The slightest change in support can tip the North Carolina vote in favor of President Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
An Elon University poll released this week shows they are in a statistical dead heat heading into the final week of campaigning. They are appealing to an electorate that’s undergone significant change. U.S. Census figures show minorities accounted for 35 percent of North Carolina’s population growth in the last decade.
So we looked at the influence of the minority vote and the challenges Romney has in capturing it.
Polls show President Obama and Mitt Romney virtually neck-and-neck. But among minorities, it’s a very different picture.
Romney only has about 15 percent support among North Carolina’s minority voters. They make up 28.6 of voters in the state.
So any traction that Romney can get could turn the election in his favor.
The Romney campaign has dispatched Florida Senator Marco Rubio to swing states in hopes of appealing to Hispanic voters.
Rubio is speaking at the SteelFab factory in west Charlotte. Besides the plant workers standing behind him, it’s an overwhelmingly white crowd.
But there’s one African-American couple standing all the way in the back: Gloria and George Williams. They’re registered Democrats, but they say that’s coming to an end:
"I mean I’m not for gay marriage, I don’t believe in abortion, I don’t believe in big government spending," George Williams says. "So, I just … I just don’t agree anymore.”
His wife, Gloria, is a banker in Charlotte. She says the biggest deal for her is that "people are hurting and need jobs and there needs to be a way to make that happen and Obama’s way is not the way to make jobs".
And that’s the message that Romney is taking to minority voters at political rallies or civil rights organizations, according to Winthrop University political scientist Adolphus Belk.
“Even then, it was less about playing to the African-American vote per say and more about signaling to a wider audience that he’s capable of dealing with African-Americans," Belk says. "And that also includes delivering harsh messages that from the vantage point of some partisans, need to be delivered.”
But the message isn’t registering much. Four years ago, more than 90 percent of African Americans in North Carolina voted for President Obama. Polls show it’ll be about the same this time around.
That doesn’t surprise African American Republican Guy Spann. He’s on the executive board of the Mecklenburg County’s Young Republicans, and he says it’s tough to be black and support Romney.
“I’ve been called names like Uncle Tom, unfriended on Facebook, in the town I grew up in, people constantly harass my brother asking ‘What’s wrong with him?,’ even family members have become upset because of my ideology,” Spann says.
He says the Romney campaign asked him to reach out to African-American business owners. He tried, but got nowhere.
But reaching out to minority business owners is exactly what they need to keep doing, according to Professor Belk.
“What Romney and the party has to do is find ways to appeal to socially or fiscally conservative African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders," Belk says. "That’s not going to happen in a single election cycle. But it can happen over time, if there’s a commitment from the party’s leadership.”
(We wanted to ask the Romney campaign about that commitment, but our requests were declined).
At the Rubio event, Vanessa Faura stands close to the stage. She emigrated from Peru with her family in 1987 and moved to Charlotte in 1997. And she’s always been "a very strong Republican".
She says Senator Rubio’s message on the need for more jobs was on point. She's just launched a catering business with her brother but she takes time out of her schedule to come to events like these and volunteer for the campaign by phone-banking.
She suspects she’s one of the few Hispanic-Americans in the crowd because the event was held during the workday.
She says politicians are always after the “Latino vote”, but they haven’t done a good job of really reaching out to the Latino population.
"The reasons why a lot of Latinos are not Republican is because they just don’t know and they don’t know that they don’t know and that’s a problem."
She says the GOP needs to do a better job of educating Latinos about what the Republican party stands for.
But she's optimistic that her fellow conservative Latinos are out there. She thinks they’re just keeping a low profile for now. She’s confident their presence will be felt on election day.
"When it comes time to vote, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to vote," Faura says. "We are going to vote for Romney and Ryan.”