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North Carolina Battlefield: New voters offer Trump a critical test

“If he just couldn’t talk. The stuff he says is just embarrassing,” said Oswald, shaking her head as she stood in front of the salon where she works as a hairdresser. “But I think he did some great things for our economy.”

“In the past, I have not informed myself sufficiently,” Oswald explained why she never voted. “But because of all of this, I had to stay home, we all watch the news, we all watch TV, I feel like I can do some research this year to make the right choice in my head.”

Oswald is one of more than 1.3 million new voters who have registered in North Carolina since 2016, when Trump narrowly won the state with around 1

73,000 votes. Upbringing in a Conservative Republican family, she said, allows her to be more open to Trump even as she tries to learn more about the Democratic ticket.

So far she has not sold the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“He’s been in office for so long and really hasn’t done much,” said Oswald, admitting that she wasn’t familiar with Biden’s long record. “He was the vice president and what did he do? I don’t know. It’s hard.”

Votes are already in progress across North Carolina. In the past week, more than 700,000 postal ballot papers have been sent to voters who requested them. And 17 days of personal, early voting should begin on October 15th.

Both options sped up an already frenzied last leg of the campaign. One of the country’s most competitive Senate races, which could help determine whether Democrats win control of the US Senate, is on the ballot, as is a chief governor’s contest.

Above all, hangs the coronavirus pandemic, which affects how and for whom people vote. Or if they want to vote at all.

“The pandemic has nothing to do with politics, but it has everything to do with politics,” said David Plyler, chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, who received criticism from some fellow Republicans earlier this week after he proposed Trump to the state Law to obey and wear a mask when he arrived here for a rally.

It was the third presidential trip to North Carolina in the past three weeks. His visit was followed by separate trips by three of his children – Don, Jr., Eric, and Ivanka – all of whom were on election campaigns or government stops across the state.

The collective Trump route, as well as recent visits by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the cabinet, underscores the crucial importance of the state’s 15 electoral votes in the president’s bid to win a second term.

Without North Carolina, Republicans admit, Trump faces a difficult path to 270 votes. Barack Obama led the state closely in 2008, but it has long been a reliable Republican.

At the end of a challenging week for the president as his own blunt words about the deadly severity of the coronavirus became a new focus for legendary journalist Bob Woodward, his supporters are unwavering.

“I think people can see beyond this noise,” said Sarah Reidy-Jones, vice chairwoman of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party. “To be honest, his performance record will remain.”

She and other friends from Uptown Charlotte’s Republican women’s group were discussing the presidential race and local politics in a beer garden this week. The revelations President Woodward made, said several women, did not change their view of Trump.

Reidy-Jones now admires Trump more than four years ago – in part, she said, because of the judicial appointments he made during his first term.

History shows why the next few weeks are crucial for Trump 2020

“Four years ago, President Trump wasn’t my first, second, third or fourth choice,” she said, noting that she wasn’t sure if he was going to be a true Conservative or live up to his word, which she believes he has it. “Put the personality aside and see who has been a strong leader for us.”

That record doesn’t go well with Blake Stewart, the co-owner of a downtown bar, who believes the president’s leadership over coronavirus has been appalling.

“He had a chance to grab that bull by the horns, but instead let us run us everywhere,” said Stewart. “He gave up his responsibility from the start. If he had said, ‘Let’s take a strong lockdown approach and everything should be closed for two and a half months,’ we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

His shop is still closed. For this, he said, he is blaming Trump, not Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

However, talks with more than two dozen voters this week showed mixed views about who is responsible for the economic fallout from the pandemic. Far more aggressive than most Southern Republican governors, Cooper also received his share of criticism, especially from Republicans, but also from some independent voters.

The interviews indicated that November’s coronavirus policy may be contradictory and uncertain.

Not for Bakarr Kanu, a college professor who received his postal vote in the mail this week.

He said the president’s rejection of science and his general conduct in office made his choice clear. Believing it was time for a change at the White House, he said he would hand the ballot back to the county polling office so he could be sure it would be counted correctly.

“Everything is at stake this year,” said Kanu. “These are very busy times. In the future we will be asked what you were doing when this was all going on?”

After reviewing the ballot he had requested, carefully reading the instructions, and realizing that a witness and signature is required, he rejected any talk of potential election fraud. He said he believed Trump was trying to intimidate voters.

The president’s supporters here are already reiterating Trump’s unsubstantiated claims intended to undermine the legitimacy of the election. In one interview after another, Republican voters said they were concerned about the potential for election fraud and intended to cast their ballots in person. Election fraud is extremely rare in the United States.

“I’m concerned about the postal vote,” said Don Scarborough, a mortgage banker. “If we can all go to Walmart and Lowe, we can stand in line to vote.”

When he went to a Trump rally here this week, which was the first time he had seen the President in person, he said he believed Trump “did an above-average job given the circumstances and the challenges he faced.”

Scarborough, like most of the other Trump supporters interviewed in North Carolina this week, expressed exhaustion at the president’s often bitter tone on Twitter.

“I don’t like him tweeting so much,” he said. “And sometimes he takes too tough a position on people he doesn’t agree with.”

When asked what he thought of the prospect of a Biden presidency and whether it terrified him as much as Trump is suggesting, Scarborough paused for a moment.

“Just like anything else, we would go through it,” he said. “Whether you agreed with the previous administration or not, we’ve all lived through it. I just don’t think it’s best for the country.”

There is no question that Trump loyalists are cheered on here.

The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee jointly knocked on nearly 1 million doors and made six million phone calls across North Carolina this year, party officials say, and organized supporters at the president’s reduced rallies.

But there are also signs that he is waking the other side.

A downtown business owner here who did not want to be identified by name said he seldom competed in presidential races but would cast his vote for Biden in hopes of preventing Trump from winning a second term. He believes the split under Trump, especially during a summer of racist unrest, is dangerous for the country.

“I know a lot of people like me,” he said. “We are the silent majority.”

The Trump presidency motivated Angela Levine to become politically active for the first time. She said she never did much more than vote, but she had volunteered with the county’s Democratic Party for most of the past four years to defeat Trump.

But she worries if the Democrats are doing enough.

“There are a lot more Democrats here now than you think,” said Levine, sitting in a park overlooking new homes that didn’t exist four years ago, a sign of fast-growing North Carolina. “The biggest thing is to find only the people who may not want to participate at all. Those are the ones I worry about the most.”

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