More and more it seems that, yes, North Carolina could be a factor in this year’s Republican presidential primary. When the whole process started it appeared likely that our May 8 primary would be too late in the game and one of the candidates would have sewn up the race by the time North Carolina voters went to the polls. But with Rick Santorum’s twin victories in Alabama and Mississippi earlier this week, and Romney’s inability to close the door on his opponents, it looks like the race might not be over by May 8 after all.
Also, today the News & Observer reports that Santorum is beginning to build a campaign apparatus here in North Carolina as well. Santorum continues to solidify himself as the most legitimate threat to Mitt Romney, but, according to a new poll from Public Policy Polling, Romney has a slight edge in the state leading Santorum 31% to 27%.
While North Carolina probably won’t play a deciding role in the delegate count, it can play a defining role in Mitt Romney’s campaign narrative and help him shore up Republican support. Louisiana is the next southern state to vote, on March 24, and it seems likely at this point that Santorum will carry the state. Between March 24 and the NC primary on May 8 though, the terrain appears to favor Romney, aside from Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania, with several northeast states voting along with Wisconsin.
If Romney can pull off a string of victories in that time period between Louisiana and NC’s primary on May 8 he will begin to get momentum back on his side. And if Romney can capitalize on that momentum and secure a decisive win in North Carolina, his first victory in a southern state, it could finally give him the argument he needs to convince Republican voters that he will be the party’s nominee. He still likely wouldn’t have the delegates to outright clinch the nomination, but couple a strong April with a big win in North Carolina, a key battleground state in the South, and it very well could serve to finally to put to rest the questions about Romney’s campaign.
Of course, a lot can happen between now and May 8, but the way the field looks now and looking at the road ahead, it looks like North Carolina can expect to see visits from Romney, Santorum and Gingrich in the not-too-distant future.