Debbie George, 61, a yoga teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, said she was “desperate” for Joe Biden to carry her battlefield state and defeat President Donald Trump in the general election.
But from what George, a lifelong Democrat, has seen so far, Biden just isn’t doing enough to bolster support among Democrats and Independents and win the state.
“He has to come. He has to address the North Carolinians. Some kind of socially distant event, a small conference or a round table,” she said. “Those rehearsed speeches in front of no one don̵
George’s concerns underscore the tough battle Biden appears to have to face if he is to win this southern swing state and its 15 votes in November.
Interviews with a number of North Carolina voters, current and former party officials, political strategists, pollsters and policy watchers paint a picture of a critical battlefield that remains within reach for an unpopular president even as the coronavirus continues to affect the health and health of the country’s economy and protesters continue to demand racial justice.
There are factors in favor of Biden. He remains hugely popular with the state’s large contingent of black voters, a group he has to carry with some Obama-era gusto to win the state, and the number of postal ballots (which the state did on Friday posted) of registered Democrats has risen. Surveys show that he also performs extremely well with women, suburbanites, and suburban women (like George) – groups that he also has to wear predominantly to win.
To take advantage of this prospect, he has to do more than post ads and give little speeches from Pennsylvania, according to multiple sources.
“There’s a concern that it needs to be more visible,” said Raleigh-based Democratic strategist Gary Pearce.
A close race in tough condition for Democratic presidential candidates
North Carolina has always been difficult for Biden: Barack Obama’s 2008 win in the state is the only time a Democratic presidential candidate has worn it in the past 44 years. Given that both North Carolina and national polls show that voters believe Biden would handle the coronavirus pandemic better than Trump, many Democrats have high hopes that Biden can repeat that success.
With the upcoming general election, Biden has expanded his itinerary over the past few days. After holding only virtual rallies and in-person events within a short drive of his Wilmington, Delaware home for months, Biden gave a speech in Pittsburgh last week and traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he met with the family of Jacob Blake, A. Black man who was shot in the back seven times by Kenosha police.
In contrast, Trump had a far more robust itinerary and regularly visited battlefield states, including numerous layovers in North Carolina in recent months.
Recent polls show that the race is intensifying in the state. The latest survey average held by FiveThirtyEight shows a virtual tie, with Biden leading Trump by 48.6 percent to 46.8 percent – a smaller lead for Biden than the averages the location of the most recent summer polls found.
“Any person is an easier opponent than a killer virus.”
Possibly Trump is reinforced by the fact that voters in North Carolina don’t seem as dissatisfied with his response to COVID-19 as voters in other battlefield states.
A poll by Fox News published Wednesday found that 50 percent of likely North Carolina voters felt Biden would handle the pandemic better, while 41 percent said they felt that way about Trump. For comparison, Fox News polls of likely voters in Arizona (53 percent versus 36 percent) and Wisconsin (52 percent versus 35 percent), released on the same day, showed far greater confidence in Biden in handling the pandemic.
“The president has taken a small blow on the coronavirus here, but not nearly as big as other states,” said Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics at Catawba College in Salisbury. “I’m not sure whether this state alone will enter blue territory in the presidential race.”
However, confirmed COVID-19 infections have risen sharply in this state recently. North Carolina had the sixth most confirmed cases and fifth most confirmed deaths from the virus in the past seven days.
Despite the rise, some North Carolina Republicans, who remain optimistic they’ll stay red this year, said that national visibility for Biden, which began during the Democratic National Convention last month, could actually help Trump hold the brutal match against End COVID-19.
“The president has finally started having an adversary that isn’t the virus,” said Dallas Woodhouse, former North Carolina executive director of the GOP. “Until recently, it was felt that the president’s opponent was the virus and that was a very difficult environment for him.
“Any person is an easier opponent than a killer virus,” he added.
A constant presence from Trump and Pence
Furthermore, the Biden campaign just didn’t have the physical presence in the state that Trump’s campaign has.
Since July 27, Trump or Vice President Mike Pence have visited the state five times in person – including a surprise visit by both men to the downsized Republican National Convention last month – and another trip from Trump to Winston-Salem is planned for Tuesday. Donald Trump Jr. will hold a Make America Great Again rally in Hendersonville on Thursday.
The Trump campaign said it had 120 paid employees on-site in North Carolina and had made 6 million personal and virtual voter contacts to date. The campaign has also flashed the airwaves in the state with millions of dollars of ads attacking Biden – misleading or inaccurate in many cases.
Conversely, citing the pandemic, the Biden campaign knocked on zero doors not only in North Carolina but across the United States. Instead, according to his campaign, volunteers have left campaign literature on doors. However, his campaign said it held “hundreds” of virtual events targeting the state, practically recruited more than 3,000 volunteers there, made over 3.5 million calls to state voters, and worked with “hundreds of organizers to raise funds North to engage Caroliners. “The campaign also highlighted numerous interviews with Biden’s local television, as well as key proxies, to prove they had a presence in the state.
The Biden campaign also saturated the North Carolina Airwaves with ads in English and Spanish – part of the $ 45 million ad purchase in battlefield states. Some attack Trump for sowing division in the country and highlight his “failures” with black voters, while others focus on Biden and his fellow campaigner, Senator Kamala Harris of California, as “obligated to listen to blacks” and pushing them for racial justice. Others are in favor of Biden’s plans to fight the pandemic or attacks on Trump’s previous threats to cut social security funding.
However, several experts said the difference in approach on the ground between Trump and Biden’s campaigns is reminiscent of the mistakes Hillary Clinton’s campaign made in 2016 in the state and elsewhere.
“In 2016, it didn’t feel like the Clinton campaign was taking the state seriously, even though it really could have made some progress and made it a very close race here,” Bitzer said. “Biden takes the state seriously, but like last time it just doesn’t feel like they have a very strong ground game,” he said, noting that the 2016 black voter turnout in the state fell significantly.
However, Biden may not have the same problem with black voters, whose high level of support is vital. Black voters gave Biden decisive wins in the Democratic primary, but some, including voters polled in other battlefield states such as Michigan, have urged him not to take their support for granted.
Biden vowed to visit North Carolina last week.
“I promise I’ll come,” he told Raleigh’s WTVD-TV on Tuesday.
Some positive signs for Biden
An analysis of the North Carolina State Board of Elections data conducted by Bitzer found that the number of registered Democrats who have already requested absentee ballots for this year’s election is 18 times as high as in an overall huge increase in absentee voting polling the same point in the 2016 race. By comparison, registered unrelated requests increased 14 times the 2016 level, while registered Republicans made such requests only five times the 2016 level.
Crucially, his analysis found that the number of black voters who have already requested postal votes is almost 30 times what it was at the same point in time in 2016 (although the current levels of black voters in relation to the total number of ballots requested currently are closer to twice the level of 2016). A Monmouth University poll of registered voters in North Carolina, published Thursday, found that 85 percent of black voters in the state support Biden, compared with 10 percent for Trump.
However, Bitzer and others said the exponential increase in postal voting requests from voters willing to support Biden doesn’t guarantee anything.
“There are steps the voter must take to get this ballot passed and with so many new absenteeism that could be a real problem,” he said.
Trump only last week encouraged the people of North Carolina to vote twice in the November election, once by mail and once in person, to test the system. This escalated his attempts to create confusion and question the validity of the results. (It is illegal to vote more than once in an election.)
Another point favorable to Biden is that while polls have tightened, Trump has not yet topped him on a FiveThirtyEight polling average tracking his head-to-head match since Biden emerged as a likely Democratic candidate in March is.
With postal voting in the state already under way (the state started sending postal ballots to registered voters who requested them on Friday), the current snapshot of the race in two months’ time could have an overwhelming impact on the final results.
Other strategists said the frequency with which Trump and Pence have visited the state should be seen as a major warning sign for Republicans.
“I think the fact that Trump and Pence are here so often tells you that they are concerned,” said Pearce, the Democratic strategist. “Biden can win the White House without winning North Carolina. Trump can’t.”
But to do that, Pearce and others pointed out, Biden has to come and earn the votes himself.
“Doesn’t have to be big,” said Maureen Kelly, a stock clerk for the Charlotte airline that supports Biden. “But his presence here would make a difference.”