When President Donald Trump accepts the Republican Party’s nomination for his reelection Thursday night, the presidential campaigns will kick into high gear with little more than two months until the election.
If you thought the television attack ads and election mailers were bad already, brace yourself for the next 67 days.
The campaigns are looking at North Carolina as a possible swing state in the presidential election, and the Democrats have the potential to flip Thom Tillis’ Senate seat. That means both parties—and an untold number of interest groups—will be spending lots of money to sway voters in the state.
“For the Trump campaign, if North Carolina is not in their win column, it can be a difficult path to the 270 to win,” Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer said. A presidential candidate needs 270 votes in the Electoral College to win the election. North Carolina has 15 of those votes.
The Electoral College is unique to the United States. Each state gets an allotment of a total of 538 votes and the winner for that state takes all the votes. This is why a candidate can lose the popular vote, as Trump did in 2016, but still win the presidency.
Trump won North Carolina by more than 3.5% over Hilary Clinton in 2016.
The last Democratic presidential candidate to win North Carolina was Barack Obama in 2008.
Recent polls put Joe Biden and Trump in a statistical tie in North Carolina. A poll released this week as the Republican National Convention got underway put Biden with a 3% lead in North Carolina, and a 10% lead nationally.
Poll-watching site FiveThirtyEight, which aggregates and analyzes poll data, show’s North Carolina is a toss up so far, but with a slight lead for Trump.
“For the Biden campaign, North Carolina would be icing on the cake,” Bitzer said.
Bitzer credited Obama’s 2008 win in the state to the campaign’s ground game and being able to draw high turnout for the election.
Twelve years later, the coronavirus pandemic has changed almost everything about the Democrats’ strategy. The push to turn North Carolina blue in this election cycle has become an entirely digital affair, with Democrats opting to run their entire campaign virtually.
“We know every vote and voter matters, which is why we have invested significant resources in our digital organizing and voter mobilization operation to ensure we are reaching North Carolinians from Murphy to Manteo,” said L.T. McCrimmon, the North Carolina state director for the Biden campaign.
“North Carolina will play a critical role in electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, reelecting Roy Cooper, and flipping the U.S. Senate with Cal Cunningham,” McCrimmon said in a statement to Spectrum News 1.
Republicans have also put a high priority on swaying voters is the state. "North Carolina is a top-four state for the Presidential race, we host one of the top U.S. Senate races,” NC GOP spokesman Tim Wigginton said. “The bottom line is that North Carolina is the epicenter for the 2020 election.”
"The North Carolina Republican Party is working hard every day to turn out the voters we need to deliver North Carolina's electoral votes for President Trump, return Senator Thom Tillis to the U.S. Senate and elect Dan Forest Governor,” he said in a statement to Spectrum News 1.
In contrast to the Democrats, the GOP is holding small in-person events and sending (masked and socially distanced) volunteers out to knock on doors.
“The number of battleground states really shows how few states pick the president,” Bitzer said. “With this year’s group of battleground states, the attention will be on them and not the other 40.”
Bitzer said that other than North Carolina, he is watching Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and in the South, he’s paying close attention to the race in Georgia.
“If North Carolina doesn’t go Republican, that could signal other critical states—Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin—have not gone Republican as well,” he said.
The FiveThirtyEight site shows the closest races so far this year are Arizona, with 11 electoral votes, Ohio, with 18, and Florida, with 29 votes. Some combination of those state could help put either candidate over the top with 270 electoral votes.
“It’s a game of addition,” Bitzer said.
In the race for North Carolina’s 15 votes, Bitzer said it will come down to who can get more voters out to cast ballots for each campaign.