It’s way early … but a new poll from PPP reveals that Hillary Clinton would unsurprisingly be very competitive in a presidential contest in North Carolina. Right now, she leads Marco Rubio by 7 points (49-42) and Rand Paul by 12 points (52-40). Basically, Clinton looks very strong, and if she ran it looks like North Carolina would once again be a swing state.
Perhaps most interesting is the margin of the Clinton/Rubio race in North Carolina compared to the national average. Last year, Obama beat Romney by almost 4 points nationally, while losing North Carolina by slightly over two points, meaning that the state was 6 points to the right of the national average. The Clinton/Rubio race right now in North Carolina is 49/42 … exactly the same numbers as the last PPP nationwide poll. True it’s just one poll, it’s very early, and it still needs to be verified, but it looks like for now that a Hillary bid would bring the Tar Heel State very close to tipping-point status, which is where Virginia was last time around.
What to look for in a Hillary Clinton bid, as far as North Carolina is concerned? Here goes:
1. Black turnout will be down. Unlike in 2008 and 2012, African Americans will not compose 23% of the electorate. There are quite a few African Americans who came out to vote for Obama because they felt a loyalty to his skin color and nothing more. They didn’t come out pre-Obama, and they won’t come out when he leaves the scene. This is not a very large group, but it’s enough to make this a certainty.
2. The conservative Democrats will be back. Obama was objectionable to many conservative Democrats, including some of those who voted for John Kerry in 2004. They still don’t like Obama, but they like Clinton … for now. If Clinton can maintain her moderate image, expect counties like Columbus to be charging back into the Democratic fold. Hillary will also do much better in the Appalachian Mountains and will win several traditionally Democratic counties that Obama lost in 2008 and 2012.
3. College kids will stay home and drink beer. At least for now, the increase in youth turnout seems to be Obama-centric. Obama is very good at appealing to young voters, and white college students thought Obama was “cool”. Hillary just doesn’t have the same appeal. Young people are for women’s rights and equality, but at the same time loathe the shrill, old-school feminism that Hillary embodies. Expect youth turnout to go back to somewhere between 2004 and 2012 levels.
4. The age gap will shrink. According to early polls, Clinton is doing much better with voters above 65 than Obama, while doing comparably worse with voters below 30. This will bring about a shrinking of the age gap, which Obama’s candidacy exacerbated.
5. Obama-voting independents will surprise. This group of voters is prolific in counties like Wake and Mecklenburg. Many of them voted for Bush in 2004, soured on his administration in his second term, backed Obama in 2008, shopped for better candidates in 2012, but eventually went with Obama because Romney went too far to the right. These voters tend to be affluent, socially moderate, but fiscally conservative. They identify as independents, though 20 years ago many of them would have been Republicans. These are the quintessential swing voters. But Obama had a special appeal to them. Right now, Hillary is winning these voters because she’s so popular. But these “Whole Foods voters” aren’t a natural part of her base, and her popularity with them is a recent phenomenon.
6. The gender gap. It’s possible that Hillary could have a special appeal to women. This would obviously be an advantage in the presidential contest. At the same time though, we need to look at the other side of the gender equation. Hillary is weaker with men. They don’t like her brand of feminism, nor her “It Takes a Village” nanny-statism. But women compose more of the electorate – in North Carolina, it’s 54%.
7. Swing state status. North Carolina will be a swing state again in 2016. Will we be a slightly Republican-leaning state as we were in 2012, or will we be a coin-flip? It’s too early to say. Democrats will be helped by continued liberal in-migration and greater support among white conservative Democrats. They’ll be hurt by drops in youth and black turnout. It’s likely we’ll have an interesting race here either way.
Of course, these seven points are all assumptions – particularly when it comes to identifying the coalition that will make up Hillary’s base. The biggest question right now is, does Hillary maintain her popularity? (Probably not.) And second of all, does she maintain her appeal with blue-collar workers, as she did in the 2008 Democratic primaries?
We also don’t know who the Republican candidate will be. There are just too many X factors. We’ll increasingly know more the closer we get to the actual 2016 election – which is a long, long way away. A side note – both Governor Pat McCrory and Senator Richard Burr, both Republicans, will be up for reelection in 2016. Gubernatorial races tend to be inoculated from the national environment, but Senate races are not. If Hillary really ends up winning NC by 7 points, then this could be dangerous for Burr.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.