RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Mitt Romney turned North Carolina back to the Republicans on Tuesday, winning the state and its 15 electoral votes four years after President Barack Obama picked up a surprise win for the Democrats.
With most precincts reporting, Romney was leading by about 96,000 votes out of about 4.5 million cast. Obama won the state in 2008 by about 14,000 votes. The GOP had won every presidential race in the state since 1980.
Obama tried hard to keep the state for the Democrats, holding his convention in Charlotte and visiting the state more than a dozen times, most recently in September. Former President Bill Clinton stumped for Obama in Raleigh on Sunday.
But Republicans made significant gains in the 2010 midterm elections, and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue decided not to run again rather than face a rematch against Republican Pat McCrory, the popular ex-mayor of Charlotte. McCrory received nearly 55 percent of the vote Tuesday to become the first Republican to win the governor's race in 20 years.
With the margin so thin, Romney only had to make small gains to turn North Carolina red again. He got them among moderates. Two out of five self-identified moderates voted for the Republican, an improvement over Republican John McCain's totals in 2008, according to the results of exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.
Exit polls also showed Obama lost votes among those ages 18 to 29 and among voters in rural areas.
Jim Newman was among the voters Obama lost. The 28-year-old web designer said the struggling economy led him to change his mind and vote for Romney and the Republicans this year.
"I'm lucky. I have my own business. But I have a lot of friends who have been unable to find work," Newman, who lives in Concord, said outside a polling place. "I thought the economy would turn around. It just hasn't."
Obama lost a small bit of ground around Raleigh and the suburbs of Charlotte and Greensboro. Obama's share of the vote dropped 2 percentage points or more in Wake, Orange. Davidson, Randolph, Catawba and Union counties.
Both parties had significant get-out-the-vote efforts in the state, sending thousands of volunteers in the campaign's final weeks to make phone calls and knock on doors.
The nonpartisan North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, which tracks state politics for business interests, counted 112 separate presidential campaign ads that aired in North Carolina since the May primary — 38 from the Obama campaign, 37 from Romney, 35 from Republican-leading outside groups and two from Democratic-leaning groups