When Barack Obama carried North Carolina in 2008, it foreshadowed the first Democratic winning majority in the popular vote since Jimmy Carter and a near-landslide win in the Electoral College.  The question in 2012 will be whether Obama can hold those gains.  Based on a new poll pitting the incumbent President against a man who hasn’t even entered the race, the answer appears to be no:

Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads Barack Obama 45 percent to 42 percent among North Carolina voters in a potential presidential matchup, according to a new poll released by the Civitas Institute.

Forty-five percent of voters said they are leaning towards or would vote for Gov. Rick Perry if the election for President of the United States was being held today and the candidates were Perry, the Republican, and Barack Obama, the Democrat.  Forty-two percent said they are leaning towards or would vote for Obama, and 9 percent said they are undecided.

“For the President to be trailing an unannounced candidate in a state he barely won in 2012 has to be concerning for the Obama team,” said Civitas Institute President Francis De Luca.  “If Obama is hoping to catch lightning again and win North Carolina, he is going to have to hope for a weaker opponent than Gov. Perry or a big bounce from having the Democratic National Convention here next year.”

Jim Geraghty notes that this is a poll of registered voters rather than likely voters.  Most pollsters won’t apply their formulations for identifying likely voters in the 2012 election for another year, though (Rasmussen being an exception).  The difference in this case doesn’t help Obama, since likely voters tend to skew more conservative as a general rule, and perhaps more so in traditionally conservative states like North Carolina.  The state went for its first Democrat in 32 years in 2008, with Obama only edging John McCain by 0.3% of the vote.

The poll sample will give the White House some heartburn as well.  It has a D+14 advantage, slightly better than the 2008 Democratic performance in North Carolina (11%) in what was a big-turnout election for Democrats.  Even with the assumption of an even better Democratic turnout, Obama has dropped significantly in standing — and against a man who isn’t even running at the moment.  Independents still favor Obama’s opponent by 20 points, nearly identical to 2008, but in this poll Perry gets 17% of Democrats, where McCain could only get 4% in 2008.

In fact, Obama only get 69% of Democrats, and only 60% to “definitely” commit to him — which portends a big, big problem among conservative Southern and perhaps Rust Belt and Midwestern Democrats.  If the GOP can offer the right candidate that can appeal to what used to be considered the Reagan Democrats across the aisle, Obama might find himself limited to the coasts, and out of a job in 2013.