Politics & Government

5 things Donald Trump needs to do to win NC

In this March 14, 2016, photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Tampa, Fla. North Carolina is a key battleground state in the presidential race and a must-win for Trump.
In this March 14, 2016, photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Tampa, Fla. North Carolina is a key battleground state in the presidential race and a must-win for Trump. AP

1. Get a photo op with Billy Graham.

Evangelical Christians are still a crucial part of any winning Republican coalition, especially in North Carolina – a buckle in the Bible Belt. And many of them are not yet sold on this thrice-married New Yorker with his R-rated vocabulary, his casino empire and his evolving views on North Carolina’s House Bill 2.

But in 2012, these conservative Christians also had their doubts about then-Republican presidential nominee – and famous Mormon – Mitt Romney. So the candidate made a pilgrimage to Montreat to meet with the elderly Graham, who is still the closest thing to a pope that evangelical Protestants have.

Romney’s photo with the Charlotte-born evangelist – a sort of seal of approval for born-again churchgoers – helped him carry North Carolina that year.

Franklin Graham, who set up the Romney meeting with his father, has a history with Trump: He invited the billionaire to Billy’s 95th birthday party at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville and then sat next to him. Trump and the younger Graham also agree on many issues, including Trump’s proposal to bar Muslim immigrants from the United States. The only question: At 97, is Billy still up to being part of a photo op?

2. Wave the flag at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Energizing NASCAR Nation is key to any scenario of Trump finishing ahead of Hillary Clinton in North Carolina. The Donald already has the endorsement of NASCAR owner Brian France, but he’ll also need the sport’s core fans – mostly white, mostly male, mostly conservative – to race to the polls in November.

So don’t be surprised if Trump shows up at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in October to serve as grand marshal of the Bank of America 500.

Past Republican presidential candidates – including Reagan and both George Bushes – have included campaign stops at NASCAR tracks on their way to the White House.

The October race, with its huge crowd and its heavy media coverage, would be a natural event for Trump during the final lap of the campaign.

3. Commit campaign troops to N.C. ground war

Arguably, the most important element in any campaign to win North Carolina is an organization in the state that can identify your voters and make sure they get to the polls. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has already launched one here. Trump has a few staffers in the state, but he’ll need many more of his own troops on the ground.

Trump, whose national campaign staff is also sparse, has been talking lately about competing in California and his native New York – states that Obama won by more than 20 points in the past two elections. But North Carolina is a must-win for Trump. It’s a state where recent presidential and Senate elections have been decided by 1-2 percentage points.

To leave it to the state GOP and the Republican National Committee to do all the on-the-ground fundamentals could prove costly to Trump, said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury.

“If the polling in the state starts to turn against Trump,” Bitzer said, “the (state) party is going to get so self-interested that they may cut Trump loose and focus on the real races in the state” – the re-election bids by Gov. Pat McCrory and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.

4. Stage ‘Bring Back Our Jobs’ rallies in former factory towns

Trump’s condemnations of “stupid” trade deals that have closed many American factories could resonate in North Carolina, which has lost thousands of textile and furniture jobs over the years.

Instead of issuing daily insults, the billionaire might win more votes in the state by casting himself as Businessman-in-Chief at blue-collar rallies in places like Concord and Hickory.

And he could remind those in his audience how Clinton recently angered coal miners in West Virginia by saying their jobs were also going away.

“Trump could say ‘The textile workers are like the coal workers and here’s what Hillary Clinton wants to do,’ ” said Susan Roberts, a political scientist at Davidson College. “And that ‘We need to deregulate (business) to bring back jobs.’ 

5. Give yourself a nickname: ‘Outsider’ Donald

Trump has belittled his opponents by giving them nicknames: “Lyin’ ” Ted Cruz, “Little” Marco Rubio and “Crooked” Hillary.

At his Tuesday rally in Greensboro, Trump could try to change his tone – and lift himself up – by giving himself a nickname that promises a presidency that will bring change to Washington.

Maybe “Outsider” Donald, a moniker that would also drive home the point that he’s running against a longtime Washington insider in Clinton.

In a year when voters are telling pollsters that America is headed in the wrong direction, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said Trump’s “magic” is that he is not a professional politician but a successful businessman who would offer a new way. “He is uniquely positioned to say, ‘I am new, I represent real change,’ ” Hayes said. “And Clinton is an old-school, behind-closed-doors machine politician who is under the cloud of a federal investigation.”

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