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Charlotte Region Has A Double Life In 2012 Presidential Race

Anne Lisk at the daycare she runs in Ft. Mill, SC.

South Carolina's Republican primary on Saturday will play a pivotal role in narrowing the field of candidates. But after that, the state becomes politically irrelevant. It's solidly Republican and simply not worth the time or money of Democratic presidential candidates. North Carolina, on the other hand, could go either way, and the Obama campaign is already digging in. The Charlotte region straddles both states, which means it has a sort of "double life" in politics. Consider Mimi Barrios. At the moment, she's like a kid stuck outside a candy store, her nose pressed longingly against the glass. "I was actually thinking of crossing over and maybe seeing one of the candidate speeches," says Barrios. But that wouldn't get her any closer to South Carolina's tantalizing Republican primary. Barrios would like Rick Santorum to win, but her home is a few yards too far north to help him out. As a North Carolina voter, Barrios' crack at the Republican field won't come until May. By then, the party's pick will pretty much be made - just like it was in 2008 when she was backing Mike Huckabee. "By the time it was for us to vote, Huckabee had dropped out," says Barrios, recalling her disappointment. Now, there are plenty of voters in states with late primary elections who feel the same irrelevance, but very few live so close to a key early voting state they could toss a rock into it. If Barrios did, she'd hit Gwen Doster's house. "Our driveway is the state line," explains Doster, gesturing to a stretch of gravel that parallels a private pond and pastures for horses and goats. Doster may live in South Carolina, but she's a North Carolinian at heart. That's where she was raised. That's where she shops - and worked until retiring last year. "My husband jokes with me that whenever my car goes out of the driveway it always goes north," says Doster with a chuckle. "We're just so close!" Doster rarely thinks about that invisible state boundary, but she's to glad to be south of it this year. She likes Newt Gingrich, but believes Mitt Romney has a better chance at beating President Obama - and that's her priority in the Republican primary. She'll sure be glad when the robocalls stop, though. So will Anne Lisk, one of Doster's South Carolina neighbors. Anne Lisk at the daycare she runs in Ft. Mill, SC. "Last night we had nine calls!" says Lisk incredulously and launches into a mockery of the recorded messages she's tired of hearing. "'I have an important message for you from Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich' and I'm thinking, 'Yeah you have a real important message - you just interrupted my cross-stitch, would you leave me alone for a few minutes?'" Lisk says she's a Republican with liberal leanings. Ron Paul is her choice, but if he doesn't win the Republican nomination, Lisk will vote for Obama in November. And that puts her in a frustrating spot too, because no matter how she votes, South Carolina is virtually guaranteed to elect a Republican in the general election. But, if Lisk lived just a block further north, she'd be smack in the middle of the action. Obama barely won North Carolina in 2008 and has staked it out for 2012. That's why the Democrats picked Charlotte for their national convention. "By choosing Charlotte, we sent a strong message that President Obama and Democrats will not cede any ground in 2012," said Democratic Party National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Charlotte this week. Anne Lisk would love to be able to help Democrats hang on to North Carolina, but alas, Lisk is one of those just-barely South Carolina dwellers. "Other than run my mouth," Lisk laughs she can't do a lot for the Obama campaign. The biggest winners in the Charlotte region's new, split-personality, political situation may be TV stations that straddle the state line. WBTV General Manager Nick Simonette says ad revenues are up this year from Republican candidates trying to reach his viewers in Upstate South Carolina. Add to that all the corporate money now flowing freely through independent political groups and the intense interest Democrats have in North Carolina and Simonette says there's the potential for "an avalanche" of ad revenue. So brace yourselves - or grab the remote control.