Barack Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008. To do so again in 2012 will be a tall order.
Let’s look at three reasons why North Carolina is likely to vote Republican in 2012: 1) high unemployment rate in North Carolina, 2) rising foreclosure rates in the Tar Heel state, and 3) the increasingly conservative temperament of North Carolina voters.
For Republicans, the state’s high unemployment rate — America’s fifth-highest — creates a compelling case against Barack Obama’s economic policies. At 9.7 percent, the unemployment rate in North Carolina is painfully high, meaning some 452,000 people are out of work. Charlotte is North Carolina’s biggest city and home to second-largest banking center in American outside of New York City. Since the incumbent took office four years ago, Charlotte has been hammered by rising unemployment in the banking sector, sending thousands of bankers, accountants, lawyers, and other white collar workers out of the workforce. The president will be hindered by the state’s still struggling economy.
Growing joblessness in North Carolina is feeding the foreclosure machinery. Foreclosure activity, for example, is on the rise in Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located. In four years since Obama was elected in 2008, foreclosed inventory has jumped 41 percent in Mecklenburg County, growing from 2,046 bank-owned REO properties between the 12-month period of Sept. 2007 and Aug. 2008 to 2,877 REO properties in the 12-month period of Sept. 2011 and Aug. 2012, according to RealtyTrac.
Home prices are falling too. In Mecklenburg County, the average sales price of a foreclosure property dropped from $126,175 in July 2008 to $123,754 in July 2012, according to RealtyTrac. In Cumberland County, where Fayetteville is located,the average sales price of a foreclosure property dropped from $94,030 in July 2008 to $80,824 in July 2012. And in the city of Winston-Salem, seat of Forsyth County, the average sales price of a foreclosure property dropped from $108,552 in 2008 to $103,391.
Politically, North Carolina is increasingly leaning Republican. The GOP can take heart that in 2010 both chambers of the state legislature boasted Republican majorities for the first time since Reconstruction. Moreover, in May North Carolina voters approved a statewide constitutional amendment defining marriage to be exclusively between a man and a woman. Republicans are also likely to regain the governor’s mansion: Pat McCrory, the GOP ex-mayor of Charlotte, holds a sizable lead over Walter Dalton, A Democrat and current lieutenant governor. And the GOP will likely pick up four congressional seats in November.
Like in several swing states, the two candidates are now locked in a virtual dead heat in North Carolina. The incumbent carried North Carolina in 2008 with fewer than 14,000 votes. Democrats selected Charlotte as the site of their national convention, hoping to keep the contest competitive into the closing stretch.
But the state has a long history of voting Republican and the high unemployment, rising foreclosure inventories and the right-tilting nature of North Carolina voters could place the Tar Heel state back in the Republican column in 2012.