50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 12. North Carolina

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

12. North Carolina

Capital:  Raleigh

Nickname: Tar Heel State

Motto: Esse Quam Videri

(To be, rather than to seem to be)

About the State

Before the arrival of European settlers, North Carolina was home to Native Americans of the Iroquois, Algonquian and Siouan tribes.  Spanish explorers were the first to arrive from the Old World, but it was Queen Elizabeth I of England who sought to establish colonies there, granting a land charter to Sir Walter Raleigh for that purpose.  Both of Raleigh’s attempts failed and the second one came to be known as “The Lost Colony”, as the settlers on Roanoke Island disappeared without a trace, along with all of their houses, leaving just a single word – “Croatoan” – carved into a tree.  It was on that same island that the first English child to be born in America – Virginia Dare – was delivered in 1587.  It was not until the middle of the 17th century that a new, lasting colony – Carolina – was established, which would split into North and South in 1710.  During the Revolutionary War, opinion was divided in North Carolina between those who wanted to stay loyal to the crown – mainly due to existing business interests with Britain – and those who wanted independence, until the Patriots victory at King’s Mountain swayed loyalists to their side.  One of the crucial conflicts of the war – the Battle of  Cowan’s Ford, was fought in Mecklenburg County and, even though it resulted in a victory for the British, the number of casualties they suffered led to their eventual surrender at Yorktown.

Tobacco production was a major industry from the outset for North Carolina and many men were brought over from Africa as slaves to work on the plantations.  By 1860, one-third of the state’s population were slaves, with a further 30,000 free African-Americans, who had moved south from Virginia.  North Carolina was the second to last state to formally secede from the Union and join the Confederacy, doing so only when President Lincoln instructed them to invade South Carolina in 1861.  Of the estimated 125,000 men from the state who fought for the Confederate forces during the Civil War, approximately 20,000 were killed in battle, with a similar number dying from diseases.

As in all of the Southern states after the war, race relations did not improve and the Ku Klux Klan was active in North Carolina, as were attempts to disenfranchise African-Americans through means such as poll taxes or residency tests.  From 1929 until 1979, the state had a eugenics program, through which had forcibly  sterilized people who were considered to be feeble-minded – with those from ethnic minorities disproportionately targeted.  After the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, African-Americans were finally able to participate fully in all areas of society and, in 1973, Raleigh elected its first black mayor, Clarence Lightner.

After being reliant on cotton and tobacco production for so long, North Carolina’s economy is now well diversified and the state has financial, engineering and biotechnology companies located within its borders, as well as being famed for its furniture.  It is the 28th biggest state in area and has the 10th largest population, with just over 9.6 million residents.  “Research Triangle”, the area around the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in the western part of North Carolina, is home to three renowned colleges – Duke, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State.  The Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast is a popular tourist destination and was the location for the Wright Brothers first successful powered flight, at Kill Devil Hill.  Two Presidents, James Polk and Andrew Johnson, were born in North Carolina and the state is home to three “Big Four” sports teams – the Carolina Hurricanes (NHL); Carolina Panthers (NFL) and Carolina Bobcats (NBA).

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 15

2008 Result: Obama 49.9% McCain 49.5%

Latest Poll: Obama +4%

From 1932 to 1964, North Carolina voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate in every election up until Richard Nixon won the state in 1968.  After that, the GOP took the state in 9 of the next 10 contests (the exception being 1976, when Jimmy Carter was victorious) until President Obama claimed North Carolina’s 15 Electoral College Votes in 2008.  It is a swing state for November’s race for the White House, but defeat there would hurt Mitt Romney a lot more than Barack Obama – should the President win North Carolina again this year, it would leave Governor Romney needing to take Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada, leaving no margin for error.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is no Senate election in North Carolina this year.  Of the 13 members of the House of Representatives, seven are currently Democrats, with 6 Republicans.  The GOP is looking likely to gain three seats in November’s election, with their candidates favoured in the 7th, 8th and 11th districts.

Governor: The incumbent Democratic Governor, Bev Perdue – the state’s first female Governor – is not seeking re-election for a second term and the race is between Pat McCrory (R) and Walter Dalton (D).  The Republican candidate currently has a 12.5 point lead in the polls.

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