By Amie Parnes - 05/17/12 09:00 AM EDT
CHICAGO — President Obama’s campaign manager dismissed suggestions that it was a mistake for Democrats to hold their national convention in North Carolina, saying he has “zero” regrets about the decision.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Hill on Wednesday, Jim Messina insisted the president can win North Carolina despite low approval ratings there and recent polls that have indicated his support in the state is waning.
Messina’s comments come as a new Rasmussen poll on Wednesday indicated Romney has an 8-point lead over Obama in the Tar Heel State, 51 percent to 43.
It was a dramatic change from results from the Republican-leaning poll last month, which showed that Romney and Obama almost tied. A daily tracking poll shows Romney with a narrow lead over Obama nationally on the heels of a jobs report that shows a slight improvement for the economy.
Another problem for Obama in North Carolina could be his embrace last week of same-sex marriage. Obama announced his position just a day after North Carolina adopted an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman in an overwhelming vote.
Messina said the poll numbers don’t bother him.
“All those numbers on the ground look very, very good for us,” he said. “What I trust is what we see on the ground.
“We feel good about our ability to turn out voters,” he continued. “We registered more voters in North Carolina than any state in the country, and that’s a big deal.”
Obama won North Carolina four years ago — becoming the first Democratic president since Jimmy Carter to do so — partly because of the strong turnout by African-Americans, who largely do not embrace same-sex marriage. Most African-Americans are expected to vote for Obama again but depressing the turnout, even slightly, could hurt Obama.
North Carolina’s economy is hurting. At 9.7 percent in March, it had the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation. About 11 percent of North Carolina voters said the economy was in “good or excellent” shape, according to the Rasmussen poll.
But Messina — sitting at a small conference table in his campaign office, which overlooks downtown Chicago — maintained that Obama will have the numbers to pull off a win.
“It’s important to step back and look at states for what they are: metrics-based,” he said. “How many people there, how many Democrats, how many unregistered people, how many people we can go persuade. And when you look at that and close your eyes, N.C. is a state that’s going to be competitive for the rest of our lifetimes.”
Democrats decided to place their convention in Charlotte to build on Obama’s dramatic victory there in 2008. Some Democrats now believe that is a mistake and that they would be better off holding their convention in another swing state where Obama has a better chance of repeating.
But Messina thinks otherwise.
“The amount of regret that the convention being there is zero,” he said. “We are excited about the convention. It’s the right decision for us, we are going to have a great convention. We look forward to North Carolina and we believe that North Carolina is a swing state [where] we are building the best grass roots effort.
That said, if Obama doesn’t win the Tar Heel state, Messina — who created “five pathways” to win 270 electoral votes late last year — said they have other options.
Messina spoke with The Hill on the heels of the campaign’s release of its latest fundraising figures, totaling $43.6 million, a drop from last month’s haul.
At Obama’s headquarters, he said “everyone here knows” the election is going to be close but offered a warning to donors on complacency.
“We have to make sure everyone understands how close this election is going to be,” he said.
Though Obama’s fundraising totals outpace presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Messina said GOP super-PACs remain a “an absolute, serious concern for all of us.” While Obama has embraced super-PACs himself, Democratic super-PACs badly trail their GOP counterparts.
“You’ve been hearing me scream to the universe for the last three months that super-PACs are real, they’re out there, we have to deal with them,” Messina said.
Messina said he believed Democrats could close the gap as more donors see the size of the hauls by groups affiliated with GOP operative Karl Rove and billionaires David and Charles Koch.
“I think you will see more and more Democrats understand that we have to fight these super-PACs,” Messina said.