The race for North Carolina hurtles toward the finish Monday with the last in a flurry of high-profile visits on behalf of President Barack Obama and predictions of a voter turnout that could rival the record of 2008.
First lady Michelle Obama, joined by singer Mariah Carey, will headline an airport rally in Charlotte on Monday afternoon, a day after former President Bill Clinton spoke to 4,000 supporters in Raleigh.
The visits come as polls continue to show a tight race in North Carolina, with a slight edge to Republican Mitt Romney.
Saturday’s final day of early voting saw long lines at voting sites throughout the state.
At Charlotte’s Steele Creek library, the last vote was cast four hours after the site’s scheduled close.
Although final early-voting numbers aren’t expected until Monday, a Sunday update showed 2.5 million people voted early in person and another 187,000 have done so by mail. Early-voting numbers were up 6 percent from 2008, according to state elections director Gary Bartlett.
He predicts a turnout of registered voters near the 70 percent record from 2008.
In Mecklenburg, 250,000 people trooped to early-voting sites – 20 percent more than in 2008.
While twice as many Mecklenburg Democrats voted early as Republicans, Republicans saw their numbers rise 20 percent over 2008 compared with 13 percent more for Democrats.
“The push was on for both sides to get their voters out early,” Mecklenburg County elections director Michael Dickerson said Sunday.
The last push around the state
Over the weekend, the Obama campaign hosted 1,200 grass-roots events such as phone banks and door-to-door canvassing, said spokesman Cameron French. Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, stumped Friday in Huntersville and Asheville.
“It speaks to the level of enthusiasm and commitment that we have for North Carolina,” he said. “We’re in the best possible position to carry the state.”
The Obama campaign has pushed early voting. As a result, national field director Jeremy Bird said in a conference call Saturday that Romney will need 65 percent of the remaining votes to win.
Meanwhile, key figures from the Romney campaign have skipped North Carolina over the last several weeks. Instead, the campaign is relying on thousands of volunteers across the state who have committed to more than 18,000 hours in the next two days to mobilize voters, said spokeswoman Rachel Adams.
Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at UNC Chapel Hill, said the center of the state’s political gravity has shifted to the metropolitan areas, particularly the Charlotte metro area and the Research Triangle Park.
So, he said, it makes sense that the Obama campaign’s last key appearances before Election Day have been in those areas.
“What’s fascinating is the Obama campaign keeps fighting for North Carolina,” Guillory said. “The Obama campaign just doesn’t quit here.”
North Carolina’s two candidates for governor aren’t quitting, either.
Race for state’s top post rolls on
On Sunday, Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton spoke at the Clinton rally at Raleigh’s Pullen Park. On Monday, he’ll canvass the eastern part of the state.
Saturday, he campaigned at early-voting sites in eastern North Carolina, including Greenville. He also attended a festival in Wilson and campaigned with former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt. Dalton is trying to appeal to voters who voted for a Republican president but a Democratic governor in 2008, Guillory said.
At the same time, Dalton hopes to capitalize on Obama voters who cast a straight-ticket vote.
“Their superior operation is one of our secret weapons,” said Dalton spokesman Schorr Johnson.
Republican Pat McCrory will campaign close to his Charlotte home Monday. He’ll join other Republicans at Wingate University in Union County. But he’s also spent time in eastern North Carolina.
On Friday, he stopped in Greenville, Goldsboro and Wilson. On Saturday, he tailgated with supporters at East Carolina University in Greenville.
Polls have consistently shown McCrory with a double-digit lead over Dalton.
“The underlying dynamics of the race clearly favor the Republicans,” Guillory said.
“With unemployment rates being high, with Republicans doing well on the state level with McCrory leading in the polls – the makings of a strong Republican year seem embedded.”
McCrory’s polling advantage stands in stark contrast to the presidential race, which polls suggest will be close.
“If we could read any more of the tea leaves it would be nice, but I’m still of the belief it could be a slight advantage for Romney,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College. “But I’d hate to put money down on it.”