In 2008, President Obama did what no other Democrat had done since Jimmy Carter in 1976: He won North Carolina.
Many analysts took that narrow victory of 14,177 votes as a sign of possible tectonic shifts in American politics, with Democrats expanding their map of competitiveness into two key Southern states, North Carolina and Virginia, and Republicans marginalized as a regional party of the South -- destined for years, if not decades, out of the White House and in congressional minorities.
ABC News rates North Carolina as lean Republican. (See all of ABC's race ratings and create your own electoral map.)
Mitt Romney's campaign has seen North Carolina as a ripe opportunity to pick up one of Obama's 2008 states, but polls there have shown a competitive race despite a bad state economy. Among battleground states, North Carolina's unemployment rate is second only to Nevada's.
Check out the 'Electoral States of America' Battleground states map with latest polls and info HERE.
After his convention surge but before the first debate, Obama led Romney in North Carolina by two percentage points in a Sept. 23-35 NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll. Since then, no surveys considered reliable by ABC News have been conducted in the state.
On May 8, North Carolina became the 30th state to adopt a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, with 61 percent support in a statewide vote. The next day, Obama completed his "evolution" on the issue, telling ABC's Robin Roberts in an interview that he supports same-sex marriage but thinks policy should be set by states.
Democrats held their convention in Charlotte (Mecklenburg County). Al Gore lost Mecklenburg County in 2000, and John Kerry won it by just more than 12,000 votes in 2004.
But Obama won North Carolina in large part by winning Mecklenburg County by more than 100,000 votes in a close statewide race. The Obama campaign likes to point to an extensive effort they have put into the state in registering new voters, and Democrats enjoy a party-registration advantage of nearly 800,000.
State Democrats are in disarray. In November, a grand jury indicted a top aide to Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue for allegedly scheming to pay a staff member off the books in violation of state election laws. The state Democratic Party chairman came under criticism for the handling of a sexual harassment allegation involving a financial settlement; he submitted his resignation to the party, which rejected it, and he remains chairman.
Thanks in part to a GOP-drawn congressional map, Democrats could lose as many as three House seats. Perdue is not seeking reelection, and her Republican opponent from 2008, Pat McRory, is expected to win and replace her.
Some key facts about North Carolina:
CURRENT UNEMPLOYMENT RATE: 9.6 percent, as of September
TREND SINCE OBAMA TOOK OFFICE: North Carolina's current unemployment is worse than its 9.0 percent rate when President Obama took office. Unemployment peaked at 11.4 percent in January and February 2010 and declined steadily after that. Over the last year, North Carolina's unemployment rate has droped by one percentage point, from 10.7 percent in September 2011, but the state's recovery has stalled in recent months, sitting at the same rate it reported in March, after dipping to 9.4 percent for three months, April through June.
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME
9,656,401 as of 2011, per U.S. Census Bureau
POPULATION BY RACE