. “They are going to the barbershops, the beauty salons and the taxi drivers – nontraditional voters.
This week, Obama started running a television ad featuring rock music urging young people to register to vote.
The Obama campaign hopes to sharply expand the electorate, registering tens of thousands of voters on campuses, in black neighborhoods and elsewhere. About 4,000 volunteers came to organizational meetings last week, according to the campaign.
Today, for example, there are 14 Obama organization or voter registration events planned around the state – from the Zydeco restaurant in downtown Raleigh to the John Coltrane Lounge in Hamlet and the Sweets Coffee Shop in Kinston.
“Not since the time of John F. Kennedy has a candidate brought so much excitement to so many people,” said Ben Berkowitz, a 22-year-old student at UNC-Greensboro, who recently attended an Obama rally.
“I like Hillary,” Berkowitz said. “I love Bill. But Obama is truly a candidate for change. It’s time for the dynasties to change.”
The Obama campaign is counting on strong support in the black community. In past North Carolina Democratic primaries, blacks accounted for nearly 30 percent of votes cast. But based on what happened in other states’ primaries this year, that percentage is likely to rise.
If Obama wins most of the black vote, he will need to win only two of seven white voters. Obama is expected to have strong support in metropolitan areas among professionals, students and liberal activists. He also has been doing very well among independents, who may vote in the primary.
The Obama network reflects not only his grass-roots strategy, but also his bigger campaign war chest. Obama began airing TV commercials in North Carolina on Friday, while Clinton has yet to go on the air.
Clinton’s inside track
But if Obama has an organizational and financial edge, Clinton has her family star power and connections to the state.
North Carolina has one of the strongest – if not the strongest – Democratic parties in the South. Over the years, Tar Heel Democrats have expressed a preference for moderate, Clintonian Democrats such as Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley.
Bill Clinton was the last Democratic presidential nominee to compete strongly in North Carolina, losing in 1992 to the elder George Bush by a 43.4 percent to 42.6 percent margin.
The Clinton campaign appears to be targeting women, white blue-collar workers, Hispanics, Lumbee Indians and more traditional Democratic voters.
Among those leaning toward Clinton is Joan Ramsey, a 55-year-old manager of a Raleigh retail store who recently attended a Clinton rally. “I like her, but I haven’t warmed up to her yet,” Ramsey said.
As for Obama, Ramsey said, “I don’t think he has the experience. He has the charisma.”
The Clinton campaign’s not-so-secret weapon is Bill Clinton, who is working the small-town circuit – western North Carolina last week and along the South Carolina border Friday.
Last week he played to packed gyms and halls in Asheville, Hickory, Gastonia and Kannapolis.
“You’re not seeing any of the suits,” said Rufus Edmisten, a former North Carolina secretary of state who campaigned with Clinton. “There were no bankers, lawyers, etc. These were average, ordinary, everyday good people who like what the Clintons did over the years. The man is still widely popular.”