Labor Day marks the traditional start of the presidential election campaign. The Republicans have departed Tampa, and the Democrats are arriving in Charlotte, so the campaign is about to shift into high gear.
A headline in today's News & Observer notes that Republican Mitt Romney has received a boost from his party's convention (although you have to wonder what kind of boost there was in Clint Eastwood's rambling, disjointed monologue and Chris Christie's "look at me, me, me" speech) and now leads President Obama in North Carolina polling.
This new poll affirms the feeling I've had for months that Obama would not be able to duplicate his showing in North Carolina. His 2008 victory was an aberration, not a new trend. Obama put extraordinary resources into North Carolina and ran a brilliant grassroots campaign to cinch the state's 15 electoral votes, but things have changed since 2008. The Obama excitement ("Yes, we can!") is missing this year, and some N.C. voters are suffering from buyer's remorse. In 2008, Obama was able to overcome North Carolina's 32-year history of going Republican in the presidential race, regardless of how the rest of the ticket went, but it will be harder this year.
Here's my bold prediction (and I've seen enough political races to know not to do this, especially this early in the campaign): Romney will win North Carolina's electoral votes on Nov. 6. This prediction is based more on a feeling, a reading of the electorate, than on any scientific analysis. It just looks harder for Obama to win than it does for Romney.
I've said before that the 2012 race reminds me of the 1980 race — an incumbent Democrat presiding over a faltering economy amid popular anguish — but Obama is no Jimmy Carter, and Romney is no Ronald Reagan. So I'm not willing to stick my neck out and predict a national winner. I think the race is a toss-up that will be decided in the next 60 days. But if Obama is to win, I think he'll have to find the 270 electoral votes needed without counting North Carolina's.