Why Trump Can’t Take Red Counties in North Carolina for Granted

The Trump campaign’s decision to send the candidate to a conservative county he is sure to win may not be a sign of strength. But it is probably his best shot at rallying enough voters to prevail in North Carolina, where Mr. Trump’s most optimistic campaign officials think he will eke out a victory margin of less than 100,000 votes (four years ago, Mr. Trump won the state by about 173,000 votes).

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Bleeding votes in the Mecklenburg County suburbs, Mr. Trump can afford no cracks in his support in the districts he won four years ago. In fact, he has to win bigger here.

“In a year like this, in an election like this, a point or two in a community like Gaston County could determine the statewide race,” said Representative Patrick McHenry, Republican of North Carolina.

Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said a rally in Gastonia still hit the Charlotte and Asheville media markets and that the party was still investing in a ground game in Charlotte suburbs like Matthews. But he conceded, “we do need to do better in Gaston County, just because of the number of people who have moved in.” He added, “a vote from Gaston County is the same as a vote from Charlotte.”

In Gaston County, “we’re hitting targeted voters with phone calls and door-knock teams, and the biggest mail program we’ve ever run,” Mr. Whatley said. With up to 75 percent of votes expected to come in before Election Day, Mr. Whatley also noted that the state party moved its mail program earlier. “We’re going after targeted voters there, making sure they’re aware of early voting and how to do it.” The party has had 200,000 voter contacts in Gaston County. “We’ve spent a lot of time working those counties very aggressively,” he said.

J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of American politics at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., said he had seen nothing from the Trump campaign that would indicate its hopes for victory in the state lie with converting more of the voters in the urban suburbs that Hillary Clinton won four years ago by one percentage point. “The way I look at this race is what’s the shift in those urban suburbs to Biden and what are the Republican margins in those surrounding suburban areas,” he said.

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