Republicans struggle in N Carolina

Barnaby Phillips on why the US state of North Carolina has Republicans worried.

If McCain loses this Red state, he may have bigger problems to worry about [GALLO/GETTY]

Some states weren’t supposed to be battlegrounds, but the Obama juggernaut has made them so. One of those is North Carolina.

Long thought to be a safe, easy state for the Republicans, Obama has made a real contest of it, as Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips found.

On a drizzly Saturday morning, we’ve come to a quiet suburban cul-de-sac, on the outskirts of Raleigh, the North Carolina state capital.

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We want to see for ourselves the awesome organisation that is the Obama campaign.

Kim lives on this cul-de-sac, and she’s converted her home into a neighbourhood Obama office. All morning, volunteers troop in and out, and between coffee and doughnuts, they get their instructions.

Some go upstairs into a bedroom and work the phones, methodically making their way through lists of undecided voters. Others head out into neighbouring streets to canvas door-to-door.

“This is off the scale”, one experienced Democratic campaigner tells me , “… 2004 was nothing like this. And we’re so much better organised than the McCain people, we got started so much earlier.”

A true Red state

The figures speak for themselves. Barack Obama now has 17,000 volunteers working for him in North Carolina, and 45 field offices.

Several of his volunteers told me they “had never done something like this before”, but they were determined to do their bit.

Now, remember, this is North Carolina, a true red state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1976.

It ought to be enemy territory for Obama, and yet the latest opinion polls put him ever so slightly ahead. Fifteen precious Electoral College votes are within his grasp.

So how did we get to this situation? How did North Carolina suddenly become a swing state?

O’Connor says economic turmoil and recent population shifts are helping Obama

“Three factors”, says Paul O’Connor, a journalist and long-term observer of local politics.

“Firstly, the demographics have changed, with population growth and more moderate voters moving into the state.

“Secondly, with our economic problems, people want something new. And thirdly, that monumental Obama effort that has gone into winning the state.”

But how far can that effort really take Barack Obama?

Heading for a fall

The North Carolina State Fair is a good place to find out. It’s a wonderful event: Part giant fun-fair, part agricultural show, it attracts some 800,000 North Carolinians over the course of 10 days.

We listened to blue-grass music, and watched a demolition derby, where battered old cars drive around a muddy field and smash into each other, until only one car can still move.

Walking through the vast crowds, I think the McCain-Palin t-shirts outnumbered the Obama-Biden ones by a ratio of about four to one.

“We’ll keep the state, no doubt”, said the man at the McCain-Palin stall as he pressed stickers into a throng of eager, out-stretched hands.

I suppose you might argue that this wasn’t the natural habitat of Obama supporters.

I wouldn’t dare to make a prediction on how North Carolina will vote on November 4. But I will say this: If John McCain can’t win here, he’s heading for quite a fall.

Source : Al Jazeera

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