RALEIGH, N.C. - In February 2011, the Obama campaign made a big deal of its decision to hold the Democratic convention in North Carolina. Obama's narrow, 14,000-vote victory here in 2008 -- the first by a Democrat since Jimmy Carter a generation ago -- showed just how far his campaign could reach into states that Republicans had once thought safe. By choosing Charlotte in '12, Obama signaled he was ready to do it again.
"We're going to play big," top Obama adviser David Axelrod said when the choice was announced. "We're certainly not going to hunker down."
But it's not working out. Of all the swing states playing key roles in the 2012 presidential race, North Carolina is the only one in which Obama is trailing Republican Mitt Romney. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Romney leads Obama by 4.8 percentage points in North Carolina -- and the convention had little or no effect on that margin.
"We saw less of a convention bounce for [Obama] here than we did in other places," says Tom Jensen, director of the Raleigh-based, Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling. "I don't think having the convention in Charlotte is going to end up making it any more likely that President Obama wins the state this year."
Jensen, who sees the race as very close, says there's been little post-convention change, mostly because voters in North Carolina had already made their minds up before the Democrats arrived. But convention aside, Obama is not treating North Carolina like a state he believes he can win.
Other than coming to Charlotte to accept his party's nomination on Sept. 6, the president has not campaigned here. Vice President Biden has made a few stops, and first lady Michelle Obama hit the state Wednesday, targeting young and African-American voters. But that's it.
There's also word going around state political circles that Obama has cut back on planned ad expenditures for the weeks leading up to Election Day. And while the Obama campaign touts its dozens of offices and thousands of volunteers, the bottom line is, the polls haven't moved. "They've done a lot of talking, but the hard numbers don't support their aggressive claims," says North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes.
Even some Democrats are not particularly optimistic about the president's chances here. "Romney will win the state," says longtime Democratic strategist Brad Crone. "The Republicans have as good a ground operation as the Obama team does. They've been very aggressive reaching out to independents and base voters." (Crone still believes Obama will win nationwide.)
With the novelty of Obama's first campaign long gone, North Carolina voters appear to favor Romney on the issues most important to them. First of all, unemployment in the state is 9.6 percent -- well above the national rate. In a recent Rasmussen poll, voters gave Romney a 52 percent to 43 percent edge on the question of who would best handle the economy. Rasmussen also found Romney leading in other key areas like health care, national security, taxes and energy. "The race in North Carolina is little changed since August," the pollster concluded, "and Romney has consistently held a modest lead in the Tar Heel State all year."
Beyond economic issues, there's also the essential social conservatism of North Carolinians. In May, voters passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent. Then, in September, Democrats came to North Carolina for a convention that featured repeated pro-gay marriage pronouncements.
"The message of the convention surely wouldn't have helped them with the swing voters in North Carolina," says Charlie Black, a North Carolina native and longtime Republican operative who is now an adviser to the Romney campaign. "A lot of the suburban voters who took a chance on Obama appear to have turned against him."
So far, Romney has not made much of social issues, in particular gay marriage. Asked why, Black says, "Stay tuned," suggesting the campaign might still choose "to remind people who's on what side of that issue."
North Carolina is changing in ways that will probably benefit Democrats in the future. For example, this is the first year in which the state legislature will have more seats from urban counties than from rural ones. As years go by, with transplants arriving from blue states, North Carolina is likely to become more Democratic. But that future isn't here yet.
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.