With the U.S. presidential election less than two weeks away and the focus on a handful of states expected to determine the outcome, incumbent Republican Donald Trump was back in North Carolina on Wednesday, where Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, also made appearances earlier in the day.
“We’re going to win this state,” Trump predicted at an evening rally in Gastonia. Later at the event, he told the crowd of thousands, “I’ve been all over your state. You better let me win.”
North Carolina is a key prize in the election as the victor gets 15 of the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency.
Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the state four years ago by fewer than 200,000 votes, capturing just under 50% of ballots cast.
“We need North Carolina and that’s why I’m here, that’s why he’s (Trump) been here,” Harris told reporters at the airport in Asheville after a campaign event on a nearby college campus. “The people of North Carolina are very much going to be a very big part of deciding this election, so we’re here to encourage the vote.”
Three polls in the past week have shown Biden ahead of Trump by 3 points, within the margin of error of those surveys of voters.
North Carolina is often characterized as a swing state, but some there suggest it is better to list it as battleground state because prior to Barack Obama in 2008, the last time the state voted for a Democrat for president was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
“The historic 1929 textile mill strikes had its epicenter in Gastonia. As the textile industry has faded in North Carolina, Gastonia has retained some of its blue-collar heritage while also moving into the metropolitan orbit of Charlotte. The Trump campaign would have to run strongly in Gaston County to match its 2016 victory in North Carolina,” said professor Ferrel Guillory, who directs the Program on Public Life at the journalism and media school at the University of North Carolina.
Professor Mac McCorkle at Duke University’s public policy school, where he directs its POLIS politics center, told VOA, “Gastonia is exactly the kind of place Trump needs to be or has to be at this juncture, if being in a particular place matters. It's one those at least partly Charlotte exurban or ‘countrypolitan’ counties where Republicans have been getting and need to get more than 60% support.”
Over the years, North Carolina has seen its furniture and textile industries wither while growth in the Research Triangle and Charlotte attracts a more diverse population.
“North Carolina is not as simple as partisan breakdown,” with more than 40% of its residents born outside the state, said Susan Roberts, a political science professor at Davidson College.
In a statement released Wednesday, Biden said, “Trump isn’t focused on caring for working families in North Carolina who cannot make their rent or mortgage payments, parents and educators struggling to educate their kids, or small-business owners losing everything they worked so hard to build. He has given up on his responsibility to get this virus under control.”
Trump at his Gastonia rally, where he spent more than 75 minutes on stage, accused the media and the Democrats of focusing too much on the pandemic.
“All you hear is COVID, COVID,” said the president, who has recovered from the virus after testing positive earlier this month. “That's all they put on because they want to scare the hell out of everyone."
This year, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has killed about 222,000 people in the United States out of a total of 8.3 million confirmed to have been infected. It has killed more than 4,000 people in North Carolina where new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive are increasing statewide.
Perhaps the chief issue for North Carolina voters is health care. Roberts, of Davidson College, notes that North Carolina is one of only 12 states that have opted not to adopt the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.
Trump has repeatedly railed against the act, known as Obamacare. Biden’s campaign pledges to bolster the plan with a variety of adds-on that will “insure more than an estimated 97% of Americans.”