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Being in a campaign is like peeling the skin off an onion: You just keep peeling away layers until, finally, you get to the core.

It turns out in the three major races in North Carolina the core is the same: the fellow sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If you like George Bush you vote for McCain, Dole and Hagan. If you don’t, you don’t. About half the people in North Carolina are looking unhappily at what they consider a failed presidency and, except for a tiny group of Republicans, they’re not about to vote for anybody remotely tied to it.

That’s the thread running through each election and as a result – because President Bush is unpopular – Democratic candidates in North Carolina have hugged their national ticket like never before; they’ve embraced Obama while in the past Democratic candidates, like Jim Hunt or Mike Easley, gave the national ticket a wide berth. But it’s turned out to be a two-edged sword.

President Bush’s unpopularity brought Barack Obama to the dance here – he’s the first Democratic presidential candidate anywhere near carrying North Carolina in thirty years. But it looks like Obama may come up a tad short – because President Bush is just not quite unpopular enough to put him over the top in North Carolina.

And that’s where Kay Hagan and Bev Perdue grabbing Obama’s coattails turned out to be a two-edged sword.

Every time Perdue or Hagan has run an ad saying McCrory or Dole is a Bush clone, it has driven that tiny group of conservative Democrats – the old Jessecrats – straight to their opponents and now they find themselves anywhere from half a point (Perdue) to 3.5 points (Hagan) behind. And Bush’s unfavorables with the handful of undecided voters just don’t look big enough to make up the difference – especially for Hagan.

Essentially, the Democrats’ national strategy works just fine in a state like Virginia where President Bush’s unfavorables are 10 points higher than they are in North Carolina, but the same strategy comes up short here – so North Carolina may hold on to its red state status a little longer.

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