President Barack Obama's top campaign officials rejected suggestions Tuesday that they are writing off North Carolina two weeks before Election Day.
The Tar Heel State is “absolutely” still in play, campaign manager Jim Messina said on a conference call with reporters. “We have a huge operation on the ground, we’re airing great TV ads (in the state) . . . North Carolina is going to be what it was (in 2008): Very, very close.”
Senior strategist David Axelrod echoed Messina, saying North Carolina and the other Southern battleground states – Florida and Virginia – continue to be competitive.
“We are doubling down, we are not pulling back at all,” Axelrod said on the same call. “Anybody who thinks those states are in the bag (for Republican challenger Mitt Romney) are half in the bag themselves.”
The Obama campaign chiefs’ comments come the same week some top Democrats suggested the president was giving up on the prospect of repeating his narrow 2008 victory in North Carolina – the first by a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Paul Begala – a Democratic pundit and adviser to a pro-Obama Super PAC – said yes on Monday when CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asked him if Obama was giving up on North Carolina.
And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff, told a Florida newspaper that North Carolina would likely go for Romney, while Nevada will go for Obama.
Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama have visited North Carolina in recent weeks. But Obama himself hasn’t been here since early September, when he gave his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. And there is no N.C. stop included in the president’s upcoming barnstorming tour of six battleground states.
On Tuesday, some reporters and pundits were saying that the presidential race was now down to seven battleground states – not including North Carolina.
But Messina and Axelrod strongly denied that the Obama campaign was placing North Carolina on the back-burner.
The campaign just unveiled a new 60-second TV ad in the state. And Messina pointed out that Obama’s campaign in North Carolina registered hundred of thousands of new voters – beating “even our own expectations.”
Messina also said early voting in the state is above 2008 totals, including with young voters – a key part of Obama’s coalition. In 2008, it was Obama’s big lead among those who voted early in North Carolina that enabled him to beat Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, in the state.
This year, the Romney campaign in North Carolina has been much more active in encouraging early voting by Republicans. After five days of early voting, more registered Republicans have voted than at this point in 2008. Still, registered Democrats voting early are also outperforming 2008 totals, and are far ahead of GOP voters.
“The Romney campaign had said they were already going to have North Carolina in the bag by now, and they don’t,” Messina told reporters. “The math continues to look better and better for us in North Carolina.”
The most recent public polls in the state have shown a volatile, close race.