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NC to play greater role post primaries

North Carolina will have to wait its turn to become a major factor in the 2012 presidential election.

As the South Carolina primaries approach, Republicans in North Carolina said they are considering the race in the neighboring state a clear indicator of the eventual Republican candidate. Both state GOP and Democratic Party members said North Carolina will play a more prominent role once the general election begins.

“North Carolina is a crucial state in both parties’ electoral strategy, so you can count on seeing a lot of President [Barack] Obama and our nominee once the general election starts,” said Rob Lockwood, communications director for the North Carolina Republican Party.

For the past eight presidential election cycles, the winner of the South Carolina Republican primary has gone on to win the party’s nomination. Mitt Romney, who has already won the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries, is more likely to secure the win, Lockwood said, noting that he faces significant opposition from Newt Gingrich, the Republican candidate most likely to upset Romney’s winning streak. Rick Santorum, who had a strong finish in Iowa, is less active in South Carolina and does not have the same national presence as Gingrich or Romney.

A Monmouth University poll had Romney leading likely voters in South Carolina’s open primary with 33 percent as opposed to Gingrich at 22 percent, Ron Paul at 12 percent and Santorum at 14 percent as of Jan. 17.

North Carolina’s primary is currently scheduled for May 8.

“The primaries are late for North Carolina and will most likely be pushed back even further,” said Conen Morgan, director of new media and digital strategy for the North Carolina Democratic Party. “By the time it comes, the GOP will have one clear candidate based on the other states. The primary moving back is a gift and a curse because it gives the Republicans more time for the primaries but less time for the general election.”

According to a Jan. 11 poll of registered voters by Public Policy Polling, Gingrich leads North Carolina with 25 percent, followed by Rick Santorum with 24 percent and Romney with 22 percent.

The North Carolina Republican primaries are semi-closed, which means that only registered party members can vote in their party’s primary, and independents have the ability to choose in which party primary to vote.

And once the general election begins, Morgan said the state’s role in the presidential race will be at the forefront.

“North Carolina is undoubtedly a swing state,” he said. “It is politically balanced. The first time we went blue completely, top-down, was 2008 so it is not a common occurrence.”

Morgan noted that the Republican-controlled General Assembly and its highly conservative agenda, with the promotion of legislation such as the contentious Defense of Marriage Act, might work against the Republican presidential candidate in North Carolina.

“Unemployment is decreasing, but the economy is still slow,” he addedd. “This will matter with independents, which there are a lot of in this state, because they vote with their sentiments not party loyalty.”

Both parties agree that college students will be important this upcoming election. Lockwood said the youth vote was crucial to Obama’s initial success but said his failure to create jobs will cost him significantly among younger voters this time.

“It is a large, untapped population that could very will swing the race one way or the other with their exhibited enthusiasm,” Morgan said.

Freshman Lia Cromwell is the Durham County chair for the Romney campaign. She said the team believes North Carolina is an important swing state and is currently focusing their effort in the area on the general election in November.

Michael Munger, professor of political science and former gubernatorial candidate in North Carolina, said there have been a growing number of registered independents in the state, which will make it a battleground state going forward.

“There are millions of independents in the state and these party numbers are subject to a lot of change,” said Munger, who ran as a Libertarian candidate in 2008. “We can expect to see a lot of candidates come the general election and each district will matter. It will be a state-wide effort.”

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