WINSTON-SALEM, NC (AP) – President Donald Trump is fighting to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, screaming with unsubstantiated claims of election fraud and warning that violent crowds are infiltrating the suburbs.
But on a recent morning along Arbor Street, a quiet tree-lined street with majestic brick colonials and Tudors near Winston-Salem, the women who are the target of Trump’s messages have faced far more tangible threats.
As conservative activists searched the neighborhood, a young mother, a baby in her arms, screamed through a closed window that was in quarantine. Across the street, another focused on teaching her children daily lessons at the kitchen table.
And a few doors down, 49-year-old Christina Donnell, an independent who voted for Trump four years ago, said through a black mask that Trump’s “terrible” handling of pandemic and divisive leadership more generally are the its main concerns.
“It’s embarrassing for the country,” said Donnell, a lawyer who previously lived in Washington, of the Trump leadership. “It’s an embarrassing model.”
In one of the nation’s most important states, Trump’s drive to inject new dynamics in the final weeks of the 2020 election is being overshadowed by the frightening realities of daily life during a pandemic. Trump and his allies hope escalating the Supreme Court nomination fight will help unify a fractured Republican party that has lost its grip on college-educated suburban voters, particularly white women.
But for many, the coronavirus and related economic challenges are far more pressing issues.
Trump’s challenge is acute here in North Carolina, a state his senior aides describe as a “must-win.” A loss in the state, which Democrats have only carried out once at the presidential level in the past 30 years, would make Trump’s path to a second term incredibly difficult and signal dire challenges elsewhere on the electoral map.
Public polls, supported by private discussions with Trump campaign strategists and Democrat Joe Biden, indicate that North Carolina remains a disaster five weeks before election day. And lest there be any doubts about Trump’s concerns about his presence here, he has traveled to North Carolina every week for the past five weeks, second only to Pennsylvania.
Trump’s stance will also help decide the contests for governor and senator, a series of competitive contests that has attracted more dollars for political advertising in North Carolina than any other state in the nation. According to media monitoring company Kantar-CMAG, more than $ 246 million has so far been spent or reserved to communicate online and on television with North Carolina voters about presidential and Senate contests. Florida follows with 236 million dollars and then Arizona with 223 million dollars.
Trump has also sent Vice President Mike Pence to North Carolina twice in the past five weeks, as well as four visits from Trump’s children.
The president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, originally from North Carolina, led a Women for Trump event in the rural eastern part of the state last week to energize the president’s base. He was supposed to come back to see her on Monday.
“This is a must-see state for anyone who is to become the next president,” Lara Trump said in an interview.
He said the Supreme Court debate could help motivate each side’s base, including some “fence sitters” who may not have voted at all. But it indicated a more serious concern for suburban women.
“As for suburban women, they want safety and security. They saw what happened to so many of our Democrat-run cities across America, “said Lara Trump.” It’s absolutely scary to see the chaos, the destruction, the violence. ”
After his comments, he conducted an event for around 200 people where the pandemic was not mentioned at all on stage or by several voters who asked questions. The Supreme Court only intervened once. The conversation was much more focused on the prospect of voter fraud, an issue President Trump has repeatedly raised as polls show him at a disadvantage, even though experts report there is no significant evidence of such fraud.
As in other fluctuating states, the Democrats’ closing message has focused on health care, particularly the Trump administration’s ongoing courtroom fight to overturn former President Barack Obama’s health care law and protections for those with pre-existing conditions that are part of it.
Biden’s team relied heavily on advertising to get its message across, however, because the candidate himself wasn’t a regular presence in North Carolina – or anywhere – during the pandemic. Biden made his first trip as a Democratic candidate in the state last week. Her running mate, Kamala Harris, is expected to make her first appearance on Monday at a health care-focused event in Raleigh.
“He needs to pick up his game a little bit,” said former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, a Biden ally, calling on Biden’s campaign to step up the work in person. Hunt said the elections were “tight as a tick.”
North Carolina is a prime example of the deepening divisions that defined US politics in the Trump era.
Obama in 2008 was the only Democrat to lead the state after 1976, but it continues to show a bluer shade of purple thanks to an influx of college-educated Northern transplants that have packed into urban and suburban areas of Carolina’s. North, particularly around Charlotte and Raleigh. Those booming regions are voting more and more democratic while the more rural areas of the state are voting more and more Republican.
It’s truly a case of two North Carolina where voters are focused on entirely different sets of issues, said Morgan Jackson, a leading Democratic strategist who is working on government contests and the state Senate.
Swinging voters in the suburbs have switched from Obama in 2008 to Trump in 2016 and are threatening to switch to Biden due to the pandemic.
“When you think about the set of problems they focus on, their lives are still centered around COVID,” Jackson said, noting that many have school-age or college-age children whose lives were transformed by the pandemic several months after the first one exploded. in the United States.
Biden’s team privately believe they have already won the suburbs, while those close to Trump’s campaign hope the fight in the Supreme Court will shift voters’ attention away from the pandemic, especially as the fight for confirmation intensifies in the coming weeks. . Trump appointed Federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacancy over the weekend. Republicans hope to finalize confirmation before the November 3 elections.
The drama of recent weeks is making life difficult for conservative leaders such as Chris McCoy, a senior adviser to the Americans for Prosperity Action group, who has spent months reaching out to suburban voters to help Republican North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis win a second term.
“This was one of the most grueling efforts I’ve ever been a part of,” said McCoy, a veteran of North Carolina politics. “He’s really touchy out there. We have good days and bad days. “
Back on Arbor Street, there were more garden signs expressing support for Black Lives Matter than Trump.
Donnell explained that he had voted for Trump four years earlier because he thought it would be better for the economy and taxes. But two years into her presidency, she was so upset by his behavior that she left the Republican Party and became an independent.
However, she is unsure how she will vote in November. She is also “not a fan” of Biden.
The Supreme Court could influence his vote, but not in the way Trump hoped.
“I don’t want to see the court become ultra-conservative. I’m a lawyer. This is a big deal for me. … I am concerned that women’s rights may disappear, “Donnell said.” This is what would push me towards Biden. “