Through the end of August, the campaigns and independent groups had spent about $56 million on television spots here. That places North Carolina, which has 15 electoral votes, fourth in total ad spending.
But economist John Connaughton says North Carolina is notoriously hard to pin down.
"You know, North Carolina is not a single state. It's a bunch of different regions," says Connaughton, a professor at UNC-Charlotte. "I don't know whether the candidates, either one of them, really appreciate the differences in message that they ought to do in Charlotte versus in Raleigh and versus in the eastern part of the state."
North Carolina's "legacy industries" — textiles, tobacco and furniture-making — have been declining for years as cheap foreign labor made even this "right to work" state less attractive to manufacturers. Still, when the recession began, about 22 percent of the state's economic output came from manufacturing, which was nearly twice the national average.
So the downturn in that sector struck North Carolina disproportionately.
In a just-released report from UNC's Global Research Institute, Daniel Gitterman argued that the state had not fully recovered from the 2001 recession when the latest blow struck.
"To put the matter bluntly, it is difficult to overstate the problems that have troubled the North Carolina labor market over the past decade," Gitterman writes. "Policy wonks are still debating some of the details, but no one doubts that conditions remain distressed."
That distress is not just in the blue-collar sector. It also extends from the factory floor to the skyscraping bank headquarter buildings in Charlotte.
Obama carried just 32 of the state's 100 counties in 2008, but they were the major population centers, including Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte and the Triad Region, which covers Greensboro and Winston-Salem. The president got a huge boost from Charlotte's Mecklenburg County, where he took 62 percent of the vote, beating U.S. Sen. John McCain by just under 100,000 votes.
The last four years have not been kind to "Bank Town." The nation's No. 2 banking center behind New York, Charlotte has lost thousands of jobs in the financial industry shake-up.
"I do believe there are more former bankers in this town than there are current bankers," says Mitchell, a former Bank of America employee who now owns a franchise of The Entrepreneur's Resource.
Many of them came during the industry boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and wanted to stay even after their jobs went away. That would describe Rob Hanckel.
Hanckel moved to Charlotte in 1997 after nearly a decade at Smith Barney in New York. He spent much of the next 13 years in institutional sales with Charlotte-based Wachovia, once the nation's fourth-largest bank holding company.
In 2008, Wells Fargo bought out the company. Two years later, Hanckel was downsized.
After months of trying to find work in his field, the 56-year-old husband and father of two decided to volunteer with the local unemployment office. He spends part of each week in the fellowship hall of a local church, teaching other laid-off workers how to network and polish their resumes.
Many thought it was telling that retired Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr., a lifelong Democrat and honorary co-chair of the DNC host committee, agreed to co-host a Charlotte fundraiser for Romney this spring.
Conservative by nature, Hanckel voted for McCain four years ago. Despite all he's been through, he's not yet ready to say whether he'll be voting for Romney.
"There's certainly some measures that maybe people could have handled differently, and certainly measures that were forced upon him," he says. "It's been a huge challenge. I think people have made mistakes. I think people have tried to do as best they could under the sets of circumstances. And I think people may have made different decisions had they been a 20-20 quarterback. You know, Monday morning quarterback."