Election 2008

Reliably GOP States Still In Play In Presidential Race

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Many GOP strongholds are looking more like swing states this year. North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley says the state is tossup but leaning toward Barack Obama; Indiana Republican Party Chair Murray Clark says Obama has been airing ads, but with just a little attention, Indiana will quickly go back to its Republican roots in the election.


This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. If you look at the electoral map, less than three weeks out from election day, you'll see that several of the most reliably red states have moved into toss-up territory. Among them are North Carolina and Indiana. Both states gave George W. Bush a double-digit margin of victory four years ago, but John McCain is having to work to hang onto them. We're going to hear from political leaders in each state. First, to the Democratic governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley.

Governor MIKE EASLEY (Democrat, North Carolina): I see the presidential race in North Carolina as a toss-up right now but moving pretty strongly toward Obama. I see the momentum moving in that direction based more on the economy than anything else. So I think, by election day, North Carolina will go Democrat this year.

BLOCK: Well, that would be a pretty stunning thing. I mean, the last time a Democrat won in North Carolina was Jimmy Carter in 1976. And your state is typically such a Republican lock that you wouldn't really see much of the candidates. This time, you're certainly seeing Barack Obama.

Governor EASLEY: Well, you know, in North Carolina, what the people focus on is education, economy, those things that I focus on when I'm running. And I think, you know, my race has proven that George Bush can win by 13 points here at the same time that I can win by 13 points. And Barack Obama's message is one that I would be very comfortable running with. I'd be out there arm and arm with him if I was running this year. Whereas with the previous two elections, I was keeping a little distance between the national ticket. It's all about the message that he's delivering and the way he's delivering it.

BLOCK: Now, John McCain was in your state on Monday. Before that, he hadn't been to North Carolina in six months. Do you think that has hurt him?

Governor EASLEY: Well, I think so. I think John McCain was taking the state for granted, and most people would. So I don't think it's odd, or I don't say that their campaign was doing something unusual there. But Barack Obama was coming here during the primary in May, and he was back in June. And he has been here a lot since then, and Michelle has been here.

He's not only been in the urban and suburban areas, but he's gone out to rural areas, on up into the mountains of North Carolina. He connects with those people. People think he can't connect with a rural voter. I saw an old pickup truck the other day with a gun rack in the back and Obama stickers on it. And the guy driving had an old camo hat, and you think the last thing you can see is Obama stickers. But this is somebody who's worried about losing his job, and they know that Obama is going to be looking out for working families and middle class. And that I think is what's resonating with people.

BLOCK: Of course, governor, we've been hearing a lot about the Bradley Effect and how that might affect this race, voters who say they would vote for a black candidate, but then, once they get to the polling place, do not. Do you think that could really change the results in North Carolina on election day from what we're seeing now in the polls?

Governor EASLEY: You're always going to have some of that. We've seen it in the past here when Harvey Gant was running against Jesse Helms but...

BLOCK: In the U.S. Senate, yeah.

Governor EASLEY: Yeah, in the U.S. Senate. And in '90 and in '96, there was some slippage in those polls. However, my barber told me - now, this is a guy who puts his razor to people's throat every day and asks them questions, and he can legally do that.

BLOCK: Uh-huh.

Governor EASLEY: So that's a good focus group. He tells me there are a lot of people out there that are going to vote for Obama that aren't saying it. So, you are going to see a reverse Bradley effect. I think - and I think at the end of the day, people are just going to say, you know, I like John McCain. I may have some cultural kinship there, but this won't be the first family that broke up over economy.

BLOCK: We got that straight from the barber's mouth.

Governor EASLEY: We got it straight from the barber's mouth, and barbers are great source, and you can get a $25,000 poll for 15 bucks, and that includes the tip.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: And maybe a haircut.

Governor EASLEY: Oh yeah, you get the haircut, too.

BLOCK: That's North Carolina's Democratic Governor Mike Easley. And now, to Indiana, a state that went for George W. Bush by 21 points 4 years ago. Indiana hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964. But this year, the state's Republican Party chair, Murray Clark, calls the Indiana race competitive. He says Obama's efforts there haven't let up since the primary.

Mr. MURRAY CLARK (Chairperson, Republican Party): We believe that Senator Obama spent upwards of $7 million in Indiana with a barrage of mostly negative ads that, until very recently, went unanswered. But now that we have the participation of the McCain campaign and involvement of the Republican National Party as well, I think you'll see more and more of his negative message responded to.

BLOCK: It's been several months since John McCain has visited Indiana. Do you think he's paying a price for taking your state for granted?

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. Well, your question assumes he does - he takes Indiana for granted, and I wouldn't agree with that.

BLOCK: I know the vice presidential pick Sarah Palin will be in Indiana on Friday. Do you have a commitment from John McCain that he will visit the state before election day?

Mr. CLARK: Well, I - stay tuned. We believe he will, but Hoosiers have been dying to have Governor Palin or Senator McCain in Indiana; they'll get the first taste of that team, if you will, on Friday, and we're quite hopeful that Senator McCain will follow and maybe Governor Palin again.

BLOCK: I'm curious. As the state Republican chair, is that part of your message to the national campaign, look, we need John McCain to come here?

Mr. CLARK: Well, sure. I mean, we have first gently and then not so gently suggested to the McCain campaign that it will be quite helpful for Senator McCain or Governor Palin to visit. They heard our message. I don't want to make that sound critical to the McCain campaign, because they had some very practical decisions made about where they allocate their resources.

BLOCK: You said not so gently, the longer it went, huh?

Mr. CLARK: Well, I mean, sure. I've believed for months, with just a little attention, Indiana will quickly go back its roots, if you will, and that is in presidential election years, Hoosiers almost always favor Republican presidential candidates, particularly where the Democrat is more liberal. And I think that you saw this with Gore. You saw it with Kerry. And conversely, 1996, which was a quite a competitive presidential campaign in Indiana, Hoosiers saw Bill Clinton as much more of a moderate Democrat candidate.

BLOCK: I was just speaking with the governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley, a Democrat. And he said that it's Barack Obama's economic message that is resonating with middle class voters in his state, a traditionally Republican state, that Barack Obama has a real shot at this year. Do you think you could be facing the same situation there in Indiana, given the economic hard times in your state?

Mr. CLARK: I think the economic kind of chaos of the last two weeks has clearly broken in Senator Obama's favor. But in the last three weeks, that the role and the job of the McCain campaign and surrogates like me is to unpeel the onion on his economic plan.

BLOCK: And do you think he's doing that?

Mr. CLARK: Well, I think he is working on it. I think he's trying, and we're trying. Could we do a better job? Sure. He's got to continue to get the message across and so do we.

BLOCK: Mr. Clark, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. CLARK: OK, thanks.

BLOCK: That's Murray Clark, the Indiana Republican party chair speaking with us from Indianapolis.

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