N. Carolina still looks bluish, but Obama faces uphill climb

Even though the national Democratic shellacking largely passed over North Carolina's House members, President Obama will find a state different from the one that voted for him in 2008 when he visits on Monday.

Only one of the state's eight Democratic House members lost in the midterms, but analysts in the Tar Heel State say Obama has his work cut out for him if he wants to win the state again.

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Even though Rep. Bob Etheridge was its only incumbent Democratic casualty on election night, the state's Legislature flipped to Republican rule for the first time in 202 years.

Obama's visit to the state is similar to a recent trip the president took to Indiana, another improbable victory for the Democrats in 2008.

Like he did in Indiana, the president will focus on the economy when he visits Winston-Salem, but unlike with the Hoosier State, White House officials are optimistic they can keep North Carolina in the blue column.

The state continues to look like a swing state, with a Democratic governor and a Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, plus seven of the state's 13 congressional slots held by Democrats.

And state Democratic Party Chairman David Young said that North Carolina "is still a Democratic state."

"I think he can still win here," Young said.

But unless the economy sees notable improvement over the next two years, Tobacco Road and the rest of the state will be a tough climb for the president.

"At this moment, it does not look good," said Richard Kearney, director of the school of public and international affairs at North Carolina State University.

Kearney said that Obama and Gov. Bev Perdue, whose approval ratings are in the low 30s, are in trouble come 2012.

The president enjoys a fair amount of personal popularity in the state's urban areas and with African-Americans, Kearney said.

"So he's got a base of support, but the tides are against him," Kearney said.

He added that the dramatic change in the state House demonstrates more clearly than the national races that "the state has really flipped."

In 2008, Obama had an advantage in the state where, like Indiana, the president was locked in a lengthy primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton, forcing Obama to spend a great deal of time in the state, building an infrastructure that paid off months later, in November 2008.

To be sure, Obama can still win in North Carolina two years from now, but as of December 2010, the president's victory last time "looks like a one-off," Kearney said.

But Young said North Carolina is still with Obama, as long as unemployment is down in 2012.

"Obviously, if the economy is not better, he's not going to do well anywhere," Young said.