Local Politics

N.C. Primary Looms Large for Dems

Posted March 5, 2008 5:57 p.m. EST
Updated March 5, 2008 8:37 p.m. EST

— Tuesday's primaries resulted in an even closer race between Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. North Carolina, with 134 delegates, looks more and more likely to have an impact on the nomination.

North Carolina's delegation to the party convention this summer is second in size only to Pennsylvania's among the contests left, and the Democratic nomination is far from decided. Clinton won primaries Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island on Tuesday while Obama, who has a narrow lead in pledged delegates, won Vermont. A separate Texas caucus system for other delegates was too close to call Wednesday.

"They both need this state to push them into the convention," said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University poll. "North Carolina is now a must-win – the last big state – so a candidate can say that they have the momentum."

Earlier this year, Obama posted easy wins in South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. North Carolina has a large population of black voters, a key component of Obama's support, and Bacot said his early polling shows the Illinois senator faring well in a Tar Heel matchup with Clinton.

There has been grassroots support for both Obama and Clinton in North Carolina, but neither candidate has an official campaign headquarters in the state. That could change in the coming weeks.

A spokesperson for Hillary Clinton said Wednesday, "We will be waging a rigorous campaign in North Carolina." He said staffers are finalizing decisions on a location for Clinton headquarters and beginning to hire staff.

The Obama campaign is reported to be looking into television advertising in the state.

Both Clinton and Obama have traveled to Chapel Hill to visit former candidate and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards and seek his support. He has not yet endorsed either candidate.

Meanwhile, state Democratic party activists are excited about having a presidential primary that matters.

"It looks like North Carolina will be a major player," said state Democratic Party chief Jerry Meek. "We fully expect at this point that both campaigns are going to be very actively engaged in North Carolina."

Typically, presidential primaries draw about 18 percent of voters to the polls. With the Democratic nomination still up for grabs, however, experts expect more interest, more advertising and a chance for voters to see the candidates up close and personal. Turnout for the May 6 primary could be as high as 65 percent.

Registration for the primary runs through April 11. If you miss that deadline, you can register on the spot by participating in One Stop Early Voting between April 17 and May 3.