RALEIGH, N.C. — The key battleground state of North Carolina is still within President Barack Obama's grasp, despite Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue's surprise decision to drop her re-election campaign.
Obama has been running commercials in the state for months, and the Democrats have staked so much on repeating his 2008 success in North Carolina that their presidential nomination convention will be held in Charlotte.
"It's helpful news for Obama rather than problematic news," John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University, said of Perdue's announcement Thursday. "You'd expect the Obama campaign would rather run with a strong gubernatorial candidate on the ballot, and by all accounts, Perdue was not a strong candidate."
Perdue, the first woman elected governor in North Carolina history, said she worried a fight with Republicans over public education would become too political if she tried for a second term. But Perdue entered the election year with political baggage, including a campaign finance investigation, sagging poll numbers and a tough rematch campaign against an opponent she narrowly beat in 2008, when Obama's coattails helped Democrats across the state.
"North Carolina's a swing state, they can't afford to lose it for the presidential race," said Michael Munger, a political science professor at Duke University who ran for governor as a Libertarian in 2008. "I would guess some senior Democratic people strongly suggested she spend more time with her grandchildren."
Four years ago, Obama shocked many national pundits by becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976, defeating Republican Sen. John McCain by just 14,177 votes out of more than 4.3 million ballots cast.
Perdue, then the state's lieutenant governor, benefited from Obama's highly organized effort to boost voter turnout, an effort the president will look to repeat regardless of whether the Democratic gubernatorial nominee is an incumbent.
"I don't think the president's 2012 chances are affected by this in any way," said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. "The presidential race is the dog and the gubernatorial race is the tail, and the dog is going to be wagging the tail."
Obama's win here was the first in 32 years for a Democratic nominee for president. He praised Perdue for breaking down barriers during her political career.
"For over 25 years, she has fought for the people of the Tar Heel state — working to transform the state's public schools, improve the health care system, protect and attract jobs for members of the military and their families, and create the jobs of the future," Obama said in a statement.
Perdue, a former school teacher, said her decision was about protecting public education from spending cuts by the GOP-led legislature.
"The thing I care about most right now is making sure that our schools and schoolchildren do not continue to be the victims of shortsighted legislative actions and severe budget cuts inflicted by a legislative majority with the wrong priorities," Perdue said in a statement.
The statement made no mention of what Perdue, 65, planned to do in the future. Perdue campaign spokesman Marc Farinella said the governor declined to speak to reporters Thursday because she was spending time with her family after making "this very difficult decision."
"For now she wants her statement to speak for itself," he said.
Perdue's decision means it will be the first time a sitting North Carolina governor has failed to get elected to a second term since voters gave chief executives authority to succeed themselves in the 1970s.
"All the Democrats' waters rose with Obama in 2008," said Brian Nick, a Republican strategist working for likely GOP gubernatorial nominee Pat McCrory. "It would be a fallacy to think the governor's race is going to affect the presidential campaign in North Carolina."
Perdue has faced high unemployment, consistently weak approval numbers, a string of political defeats and the indictment of two close aides and a family friend in a campaign finance scandal that is continuing to unfold. She has also made some well-publicized gaffes, like a joking suggestion last year that congressional elections should be suspended for two years to ease partisan gridlock.
North Carolina is crucial to Obama's re-election strategy, with a win there relieving the need to carry more-traditional battleground states such as Florida and Ohio.
Perdue is listed as the co-chair of steering and host committee membership for the 2012 convention. DNC officials were quick to say Thursday that Perdue's withdrawal from the governor's race will have no effect on the September event.
The governor has not been closely involved in the convention planning and was not present at a DNC media conference in Charlotte last week announcing that President Obama would give his acceptance speech to Bank of America Stadium.
"They made the decision to site the convention in Charlotte knowing that Beverly Perdue was facing an uphill fight," said Steven Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State. "That was already factored into their decision."
Perdue may try to maintain a low profile through the end of her term early next year. After issuing a statement declaring her intention not to run, Perdue holed up in the governor's mansion with her aides.
Mark Johnson, the governor's deputy communications director, said the governor has no public events scheduled for the next week.
"Anything beyond next week is tentative," Johnson said.