Gary Pearce, a Democrat who worked for Hunt, argued that North Carolina's fundamentals haven't necessarily changed. "There have always been what I call the two tribes," he said, referring to the "progressive tradition" anchored by the universities and cities and "the more conservative, more racist strain" in the rural counties that propelled Helms. The difference, Pearce said, is that divisions have hardened.
Vinroot, the Charlotte Republican, agreed and said that reduces the pool of potential ticket splitters, voters that Vinroot described as resenting an active federal government but who "still wanted state government to do all those things."
Rufus Edmisten, a former Democratic attorney general and secretary of state, called it the "nationalization of North Carolina politics. There's just a clear distinction about which party is which, now. It's hard to find a self-described conservative who is a Democrat anymore."
Guillory, the UNC expert, said that means North Carolina elections, including Obama vs. Romney "will turn even more on the ground game, on getting your loyalists to the polls."
Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Gary Robertson in Greenville, N.C., contributed to this report.
An occasional look at how and why various states became presidential battlegrounds
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