Vice President Mike Pence visited North Carolina on Wednesday to tout an administration trade policy and offer a curtain-raiser for the 2020 presidential campaign.
Pence’s visit underscored the importance of a swing state that President Donald Trump won by less than 4 points in 2016 and which will host the convention expected to renominate him.
“It’s going to be a swing state in the presidential race. You potentially have a competitive Senate race and you have a competitive governor’s race,” said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report. “There’s a lot on the line here.”
Pence came to Charlotte for what was billed as a “kickoff” event for the 2020 GOP convention. Though it was closed to the media, Pence later said the event reflected the convention’s “strong civic support.”
The event coincided with the announcement that Louis DeJoy of Greensboro will be national finance chairman for Charlotte’s host committee. The former CEO of New Breed Logistics is also the Republican Party’s national deputy finance chair. DeJoy said later that the mid-day event was a way to say “thank-you” to supporters.
In an interview, DeJoy said he has a “clear path” to raising over $70 million for the convention and that organizers are already “ahead of conventions in the past.” He said he plans to use “nation-wide begging” to raise the money and he’s confident the convention has “good support” from Charlotte-area businesses.
Wednesday night the vice president was scheduled to attend a private fundraising event for the campaign at DeJoy’s home. He’s married to Aldona Wos, who once headed the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
In the afternoon, Pence toured Parkdale Mills, a Union County yarn manufacturer. There he trumpeted the proposed new United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
“We are simply not going to allow an outdated trade deal to hurt American manufacturers or American workers anymore,” Pence told an audience of factory workers. “This economy is roaring and American manufacturing is back.”
Textile employment in the state has plummeted from 108,000 jobs in 2000 to under 28,000 in 2018, according to the state Commerce department. Exporting yarns and fabrics is still a $30 billion a year industry, according to The National Council of Textile Organizations, which has endorsed the proposed trade agreement. The administration says 68% of textile exports go to Mexico and Canada alone.
In his remarks, Pence alluded to Wednesday’s aborted meeting between Trump and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After hearing that Pelosi had accused him of a “cover-up,” an angry Trump said he won’t work with congressional Democrats as long as they continue investigating him and his administration.
Pence was asked if the feud would hurt passage of the USMCA trade deal.
“I hope not,” he told reporters. “I hope the Democrats in Congress will turn their attention to the issues that matter to the American people. . . . We’ve got to move past Democrats trying to re-litigate (and) investigate.”
NC ‘an absolute priority’
As Pence’s visit suggested, North Carolina will be at the forefront of next year’s presidential campaign.
The state’s March 3 primary is earlier than ever and just three days after South Carolina’s Democratic primary. Already a handful of Democratic presidential candidates — including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke — have campaigned in Charlotte.
Both parties are expected to fight hard for the state’s 15 electoral votes.
Kelly Sadler, a spokeswoman for the Trump-allied America First Action PAC, called North Carolina “an absolute priority.” It’s one of just six states in which the PAC and a sister group plan to spend a total of $300 million, she said.
“We’ve defined it as a must-win state,” she said. “It’s the fastest way to win the electoral college.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is running for re-election in a race Democrats would love to win. Some Democrats have said they believe they have to win North Carolina to have any hope of taking control of the Senate.
Tillis’s last race in 2014 was the most expensive Senate race in history at the time. Tillis, Democrat Kay Hagan and outside groups spent $124 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Tillis already has drawn a GOP challenger in Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker and Senate Democrats are still looking for what they consider a top-tier candidate.
Tilis was expected to be at Wednesday night’s fundraiser. In an email Wednesday, the state Democratic Party was using Pence’s visit and support for Tillis to raise money. Spokesman Robert Howard described the visit and fundraiser as a “rescue mission” for Tillis.
“It’s hard to see how it’s not going to be a swing state,” said Duffy.
CORRECTION: Some previous versions of this article misstated the name of Union County manufacturer Parkdale Mills.
Brian Murphy of McClatchy’s Washington bureau contributed.