Up for Grabs: North Carolina's New Role as a 2012 Swing State

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- A year ago, Donna Moser co-founded the North Carolina Independents with Omar Ali, a University of North Carolina-Greensboro professor who also serves on the board of directors of IndependentVoting.org, which is run by the Committee for a Unified Independent Party. For Moser, a High Point resident and self-described "progressive," neither the Republican nor Democrat parties seems willing to advocate for the voters' best interests.

"I have a deep dissatisfaction with the way both parties control the political process," she said, adding that both parties seem only intent on "pursuing control."

The North Carolina Independents has been a way for unaffiliated voters to rally for what Moser called "nonpartisan" government, in which politicians adhere less to strict party lines and focus more on the individual concerns of their constituents.

Moser's group has a strong voice in the Tar Heel State, a place that now finds itself positioned as a key swing state heading into November's general election.

After becoming the first Democratic candidate to win the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976, President Barack Obama faces a tough battle in North Carolina, where a June Rasmussen Reports poll found him trailing his Republican opponent Mitt Romney by 3 percentage points. A more recent study from Public Policy Polling found the president leading the former Massachusetts governor by only 1 percentage point. What all of this means is that North Carolina's 15 electoral votes are clearly up for grabs.

A battleground state

According to Bloomberg News, North Carolina is one of six states that has seen a growing number of independent voters who made a mass exodus from the Democratic Party since the 2008 election. According to the report, the total number of independents from all six states grew by roughly 443,000 since 2008.

While the numbers seem dramatic, "the role independents play in every election is usually inflated by the media," said Hans Noel, assistant professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

"Most people who self-identify as independent usually have loyalties to one party over the other," he added.

What Noel found more striking about North Carolina was the role African-American voters could play. In the last election, African-Americans made up 23 percent of the vote in North Carolina, with 95 percent of them voting for then-Senator Obama. If mobilized in November, this constituency could help the president's chances of a repeat win in the state, Noel said.

Ready for the DNC

North Carolina will also remain prominent in this election cycle because the 2012 Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, the state's largest city.

"Around Charlotte, the convention has inserted a certain amount of energy and excitement," said Gideon Moore, chair of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party.

Moore said he sees a re-energized Republican Party in the state, consisting of voters disillusioned with the Obama presidency.

Aisha Dew comes from the other end of the spectrum. As Chair of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, Dew said that she still sees "a high level of energy for Obama's re-election campaign in North Carolina."

"The excitement is part of a huge paradigm shift -- we haven't been a battleground state for the majority of the modern presidential races," she said. "It's a potentially historic moment."

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