President Trump and the Biden campaign grappled for a foothold in North Carolina on Wednesday, sensing the route to the White House will run through the mountains, piedmont and coastal plains of a state with 15 electoral votes.
Polls show the president is in a dogfight with Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.
North Carolina voters give Mr. Trump marks on the economy but think Mr. Biden could better manage the coronavirus. Both campaigns are lavishing attention on the state, hoping to lock down supporters in key cities or sway up-for-grabs voters in the suburbs and exurbs that stretch from Appalachia to the Atlantic Ocean.
Moments after Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris campaigned in Charlotte, Mr. Trump told voters west of the city to move beyond the pandemic doldrums and dream of boom times ahead.
“That pandemic is rounding the corner, they hate it when I say it,” Mr. Trump told rallygoers in Gastonia.
He complained about constant cable-news coverage of the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 222,000 people in the U.S.
“That’s all they put on because they want to scare everyone,” he said. “Normal life will fully resume and next year will be the greatest economic year in the history of our country, that’s where we’re headed.”
North Carolina is one of six states with at least 15 electoral votes that Mr. Trump relied on to win in 2016. The others are Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
A Biden victory in North Carolina would put a big dent in Mr. Trump’s path to victory, especially if he’s unable to string together victories in Minnesota and Wisconsin to make up ground.
“It is a must-have state for Trump in that it’s really hard to see a path to victory for him if he doesn’t win,” said Mac McCorkle, director of Polis: Center for Politics at Duke University.
On the flip side, Democrats will be sweating out a Senate race between Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, who has a tiny edge in polling but is reeling from revelations he sent illicit text messages to a woman who is not his wife. Flipping the Senate into a Democratic majority could depend on a Cunningham win.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll of likely North Carolina voters put Mr. Biden at 49% and Mr. Trump at 48%.
The poll, released Tuesday, says Mr. Trump is buoyed by a clear edge among white evangelicals, who make up 31% of likely voters in North Carolina compared to 15% nationally. A majority — 53% — of likely voters also had a positive view of Mr. Trump’s handling of the economy.
It’s no surprise that Mr. Trump is trying to lock down support in Gaston County and other exurbs around Charlotte, where at least 60% of voters tend to back Republicans, according to Mr. McCorkle.
“If that starts to even go into the 50s, that’s a real problem for the Republicans,” he said.
Mr. Biden is drawing support from 68% of likely voters in the Raleigh-Durham research/university hub, putting him slightly ahead of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s 60% four years ago, according to the ABC/Post poll.
Dee Stewart, a GOP strategist, said the Trump campaign isn’t taking anything for granted and left a door-knocker at his address in downtown Raleigh, indicating an aggressive ground game.
“I live right downtown and I vote in every election, but they thought enough to knock on my door,” Mr. Stewart said. “They’re campaigning for urban votes, not just suburban votes.”
The coronavirus is weighing down Mr. Trump’s election bid, however, with North Carolina saying they trust Mr. Biden more to deal with the pandemic, 51% to 43%, in the ABC/Washington Post poll.
Mr. Biden said Wednesday that Mr. Trump “has given up on his responsibility to get this virus under control,” citing nearly 4,000 coronavirus deaths and 250,000 infections in North Carolina.
Ms. Harris, campaigning in Asheville, said Mr. Trump knew how dangerous the virus was in late January.
“But he didn’t tell us. They sat on that information, they covered it up,” said Ms. Harris, a senator from California.
She also highlighted the administration’s decision to back a lawsuit before the Supreme Court that could eliminate Obamacare, saying Mr. Trump has a “weird obsession” with dismantling his predecessor’s accomplishments.
Ms. Harris said North Carolina will determine the presidential contest and direction of the nation.
“The outcome of this race will be in very many ways be decided by you, North Carolina,” Ms. Harris said. “It will be.”
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