CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Nearly 4,500 people packed into a hangar at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Monday afternoon to get a glimpse of first lady Michelle Obama on the afternoon before the nation would vote on her husband’s future.
These were dedicated troops: Attending the event meant slogging to the airport, parking in a long-term lot, taking a shuttle to the hangar, and then waiting as long as four hours for the first lady to appear.
The campaign stopover—literally at an airport—was part of a mad dash by both campaigns through states that might hold some promise on Election Night. While both candidates relentlessly visited Ohio, they also dropped in on other states that aren’t as black-and-white as they appeared a few weeks ago.
Take North Carolina. Most polls show Republican candidate Mitt Romney with a nearly 3-point lead in the state that Barack Obama won in 2008. But Democrats held a lead in early voting: By Friday, some 48 percent of early voters were Democrats, while about 32 percent were Republicans.
And the early turnout was huge: By Friday afternoon, more than 2.5 million North Carolinians had cast votes—a pace that could break the early voting record of 2008.
The Democratic turnout energized Obama supporters in North Carolina, and offered a glimmer of hope that the candidate could still win the state and its coveted 15 electoral votes. It also energized the Obama campaign enough to send the first lady through the state’s largest city during the crucial last hours of the campaign.
Mrs. Obama wasn’t alone. Former President Bill Clinton stopped in Raleigh, N.C., on Sunday at an event that drew more than 4,000 people. During the course of the weekend, the campaign reported that it hosted 1,200 grassroots events.
By Monday evening, campaign workers in Charlotte were capitalizing on the first lady’s afternoon event: Volunteers called those who signed up for tickets to Mrs. Obama’s appearance, asking them to volunteer during the last day of the campaign: making calls, working in the office, going door-to-door. It was the kind of grassroots pavement-pounding that helped Obama win the state in 2008.
But Democrats aren’t the only ones pounding. The Romney campaign opened 23 state offices and amassed thousands of volunteers who have knocked on 100 times more doors and made six times as many calls as Sen. John McCain’s campaign did in 2008, according to N.C. Republican Party spokesman Rob Lockwood. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign reported that thousands of volunteers had committed to more than 18,000 hours of service over two days to mobilize voters.
Another boost for Republicans: Though Democrats held an early-voting advantage, Republicans had turned out 111,000 more of their voters early than they did in 2008. Democrats had turned out 27,000 fewer.
And one final statistic offered a glimpse at the voting bloc that might decide the election in the end: More than a half-million early voters were unaffiliated.