North Carolina and Virginia are both large swing states — the tenth and twelfth most populous states, respectively — where the political polarity between left and right could not be more extreme. Both states are home to millions of multiethnic white-collar liberals and moderates, most of whom live in the urban enclaves, as well as roughly the same numbers of rural, white evangelical voters who hold extreme, often fantastical right-wing views.
Pres. Obama won both states in 2008, but in the current campaign, it has become conventional wisdom that he will likely lose North Carolina and win Virginia — although these predictions are not supported in the most recent polls. A PPP survey released on Monday found the president up by 1 point — 49 percent to 48 percent — in North Carolina, while a local poll in Virgina found that Romney was up by 4 points there, 49 percent to 45 percent.
In most states where polling is close, the race will be decided by moderate swing voters, and while that is true for the most part in North Carolina and Virginia, the Romney campaign has an additional worry: an evangelical base with a generations-deep suspicion of outsiders, especially those of different faiths, including Jews and Muslims, of course, but also Catholics and Mormons.
Reuters has been in the field in Virginia talking with white Bible Belt voters and found that many of the say they are concerned about Mitt Romney’s wealth and his religion:
Sheryl Harris, a voluble 52-year-old with a Virginia drawl, voted twice for George W. Bush. Raised Baptist, she is convinced — despite all evidence to the contrary — that President Barack Obama, a practicing Christian, is Muslim.
So in this year’s presidential election, will she support Mitt Romney? Not a chance.
“Romney’s going to help the upper class,” said Harris, who earns $28,000 a year as activities director of a Lynchburg senior center. “He doesn’t know everyday people, except maybe the person who cleans his house.”
She’ll vote for Obama, she said: “At least he wasn’t brought up filthy rich.”
White lower- and middle-income voters such as Harris are wild cards in this vituperative presidential campaign. With only a sliver of the electorate in play nationwide, they could be a deciding factor in two southern swing states, Virginia and North Carolina.
Reuters/Ipsos polling data compiled over the past several months shows that, across the Bible Belt, 38 percent of these voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is “very wealthy” than one who isn’t. This is well above the 20 percent who said they would be less likely to vote for an African-American.
Non-Hispanic whites in this bracket have skewed Republican for more than three decades, and they prefer the GOP nominee to Obama by 46 percent to 29 percent. However, as Romney launches a post-convention ad blitz, those numbers could signal trouble for his campaign. Strategists in both parties figure that to offset the president’s expected landslide among an expanding electorate of blacks and Hispanics — Obama won 80 percent of minority votes in 2008 — Romney must garner more than 60 percent of the white vote overall.
In Virginia, polls show the candidates virtually tied. The state’s 5.9 percent unemployment rate, well below the 8.1 percent national average, works in Obama’s favor. Overall, 35 percent of the electorate is black, Hispanic or Asian….
According to Reuters/Ipsos polling data … 35 percent of voters overall, and the same proportion of lower- and middle-income white Bible Belt voters, say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon.
Many evangelicals who would normally vote Republican say they view Mormonism as a cult.
Several of those interviewed in Lynchburg were devotees of the TV series “Big Love” and “Sister Wives,” about polygamous Mormon families. They were unaware that the Mormon Church long ago renounced polygamy.
“Mormons don’t believe like we believe,” said Dianna McCullough, a retired factory worker, as she tossed salad in a Tree of Life Ministries soup kitchen. “Like the wives — Romney’s probably got more than one.”
Still, she is undecided in the election. “The gay marriage thing hurts Obama,” she said. “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”