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Crunching the NC registration numbers

From NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann
Thanks to a team of gracious number-crunchers at the North Carolina State Board of Elections, here's another fascinating tidbit about voter registration in the state -- custom-crafted at NBC/NJ's request.

It's big news that the number of NEW registrations is off the charts here in the Tar Heel State, as many voters wake up to the blinding spotlight of presidential politics aimed unexpectedly in their squinting eyes. More than 165,000 previously unregistered voters have signed up since the first of the year.

But there's also a lot of movement within the ranks of registered voters. Between January and March of this year, more than 30,000 currently registered voters changed their party identification. Over 12,000 of those, about 40%, are previously Republican voters who have moved OUT of the party to register either as Democrats or as unaffiliated voters able to participate in either primary on May 6th. Subtract from that the number of Dems and unaffiliated voters who moved into the GOP, and there's still a net LOSS of about 6,700 Republican voters in three months. By contrast, the Democratic Party nabbed a net of about 4,000 voters -- previously Republican or unaffiliated -– who moved into the Dem column.  And the unaffiliated group, which gained almost 50,000 new voters in the last three months, added an additional 2,700 net from the shuffle.

Why am I telling you all this? Unaffiliateds are the big bold wildcard in the Carolina election -- they're difficult to poll and even harder to target, and their motivations are all over the map. From Republicans hoping to throw a monkey wrench in the Democratic primary at Limbaugh's urging, to disenchanted partisans seeking a unity candidate, to last-minute undecideds, these are the voters who could surprise us all.