It continues to look like North Carolina will move up the list of swing states in 2012. The state was hotly contested in 2008 but ultimately not very important to the outcome of the Presidential contest- winning it was icing on top of a cake that Barack Obama was going to be eating either way. We've been finding over the course of our polling this year though that Obama is holding up better in North Carolina than he is in more traditional swing states that he won by wider margins in 2008, places like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. It's looking conceivable that he could actually perform better in North Carolina than in those places and that increases the likelihood that the state could be a key part of Obama's path to 270 electoral votes and not just the difference between winning 350 and winning 365.
PPP's first poll in the state since the death of Osama bin Laden finds 50% of North Carolinians approving of Obama to 46% who disapprove. This is the first time we've found Obama hitting the 50% approval mark there since June of 2009. It's a given that Obama has maintained strong support from African Americans so the key to his high water mark is that his 37% approval with white voters matches the 37% of their votes we found him winning on our last poll in 2008.
Most states throughout the country Obama has seen serious slippage with white voters but here and also in Virginia where we polled a couple weeks ago and where the President has looked consistently strong he's holding onto the white support he got last time around. That could mean Virginia and North Carolina become the new Florida and Ohio as the states Obama needs to put him over the finish line.
If there's an individual state where the decision of Mike Huckabee not to run next year hurts Republicans the most it might be North Carolina. PPP has now polled general election match ups for the Presidential race in the state 7 months in a row. Huckabee is the only Republican who has ever led Obama in one of those match ups, and he polled the best of the GOP folks in a head to head with the President 6 out of those 7 months. On this most recent poll, conducted the weekend Huckabee announced he wasn't running, he trailed Obama by just a single point at 47-46.
All of the other Republicans did worse with Mitt Romney down 46-43, Newt Gingrich at a 50-42 deficit, Sarah Palin trailing 52-40, and the since departed Donald Trump with the biggest gap at 52-35. Huckabee has generally polled 2-3 points better than Romney in North Carolina. Usually you would say that difference is pretty negligible but in a state that Obama won by less than 1% in 2008 it really could mean the difference between winning and losing.
North Carolinians were split evenly in their feelings about Huckabee with 40% rating him favorably and 40% negatively. The remaining Republicans in the field are unpopular in the state. Romney's favorability is 30/43, Gingrich's 28/54, and Palin's 32/59. Their lack of appeal would give Obama a chance to win the state again even if his own numbers were middling. The fact that he is decently popular on top of their unpopularity makes him the favorite, albeit nominally, to win the state again next year. Gingrich and Palin are probably beyond rehabilitation so if the GOP wants to win the state next year either Romney's going to have to improve his image or a currently lesser known candidate's going to have to rise up from the back of the pack. There's no doubt North Carolina's going to be on the board again in 2012.
Full results here