Republican officials in the state say they're confident they'll win and say early voting totals have wiped away the 14,000-vote margin from 2008. The share of GOP voters from all types of early voting as of Friday is 2 percentage points higher compared to 2008 and the Democrats' share is 3 percentage points lower, according to State Board of Elections data.
"I see this race that we are absolutely ahead and that we have the momentum on our side and the intensity," Romney's state campaign manager, Michael Joffrion, said Friday.
Neither Obama nor Romney has visited North Carolina in weeks, leading some to suggest North Carolina isn't a top-tier battleground state. Obama last visited North Carolina during the convention and Romney held an Asheville rally Oct. 11.
However, they've had dozens of surrogates making the candidates' arguments. Republicans have had McCain and House Speaker John Boehner. President Bill Clinton was scheduled to come to North Carolina on Sunday, followed the next day by first lady Michelle Obama in Charlotte.
Longtime North Carolina Democratic consultant Gary Pearce said the first lady's appearance is a good sign Obama believes North Carolina is winnable. He said Romney has more riding on North Carolina because it becomes very difficult for him to reach the 270 electoral votes need to win the presidency without it.
Kappler said he's 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. The commercials and other campaign activity show that North Carolina is a permanent battleground state and no longer an afterthought in the presidential sweepstakes, he said.
"We are entering a new phase in North Carolina politics when we are part of the national conversation," said Kappler, who on Friday gave an ever-so slight advantage to Romney. "We might not be the center of the conversation, but we are part of it."