by Mary Elizabeth Campbell ’21
In the face of a heated election period this year, President Trump is dedicating special attention to his campaign in North Carolina.
Earlier this month, President Trump announced the replacement of acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvanley with North Carolina District 11 Representative Mark Meadows. The move marks Trump’s fourth Chief of Staff in four years and suggests Trump is surrounding himself with allies in order to bolster support in North Carolina in preparation for this year’s election.
Mark Meadows, elected in the 2012 post-Tea Party conservative wave, has aligned himself with Trump and a new generation of conservative Republicans. Meadows worked with Trump while serving as chairman of the House Freedom Caucus from 2017 to 2019, supported him in the 2016 election, and participated in the administration’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass the GOP replacement bill.
Val Bruder ’20, NC-11 resident, emphasized Meadow’s close connection with Trump and influential role on Capitol Hill: “Meadows was a sort of precursor to Trump […] and has been insurgent in the way he’s acted within the Republican party […] he is a really loyal ally to Trump.”
Meadow’s promotion to Chief of Staff leaves a vacant seat in NC-11, which – in addition to the races for Senate, lieutenant governor, and governor this year – makes North Carolina a hotly contested and influential state. The candidate favored to win NC-11, Lynda Bennett, aligns her policy with Trump’s and received an official endorsement from Meadows.
Some students expressed concern about Trump’s level of influence in the district. Bruder added, “[Bennett] has all of the establishment behind her, [and] all of the folks running to [replace] Meadows are so aggressivley pro-Trump that […] it’s kinda scary.”
Trump seems to hold a strong voter base in rural pockets of western North Carolina too. Josh Gilpin ’21, also from NC-11, noted, “Trump definitely has a really big presence [around Asheville] where I’m from. There are Trump signs in tons of people’s front lawns [especially] in rural areas.”
In addition to rural North Carolina, Trump may appeal to certain demographics in urban areas who continue to feel disadvantaged and unable to improve their economic well being. Political Science professor Dr. Susan Roberts acknowledged that in cities like Charlotte, “there are a lot of people feeling displaced. There are some communities that feel left behind, and that was the voice that Trump appealed to [in the 2016 election].
Black Voices for Trump, a national coalition funded by Trump with chapters across North Carolina, reiterates such groups’ frustrations and looks to Trump for solutions. The organization’s mission statement claims that “re-electing the President will ensure greater economic opportunity, safer communities, and better healthcare policies for generations to come.”
Trump’s campaign has invested in advertising time to appeal to the state’s alienated voters. The campaign is currently making a six-figure ad-buy in the Charlotte, Greensboro, Greenville, and New Bern media markets. A recent campaign ad-–entitled “Fighter–-features clips from Charlotte’s Trump rally held early this March, in which supporters praise Trump for his record creating new jobs and cutting unemployment.
Trump is also increasing his presence and voter-appeal in North Carolina by hosting the Republican National Convention in Charlotte this August.
Ben Freeman ’22, a member of Davidson College Republicans, commented, “for College Republicans, we’re getting ready for the [RNC], and it’s really cool having it just at our backdoor. I’m sure some of our members will go to [attend and volunteer].” He added, “North Carolina will be a swing state in 2020, so it’s great to get all the attention we can.”
In response to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, GOP Chairman Michael Whatley stated that the RNC is still “firmly committed” to hosting in Charlotte, but the format may be greatly altered to prevent mass gatherings.
North Carolina is an especially influential state this year; both the presidential and down-ballot races are highly competitive. Senator Thom Tillis’s run for re-election could determine whether the Democrats hold a majority in the Senate. Additionally, a new electoral map for 2020 more evenly splits Republican and Democrat voters.
In September 2019, the state court unanimously ruled district lines as unconstitutionally gerrymandered by favoring the Republican-controlled General Assembly. The court ordered Republican legislature to remake state House and Senate districts in order to accurately reflect state partisanship. The Washington Post predicts redrawn district lines will add two Democrat seats in the 2nd and 6th districts. Republicans are also fighting to keep hold over the lieutenant governor’s seat.
North Carolina is “a battleground state; it is a nice mix of urban and rural, progessive and conservative. If [the Republicans] won the governor’s race, that would give them the trifecta–the state house, the state Senate, and the governor’s mansion-–and that makes a big difference,” Roberts emphasized. Such hotly contested races draw significant investment from presidential campaigns, indicating why Trump has chosen to center his energy around North Carolina.
Roberts added, “North Carolina would just be a sweet prize […] because [it] is not a slam dunk on either side. All things being equal, Trump would be here a lot, in addition to the [Republican National] Convention.”