Asheville, NC (ACT) -- When President Barack Obama arrives in Asheville Wednesday, he'll find a North Carolina politically different from the one that helped him win a first term.
Republicans control the legislature and the governor's office for the first time in decades. State lawmakers are digging in their heels in rejecting his health care law.
GOP-led redistricting has meant more Republicans in Congress. They threaten a seat held by one of his allies in the Senate, Democrat Kay Hagan.
And Obama lost here last year, though not by much.
His decision to visit the South and his hometown of Chicago in the days after the State of the Union address is meant to show that his policies are working in broad sections of the country, observers say.
It's also meant to show that the gridlock is in Washington, not on Main Street.
"I think they are working very hard to take the president's message directly to the people across the country, not just blue states," said Jonathan Kappler, research director for the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation.
Democrats don't see politics as Obama's main motivation in visiting the state.
The party noted that the Obamas enjoy Asheville. This is the president's fourth visit. He and the first lady have vacationed here.
The Democrats also noted that he's visiting an auto parts manufacturing plant, which fits with his message of jobs.
"We are a state that is changing, that's leading the way in progress," said Clay Pittman, press secretary for the Democratic Party. "I think the president's visit is just going to highlight the progress that we have shown so far."
Some Republicans disagreed.
The party said Tuesday that Obama's visit has much to do with politics and Hagan's chances in the Senate.
High-ranking Republicans, such as House Speaker Thom Tillis, are considering bids for her seat.
State GOP chairman Robin Hayes, in a tongue-in-cheek open letter to the president, thanked him for helping Republicans with their wins in November and encouraged him to come back to campaign for Hagan.
"Since Sen. Hagan has offered no plan or specific solutions on how to solve the most serious issues facing our nation, we can assume she will continue to rubber-stamp your agenda," Hayes wrote in his letter to the president.
Other ranking Republicans said there appeared to be little political benefit for Obama to be in North Carolina.
State Sen. Tom Apodaca, chairman of the rules committee, said he has "no earthly idea" why Obama would come back.
"I think he just loves Western North Carolina," said Apodaca, R-Henderson. "I think that is a lot of the answer. There is no political reason I can see."
But there's plenty of hay for Obama to make in the state, despite his loss here in November, observers and Democrats said.
Mitt Romney carried North Carolina by about 100,000 votes. Obama beat John McCain in 2008 by 14,000 votes. In a state with 6.4 million voters, that's not much of a difference.
Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said North Carolina might have different leaders than when Obama was a candidate but, at the core, its similar to the state that supported him.
"I don't think there was any shift to the right, if you want to know the truth," he said. "They (the GOP) took over, but I don't think there was a philosophical shift."
Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University, noted the state still has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
"I think he should come here," he said. "I think this is still the bluest red state in America."
Written By: Jon Ostendorff, Asheville Citizen-Times