Carolina Blues: N.C. GOP Looks South With Envy

fromWFAE

Former Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands with supporters before speaking at a campaign stop in Fort Mill, S.C., on Friday. Fort Mill is just over the line from North Carolina, and some voters wish they could cross over for the primary Saturday. i i

hide captionFormer Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands with supporters before speaking at a campaign stop in Fort Mill, S.C., on Friday. Fort Mill is just over the line from North Carolina, and some voters wish they could cross over for the primary Saturday.

John W. Adkisson/Getty Images
Former Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands with supporters before speaking at a campaign stop in Fort Mill, S.C., on Friday. Fort Mill is just over the line from North Carolina, and some voters wish they could cross over for the primary Saturday.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands with supporters before speaking at a campaign stop in Fort Mill, S.C., on Friday. Fort Mill is just over the line from North Carolina, and some voters wish they could cross over for the primary Saturday.

John W. Adkisson/Getty Images

South Carolina voters have a pivotal role Saturday in narrowing the field of Republican presidential candidates.

But after that, South Carolina will get very little political attention. It's solidly Republican and simply not worth the time or money of Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks during an event on Jan. 11 in Rock Hill, S.C., just over the border from North Carolina. i i

hide captionFormer speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks during an event on Jan. 11 in Rock Hill, S.C., just over the border from North Carolina.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks during an event on Jan. 11 in Rock Hill, S.C., just over the border from North Carolina.

Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks during an event on Jan. 11 in Rock Hill, S.C., just over the border from North Carolina.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

North Carolina, on the other hand, could go either way, and the Obama campaign is already digging in. The Charlotte region straddles both states and leads a sort of "double life" in politics.

Too Far North

Mimi Barrios is like a kid stuck outside a candy store, her nose pressed longingly against the glass. "I live here on the state line," she says. "I was actually thinking of crossing over and maybe seeing one of the speeches that one of the candidates might do."

Not that it would get her any closer to South Carolina's tantalizing Republican primary. She'd like Rick Santorum to win, but her home is a few yards too far north to help him out. As a North Carolina voter, Barrios' crack at the Republican field won't come until May. By then, the party's pick will pretty much be made, just like it was in 2008.

"I was really strong on [former Arkansas Gov. Mike] Huckabee," she says. "And by the time it was for us to vote, Huckabee had dropped out."

Now plenty of voters in states with late primary elections feel the same irrelevance, but very few live close enough to toss a rock into an early voting state. If Barrios did, she'd hit Gwen Doster's house.

"Our driveway is the state line," Doster says. The gravel driveway parallels a private pond and pasture for Doster's horses. She may live in South Carolina, but she's a North Carolinian at heart. That's where she was raised. That's where she shops and worked, until retiring last year.

"My husband jokes with me that whenever my car goes out of the driveway it always goes north. We're just so close," she says.

The Invisible Line

When people ask, Doster says she lives "in the Charlotte area." Rarely does she think about the invisible line that officially puts her in South Carolina, but she's glad of it this year. She likes Newt Gingrich, but thinks Mitt Romney has a better chance at beating President Obama, and that's her priority in the Republican primary. She'll be glad when the robocalls stop, though. So will her South Carolina neighbor Anne Lisk.

"Last night we had nine," Lisk laughs. "Nine calls. And it's not even a real person. 'I have an important message for you from Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich,' and I'm thinking — yeah you have a real important message, you just interrupted my cross-stitch, would you leave me alone for a few minutes?'"

Lisk says she's a Republican with liberal leanings. Ron Paul is her choice, but if he doesn't win the Republican nomination, Lisk will vote for Obama in November. And that puts her in a frustrating spot, too, because no matter how she votes, South Carolina is virtually guaranteed to go Republican for president. But if Lisk lived just a block farther north, she'd be smack in the middle of the action. President Obama barely won North Carolina in 2008 and has staked it out for 2012. The Democrats even picked Charlotte for their national convention.

"By choosing Charlotte, we sent a strong message that President Obama and Democrats will not cede any ground in 2012," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said while in Charlotte this week.

Anne Lisk would love to help the Obama campaign hang on to North Carolina, but her hands are tied by that invisible state line.

All she can do is talk to her neighbors about her views, but she'll have plenty of opportunities for that, at least. The campaign speeches and TV ads will have barely ended in South Carolina before they kick into high gear just across the border in North Carolina.

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